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Living the Yamas in Quarantine

Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras are are a collection of 196 Sanskrit sūtras (aphorisms) on the theory and practice of yoga. Yoga isn’t all about fancy balance poses, cool mats and the hope of long, lean bodies - no. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. It’s about these 8 limbs, when it comes down to it.

  1. Yama - restraints or ethics of behaviour

  2. Niyama - observances

  3. Āsana - physical postures

  4. Prāṇāyāma - control of the prana(breath)

  5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses

  6. Dhāraṇa - concentration

  7. Dhyāna - meditation

  8. Samādhi - absorption

Let’s start with the Yamas: ethics and behaviour. This is what we face every single day within our actions, and as of late, it’s probably a little more transparent, given the new lifestyle we’ve all had to adapt to.

The Yamas hold four different yoga sūtras for us to practice within our practice. Allowing yourself the gift of awareness may make it possible for these yoga sūtras to move from your mat to your everyday life, during quarantine and beyond.

Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence and Non-harming 

In the time of Covid-19, it can be easy to turn to violence without being aware of it. Through frustration with those around us, or even ourselves, the language and emotion we use can take a harmful turn. 

The best way to get over this hurdle during such a vulnerable time, where it’s more likely to come out? Compassion. Compassion will keep you from lashing out at others, or yourself and saying or doing anything you might regret. Compassion is the complete opposite of violence and harm, because it allows you, for a moment, to step outside of the dark cloud that encompasses you and lets you reflect before reacting. So, when you reach that dark cloud, take a moment to reflect; break it up into steps and pieces, by asking yourself the five W’s and the H: where, what, who, when, why and how? 

And if the trigger isn't coming from a solely internal source, take it a step further and put yourself in their shoes, looking at their point of view similarly.

Tip: If you need to isolate yourself in any way to get to a compassionate place, try putting on headphones, box-breathing, and expressing to your quaranteam member that you need a moment to collect yourself. Communication is key when it comes to achieving compassion, and though you’re stuck inside physically, you don’t have to be stuck inside emotionally - no matter how much work it takes to free yourself from that restraint.

Satya (सत्य): Truthfulness

Oh, what fun it is to spend so much time with yourself! A major side-effect (other than the steamy affair you’ve started up with a bag of chips every week) might be facing some of the demons you’ve been avoiding for a long time. Laziness, mood swings, plenty of naps, true introvertedness - maybe you just don’t want to talk to people! Whatever it is, one way to practice Satya in quarantine is to be true to yourself and ultimately own your truths - even if they aren’t pretty. Dig deep! It might take some time, but in the end, it’ll be worth it.

Tip: Write it out. Observe yourself from a non-judgmental light and take note of your habits, but take your time addressing their truths (as well as dissecting them.) 

Asteya (अस्तेय): Non-Stealing

At first glance, Asteya could seem dramatic - because it’s not like any of us are out there robbing banks or shoplifting or anything (especially during this pandemic where we’re all confined to our homes.) But, in an abstract sense, we easily commit theft every day: be it emotional, mental, spiritual, or even physical!

Theft can come in different shapes and forms: from taking physical space, draining people’s energy, outwardly taking their confidence and shattering their ambitions. It could also be as simple as borrowing your quaranteam member’s objects without asking! 

During this time, navigate yourself around others, and around yourself - don’t forget that you’re capable of stealing your own energy as well. 

And also don’t forget, that if you’re blatantly disobeying social distancing measures, you’re stealing other people’s freedom and their health by putting them all in danger. 

Tip: Stay mindful. Think about how your impulsive actions or words might affect someone else’s (or your own) day! Take a step-by-step approach and analyze your choices: what will come out of them? 

Brahmacarya (ब्रह्मचर्य): Restraint

Brahmacarya also translates to fidelity and chastity, but we see that restraint as an overall theme doesn’t have to be exclusive to subjects of intimacy in relationships. Think of it as practicing fidelity and restraint in order to remain loyal to your partner (whether they be another person, or even yourself - what up, single Quarancuties!) and taking their needs into account. You want to keep trusting each other, and keep a sense of harmony as best as you can in troubling times.

Example: excessive snacking. If you don’t practice self-restraint and end up panic-eating all of the food in your house, you’ll have to go to the grocery store more often, which still, in many places around the globe, can be problematic. 

Tip: when you feel as though you’re about to lose control, practice box breathing. Sit in your favorite area, and breathe deep. Concentrate. Breathe in count for 4, hold for 4, let it go for 6, hold for 4, repeat. This will help you not act so impulsively in your decision-making process. 

Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह): Non-Possessiveness

This could be as simple as “stop hogging the remote”, “let me have a turn” “don’t eat all the brownies” and another annoying reminders we have to give our quaranteam members (or they have to give us) at a daily basis. But also, its ultimately about letting things go.

What is the most difficult thing to let go of during this pandemic? In this writer’s humble opinion, it’s our constant need to control everything. To know everything. The opposite of possessiveness, obsession, greed is living in the present and letting each moment pass as a cloud that’s not coming back. Or a snowflake that will never be the same again.

No one knows what’s going to happen tomorrow. Nobody could’ve predicted this… (actually, let’s not get into that.) But the point is, as much as we’re all suffering, or not suffering in different ways, the point is that this is our reality now and we have very little or no control over it.

Don’t try to possess the situation. Keep it open-ended, let it go as best as you can. Focus on you, focus on the now. And yes, stop hogging the remote. Even if you live alone. Go read a book (if you want to).

And that’s that for our take on how the Yamas can help you in your everyday life during quarantine! Join Alex’s Live Your Yoga workshop on Saturday, May 9th at 5:30pm GST/9:30am EST to discuss and learn about the Yoga Sūtras and how we can parlay these ancient pearls of wisdom into our crazy, modern lifestyles.

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