Mindfulness in the Time of COVID-19

Importance of sustainable practices physically and mentally during unprecedented times

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Every Wednesday night, I mindfully flow on my yoga mat from Mountain Pose to Downward Dog and into Warrior One, my instructor in front of me, reminding everyone in the class to breathe.

But there are no sweat-dripping, Lululemon-wearing, tight-hairbunned yogis surrounding me in this “studio” in the Philadelphia countryside. Instead, I practice alongside my orange, meowing cat, in my teal-painted bedroom, at my parents’ house in Pottstown, PA, after college has been canceled for the semester. And I see all 25 participants through Zoom sweating along with the practice from their bedrooms.

I am participating in Yoga Otzma, a program for college students created by Philadelphia-metro-based artist and yoga instructor Evan Joblin (University of Pennsylvania MLA ’07) and sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston. The practice fuses both ancient and cutting-edge mindfulness practices with the Jewish-imperative of “tikkun olam,” or repairing the world–in this case from the inside out. Students come together and find a challenging workout, inner calm, or even just a distraction from the chaos surrounding us these days.

As a university student suddenly in summer limbo with no real sense “normal,” Yoga Otzma has given me a chance to grapple with the reality of spending three months in quarantine while rarely leaving the confines of my house, for fear of catching a potentially deadly virus should I venture into the world I formerly took for granted.

As this pandemic thrusts us into a “new normal,” I realize the importance of maintaining nurturing routines for both my physical and mental health. Pandemics are stressful: businesses are closed, isolation is dissociative, and social media is mind-numbing. People are on edge and high strung, overcome with frustration, confusion, and depression–often all in the same day.

As this unprecedented social disruption continues to unfold, now is the time to find sustainable and constructive practices that can also bring us together, for the greater purpose of personal and communal well-being, and to help better prepare not only for “normal” times but in the event of a second outbreak, as some experts are predicting.

A consistent yoga practice in a supportive community might be the perfect remedy during these unpredictable times, but how do we find such a thing when we’re stuck at home, social distancing?  It’s easy to find yoga videos on Youtube to practice with, but there’s no true community and connection in the midst of a pandemic-induced lockdown.

And that’s where a bona fide, digital-first yoga community comes in. Yoga Otzma has allowed me the chance to not only dive deeper into my inner world but also connect with others on a similar journey. Even as we meet through screens in our respective rooms, technology has created a tangible sense of “togetherness.” The marriage of mindfulness and technology allows us to transcend the physical reality of distance, cultivating strength, grace, and wellness during challenging times.

Our Yoga Otzma community gathers regularly to practice self-inquiry through intention-setting and reflection. We cultivate a deeper sense of self-awareness and self-acceptance through physical and mental engagement as we breathe mindfully through poses. We have the opportunity to challenge and support each other–one and off the mat, regardless of the distance between us.

But won’t embracing all this screen time as the new normal continue to weaken our physical communities and drive us to some terrifying, Matrix- or Black-Mirror-like dystopia?

It doesn’t have to be that way. We can diverge from dystopian narratives and allow people to come together more inclusively than ever before, through the mindful application of togetherness-building tools that cutting-edge technology offers. Technology alone may not “save” us from ourselves–or from some novel coronavirus–but we shouldn’t assume that it will inevitably destroy us either. The primary purpose of mindfulness is to apply our practice on the mat to the “real world,” so that we might usher in a life more aligned with our values off the mat.

As we continue to find ourselves stuck at home, inextricably bound to and dependent on ever-evolving technology, we might as well make the most of our situation and create even stronger minds, bodies, spirits, and communities while we’re at it.

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