By Kathleen Kraft,
As I write this the reality of the coronavirus has invaded nearly every aspect of our lives, with many of us spending most or all of our time at home right now. It is challenging to have our normal routines upended, and even more so when we don’t know how long this will go on. We wake up every day to the unknown.
I’ve been lucky enough to work remotely for the last six months, and thus have had ample time to adjust to spending a lot of time home alone. Still, I’ve been struggling the last few weeks to figure out what I need from my yoga practice—which, until recently, was a mix of home, studio, and online practice. In the midst of very real global distress—panic and fear for many—it feels harder to stay focused, make good choices, and establish a new normal.
Where I’ve landed is something of a detour from my usual meditation and asana practice. It’s more of an intuitive variation of that practice, which feels more engaging right now.
Here below I reflect on a recent morning meditation that helped me feel more attentive to myself. I also recall the asana I did later that day that was inspired by my discovery of a surprising place in my home to practice. Then, I share suggestions that may help you to rely more on your own intuition as you navigate extended time at home.
Understanding that you may want simply the suggestions, feel free to skip to that section below.
My Practice Began in the Morning While I Was Still in Bed
As I lay in bed with my cat on my chest I took a few moments to think about the kind of morning I wanted to have. This is not something I normally do, but I was anxious upon waking. What would today’s news bring? It felt safer to set some intentions before rising, lest I spin out further.
I made a simple plan: I would get out of bed and make chai instead of my usual coffee so as to start the day more calmly. Because of its milky aromatic quality and the slow rise to wakefulness it provides, chai comforts me. It had helped to quell my anxiety during a previous rough patch.
I also decided that I’d sit at my kitchen table and drink it—instead of perching on the couch as I normally do, being distracted by my coffee table clutter, my cat, and whatnot. After that I would stretch a little and meditate.
After my last sip of chai I stretched and then went to my usual spot for meditation. I’ll admit, though, that I did look at the news for a few minutes as I sat there at the kitchen table, which didn’t help when I went to meditate. I knew it right away. I chanted, which felt good, and I did pranayama. But my heart was heavy, as the news of more people dying in New York (where I’m from and have family and lots of friends) was sinking in.
So when I began my meditation and these thoughts began to arise I decided to just surrender to them. I focused on the chatter instead of rerouting my attention back to my mantra. I felt the need to go into my mental loops, just letting them get tangled up.
And what I found was that by dwelling on those loops for a time, I was able to step back and eventually see what was behind the swirl. What I saw was fear.
Gee, no surprise there! But the realization was a relief—just to see and feel that everything I had been thinking about was associated with collapse. And I realized just how much the fear had been affecting me.
What if I’m so distracted by the news that I can’t get this work task done well or on time? What if my elderly mother, who lives alone 1,400 miles away, has a breakdown from watching the news or inadvertently touches her face at the supermarket? What if I decide to go to Florida to see my mom and can’t find a cat sitter? What if more things shut down? WHAT. IF.
Once I got through a bigger list of fears I returned to my mantra. And just like that, it was suddenly so simple and uncomplicated. I felt almost childlike. The mantra was me. I was it. That’s all. I can only control what I can control.
Being of the school that says something gets compromised when we share too much about our personal practice, I hesitate to say more. I’ll say only that through this experience, the mantra was mine to know more fully. I could let it befriend me—perhaps in a deeper way than ever before.
My Cat Tree Practice
Later that day I felt the need to do asana, which I usually do mid to late afternoon (if I don’t go for a walk). But I wasn’t in the mood to roll out my mat, and something was guiding me to practice in a different part of my apartment.
You could say I was simply looking for inspiration. A feeling of mourning over the state of things had begun to creep in. I wandered through my space and found myself looking at the “cat tree”—the scratching post—next to the one window from which I don’t often look out. I felt such utter gratitude for the simplicity of the cat tree against the window—a stark contrast to the chaos of the world—that I practiced there.
I began by just placing my hands at the level of the cat tree, which is at the height of my elbows, and I looked outside. Just about three feet from the window, there’s a very tall maple tree with two trunks that go on forever. I fixed my gaze on that tree, and I felt how much I love trees. Just that.
Then I brought my hands to prayer at my heart and set a short intention. I held on to the cat tree and stepped my left foot back into a lunge, and I sank into my joints for a few breaths. Still lunging, I then engaged my leg muscles, feeling my strength. I did the same on the right side. I then moved into a kind of “cat tree down dog,” in which I stepped both feet back. This worked well because in this position my hands were a little higher than shoulder height—so I could really let my chest sink, bend my knees, and let go of any effort.
Here, I let my exhales carry me. Sigh it out, as we say. I understood the need to sigh in a brand-new way. No need to cling to anything in this moment except the internal tree.
I came out of “cat tree down dog” slowly, and then used the tree to support me in extended side angle and squats. And I played around holding on to different parts of the tree, exploring free movement. I finished with a handstand at the front door—something I haven’t done for several weeks. I did it to prove to myself that I still could. Then I went back to the cat tree and said a prayer for the tree outside and the people I love. I prayed for my cat and myself and the world. And then I lay down on a rug near the cat tree, hugged my knees into my chest, and went into savasana.
Here below are some suggestions that have been inspired by my experience. You can try them in your own home practice if you’re feeling overwhelmed or simply need a change of pace.
1. If you are feeling anxious when you wake up in the morning lie in bed and take a few slow, deep breaths, exhaling for longer than you inhale. You may start by inhaling for three counts and exhaling for five or six counts. You can also retain your breath for a beat or two at the top of your inhale and/or suspend your breath at the bottom of your exhale. Experiment with both to see what feels right.
If you find it’s hard to get out of bed upon waking, sit up in bed, propping yourself up with pillows if that feels right. Then take in four equal sniffs through both nostrils followed by one natural exhale. Continue with this pattern for a few minutes, until you feel like stopping.
When you’re done, take a moment to think about how you’d like your morning to proceed. What can you do to support yourself? What kind of cool or warm drink would feel soothing? Perhaps you could take a short walk around the block, alone or with someone in your household, after breakfast. Call a friend? What does your heart tell you will help you move into your day with more ease? Maybe it’s just taking the morning off from the news.
2. Finding a spot where you don’t usually practice may allow you to experience all your home has to offer. Even if your place is small, you can get creative. Some extra support might feel nice, which could involve using a wall or kitchen counter. (I, for example, don’t have a big kitchen but I am going to practice in it because it has a pretty window and just enough room for me next to the sink. My cat will be intrigued, that I know!) If you have an attic or a basement, is there space to practice there?
3. If it’s comfortable enough for you, try practicing without a mat and really feel your connection to the floor. Or try doing yoga while sitting in a chair just to experience what practicing in a chair is like.
If you usually sit in a chair you could try a bed practice. See how it feels to support yourself in a new and comforting way.
4. When you find a new place of inspiration take a few moments to really be there. Look around and notice how you feel, letting your eyes rest wherever your gaze takes you. Is there an object that gives you a feeling of pleasure? Take it in. If there isn’t anything in sight that really pleases you, get something that does and place it where you’ll feel inspired. Enjoy this object and your surroundings. Be with this simplicity as long as it feels natural.
5. Now set a simple intention. Maybe it’s to say kind things to yourself as you practice. Or to say a loved one’s name when you become distracted. Maybe it’s to practice for five minutes less or more than you normally do.
6. Choose movements that feel good. Perhaps you allow yourself to settle into your joints for a few breaths and then see what it feels like to grow stronger in that same position. Is today a yin day? A yang day? A yin-yang day? Tune in to what your innermost you needs and wants.
7. Bring your practice to a close in a way that’s meaningful to you. For example, you might say a sincere prayer for our world, reminding yourself that we are all connected.