Teaching Yoga Saved Me During the Pandemic
My 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training gave me the tools I needed to get through the pandemic.
I got through the pandemic by teaching yoga.
When it felt like the world was falling apart around me, my mat and breath anchored me in a way that nobody else could.
One week into the first two week lockdown, back when we were still trying to flatten the curve in March 2020, the only grandfather that I have ever truly known and loved passed away due to pulmonary fibrosis. We didn’t even know he was sick until it was too late to do anything about it. At that moment, I thought it was so unjust that an otherwise healthy 89 year old man could die from a lung disease, at the same time that the entire world battled a novel respiratory virus. For some reason, during those unprecedented times, it seemed unfair that he had to die from progressive lung failure that was completely… unexceptional.
I heard my Grandpa Pat take his last breath, and panicked when I didn’t hear another breath. There was nothing I could do but watch as his life force faded away until what made him “grandpa” no longer existed.
In yoga, we believe that breath is our life force. Prana is the energy that is brought to us through our breath, and through regulating and controlling our breath, we can bring peace and stability to our lives.
I had just finished my 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training through Yoga Alliance when the pandemic shut down our whole world. Throughout February 2020, I spent every morning flowing through my yoga practice from 5-6AM. Every evening, I met with my fellow students and our instructors to learn about human anatomy, the history of yoga, and best teaching practices. The day after we earned our teaching certificates in mid-March, our schools and studios shut down. It felt like just a short hiatus; nobody had any idea that it would alter our society for years to come.
In those early days of the pandemic, I continued my daily vinyasa flow with intention and gratitude. My hour routine, completed inside my home gym or outside on the grass, gave me a sense of purpose and structure in another otherwise chaotic moment. I ran through the same flow every day, creating consistency: meditate, Sun A, Sun B, Warrior Series, seated stretches, meditate. Repeat as many times as needed, until the energy level in my brain matches the energy level in my body. Breath creates the connection between mind and body.
A few days after the lockdown started, we found out that my Grandpa Pat’s health was failing. We were told he had 24 hours, maybe. My dad and uncle brought him home from the hospital to spend the last hours of his life at the home that he had raised his children in and spent a collective 40 years building and growing in. We ended up having five beautiful days. Our entire immediate family could be with him, without even having to negotiate time off work. There were no distractions and nowhere to go; just time spent celebrating the long and respected life of a drilling engineer, father of four, avid golfer, and joyful jokester.
I don’t think I would have made it through his loss as intact as I did without my yoga practice. I wouldn’t have made it through months of social distancing and teaching high school English via Zoom without having yoga as my outlet. Yoga kept me focused on the present moment, while simultaneously allowing my mind an escape from reality. My vinyasa flow, often set to the fast-paced tune of ODESZA's album, In Return, or calmer instrumentals from Blank & Jones, gave my mind and body something to focus on besides the crumbling world.
When I became a yoga teacher, my practice evolved from a personal meditation to something I could share with my community. As pandemic restrictions eased and we could return to the studios, my vinyasa flow gave me an opportunity to give back to the community. I still felt deep sorrow, but I found joy and meaning in sharing breath work.
Breathing life into my community gave me purpose.
My flow became my hymn:
Breathe in for six.
Hold, 2, 3, 4, exhale.
Inhale- lift your arms.
Exhale- dive down. Inhale- lift your torso. Exhale- jump to plank. Inhale- move to upward dog. Exhale- stretch to down dog.
Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
As many times as you need to, until your breath has forced your mind and body back into sync.
In a world with so much disconnection, it seemed vitally important to create as much harmony as I could. Disconnected by six feet. Disconnected by plexiglass. Disconnected by stay at home orders and distance learning. Disconnected by politics, and a long election season.
I couldn't change the course of the pandemic or how the community dealt with it, but I could help improve my own mind-body connection, and my students’ mind-body connection. The balance that we created through shared yoga practice centered me through two years of chaos, uncertainty, and grief. Becoming a yoga teacher during the pandemic was exactly what I needed to stay connected to the truest version of myself; a version that could have been lost as my world transformed.
I’d like to think that every meditation that I facilitate allows me to give some prana to my grandpa’s memory. The last breath he took still reverberates through my mind. So much can change in one breath. A deep breath can bring patience, understanding, and quiet, even in a tumultuous society.
When I am overwhelmed, I pause and take one more breath; the one I wish he had been able to take.