Here we are, at home. With social distancing measures in place, many of us aren’t going to work, school or social outings. We limit our time in public spaces socializing and running errands. Some of us are working from home. Some of us are full time parenting & homeschooling children, naturally spending more time with family than we would otherwise. Some of us are truly alone, literally all by ourselves.
Many people report feeling bored, frustrated, overwhelmed, fearful, stressed & worried or even trapped from home quarantine. Although most of us are finding this forced “slowing down” challenging to some degree, it has enabled many to feel more connected to friends & family, reprioritize values, & be given more time for things they enjoy- like exercise, home cooked meals, house projects, reading for pleasure, time outside, playing with their kids, yoga, meditation, self-care or other spiritual practices.
Connection with Others
In response to our inability to physically be present with others, we are spending more time connecting via electronic devices. No doubt we are social creatures and evolutionary “hard wired” to connect, but nowhere in our evolution have we spent this much time plugged into and attached to these technologies.
It’s amazing how quickly we have adapted to & accepted this increased use of electronics- many of us literally begin & end our days looking at a screen. We use them for work, for education, for entertainment & to even alleviate boredom or distract ourselves from ourselves.
In response to COVID-19 precautions, we have had to adapt; many companies now allow employees to work from home, schools are going “online,” gyms, yoga studios & social groups have frequent Zoom sessions to stay connected while an increasing amount of time is spent on social media platforms.
Whereas it is important and of tremendous value to stay connected & informed at this time, there are many dangers to spending most of day “wired” and connected to a screen all day. Too much screen time causes the brain to restructure (affecting information processing) while contributing to emotional dysregulation (ex: overwhelm, stress, anxiety, depression), sleep problems, metabolic symptoms & eye strain. Too much artificial light confuses the pineal gland- a major player in our circadian rhythms affecting our endocrine system health & hormone levels. Excessive screen time also has negative effects on our immune system responses.
For more info on how screen time can affect your mental, emotional & physical health, check out this article by one of my favorite teachers, David Frawley.
Using Yogic Wisdom During this Time
Yoga literally means “union.” This is often understood as a union with your breath, mind & body; or as a connection with your Spirit, soul or “higher self.” The 8 limbed path of yoga is a system designed to help anyone access that deeper connection with themselves.
Yoga’s limbs utilize lifestyle (yama & niyama), postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama) and other subtle practices like concentration & meditation to re-establish that connection. When we feel connected to ourselves, we naturally make choices that are for our highest good (think diet, work, activities, self-care, etc); we dissolve any doubt, anxiety, fear, uncertainty or overwhelm and are able to fully embody and enjoy the present moment.
While we make efforts to stay connected with others and current news during COVID-19, please prioritize taking time to connect with yourself. This global pandemic is not permanent, it too, will pass. In the meantime, this can be a great opportunity to reprioritize self-care while spending time employing Yogic & Ayurvedic tools that nourish and rejuvenate the connection to mind, body and soul.
Pratyahara: The Forgotten Limb of Yoga
Pratyahara is often described as “withdrawal of the senses;” it is composed of two sanskrit words: ahara referring to anything we take into ourselves from the outside, while prati meaning against or away. Pratyahara literally refers to attempting to control what comes in via the 5 senses & gain mastery over our external influences. A common analogy is the turtle withdrawing its limbs into its shell, with the shell being the mind and the senses as the limbs.
In yogic thought, there are 3 levels of ahara, or intake.
- Actual food we consume
- Associations & relationships with others
- Sensory impressions (sound, sight, taste, touch, smell)
Pratyahara is twofold, it involves withdrawing from wrong impressions (think unhealthy foods, sensory impressions that are negative, violent, overly stimulating or irritating & relationships that are “toxic” or draining) while opening up and increasing exposure to healthy foods, sensory impressions and human interactions.
While pratyahara’s primary implication in yoga refers to controlling sensory impressions, we that practice is only so effective if we are eating unhealthy foods or have conflict in our interpersonal relationships. Right diet & relationships are paramount in establishing a deeper connection with ourselves while supporting mental & emotional health.
When we withdraw our awareness from negative impressions, it strengthens our mind’s power of immunity & resilience. Just as a healthy body can resist pathogens or toxins, a healthy mind can ward off negative or destructive sensory influences near it.
However, our senses are usually like wild horses or crazy children- they have a will of their own and don’t like to be bossed around! For many of us, our senses tell the mind what to do…when it should actually be the other way around. We are so accustomed to ongoing sensory activity that we don’t know how to keep our minds quiet- we have become hostages to the alluring world of sensory delight & distraction. Our modern commercial society functions by stimulating interest via the senses; we are constantly bombarded with loud noises, phone notifications, bright colors, advertisements and never-ending entertainment or social media connectivity (…this why so many people struggle with meditation or rely on drugs or alcohol to wind down & relax)
When we constantly run after what appeals the senses, we eventually forget our higher goals and heart felt desires in life.
How to Practice Pratyahara
Sensory impressions are food for the mind; we need to feed the mind healthy impressions and not overindulge. Pratyahara centers around healthy intake of impressions. Paying attention not just to quality but also quantity of impressions. (ex: I used to bombard and overwhelm my intellect with ayurveda information when I was a student; I wasn’t giving my mind ample time to digest and take everything in- I was “eating” more and more and more! Too much! Although it was good nutritious knowledge/impressions, it was in excess).
Remember, less is more. Here are some practical ways to begin practicing pratyahara:
- Practice “strategic use of your attention” regarding COVID-19 updates. Resist temptations to read press, opinions and fear-based information. Stick to quality resources that keep you adequately informed. Still, limit exposure to 1-2x day; ideally not right when you wake up or right before bed.
- Reduce time spent on social media. Use it as a platform to connect with others, not to entertain or distract yourself from how you’re feeling.
- If you watch television, favor genres that are uplifting, funny, lighthearted or positive. Reduce films that are dramatic, violent or bring images of terror, harm or fear. Would you let a child watch it? Would you invite that drama, emotion or character into your home? If not…then why would you invite them into your consciousness?
- Start a keeping a journal. Write down how you’re feeling, what you’re grateful for and both short & long term intentions/goals you have.
- Practice yoga, breathing exercises or meditation daily. Even if it’s just 5-10 minutes. Start somewhere. Start today.
- Simply close your eyes and watch your breath for 5 minutes.
- Up your self-care or dinacharya game. This supports mental & physical immunity. For ideas, click here
- Take a 12-24 hour media fast. Just as the body benefits & cleanses from fasting from food, as does the mind regarding impressions & sensory input.
- Spend time in nature. Natural impressions are pleasing to the mind and the senses. Nature is sattvic, naturally renewing & rejuvenating our mental energies; this increases feelings of peace, calm & clarity.
Connect with Nature
We are a part of nature’s intelligence. Notice how the sun knows when to set, the earth never stops rotating, how the moon never misses a cycle, flowers know precisely when it’s time to blossom and animals know when to migrate- well, we too have that innate intelligence within us. However, our modern lives have contributed to a disconnect from our natural environment.
Many of us spend most of our time indoors, connected to a screen or influenced by artificial light, consume food that’s out of season or artificial/ processed & disregard natural night and day rhythms. Ayurveda suggests that this disconnection from nature contributes to dis-ease in the mind & body.
However, by attuning to natural rhythms and spending more time outside in nature, we can re-connect not only to the natural world, but also to ourselves.
Here are some ideas:
- Rise with the sun. Waking up early supports your bodies natural circadian rhythm and helps you go to bed at a decent hour.
- Once you wake up, before looking at your phone, go outside. Breath in the air, notice the environment around you, simply take it all in. Go for a walk if you can.
- Practice Surya Namaskar, or sun salutations in the morning. This yoga series when linked with breath, is meditative & energizing.
- If you work indoors, take outdoor breaks. Every 3-4 hours aim to get up and walk or stretch outside. Leave your phone behind.
- Any free time you have- go outside if you can. As Alaskans we have an abundance of resources near us. Hike, ski, bike, walk or even sit. It’s not important what the activity is, but that you’re out surrounded by nature.
- If you can’t go outside, close your eyes and visualize being in nature or listen to recordings of nature sounds. When visualizing, pay special attention to the colors around you, the details of the environment, the sounds you “hear” what you “smell,” etc.
- Plant some seeds. Tis the season! If you don’t have resources or space for an outdoor garden, consider growing a few windowsill herbs (basil, dill, cilantro, etc)
- Notice what the moon is doing. Go outside and look for it every night. Keep a moon journal. This is also a great activity for kids.
- Sunset or Sunrise Sadhana. Make watching the rising or setting of the sun a spiritual practice- commit to it for 1 week. As you watch it rise or set, set an intention, say a prayer or do a short meditation.
- Reduce evening screen time. When the sun disappears, that’s nature’s signal to begin calming & winding down.