THE ROLE OF A YOGA TEACHER
DURING THE TIME OF COVID -19
BY SWAMI SITARAMANANDA
Yoga teachers as leaders
The important thing here is that we are uniting together as Yoga teachers, Sivananda Yoga teachers. We have a mission to be leaders in this time of need and to help people. The aims and goals of the Sivananda Yoga Teacher Training Course is to create leaders who themselves have experienced the way to peace and in turn can show others the way to peace in times of crisis.
During the unprecedented Covid-19 crisis the world is now going through, the most important thing a Yoga teacher can do is to be an example to others by continuing to do sadhana (spiritual practice). Yoga teachers are practitioners and not preachers. They lead by example.
Yoga teachers as influencers, spreading positive thoughts
During this pandemic, when the world is in panic and confusion, it is important to understand that crisis changes the vibration of the whole world. At this time, it is important that yogic teaching becomes known, so people learn how to turn their negative thoughts to positive thoughts and begin to understand the cumulative actions of their thoughts. This is what the Yoga teacher needs to know, that his or her
thinking is not only relating to him or herself or to the people in the same room or house with them. Thinking together as a collective consciousness, our positive thinking, affects the whole world.
Now more than ever we need to be aware of this, that our positive thoughts or positive words affect the world. The way we can help the world to heal is to keep uplifting our consciousness by the conscious practice of Yoga sadhana. You may think you are alone in your house doing your practice and your voice does not count, but any thoughts that you broadcast during and after sadhana are very powerful.
Moreover, as you practice Yoga and meditation now, switch your intention to do it for the sake of the world. This way, your practice not only is improving your life but also improves the vibration of the whole world.
Yoga teachers are empathetic, sensitive and realize the suffering, the grief and feel the negativities of people around them and in communities of the world. They feel what people go through when everything in their life is collapsing or changing; when the whole world is in lockdown; when they have to stay home, have lost their job; are in dismay about what to do to fill up their time; and wonder what to do to prevent total collapse?
Yoga teachers know that this is a moment of transition, a moment of choice for all. Yes, as Yoga teachers, we have a choice, either we are going to be depressed and go down with everybody or we are going to stay strong in satsanga and rise up, shifting our consciousness with the whole world.
By positive thinking, as a result of sadhana, Yoga teachers anchor themselves and become influencers of the world’s collective thought to play a leading role in the world’s shift in consciousness.
Yoga teachers as powerhouses raising vibrations with mantra
The easiest way to increase your vibration to help the world is to repeat a mantra. Those who are Sivananda Yoga teachers know what a mantra is. There are several mantras that you can repeat, now more than ever. Yoga teachers can gather people together to repeat the mantras because of the collective healing effect. It’s like adding the energy together and you know that when you add energy, you don’t just add energy to your country but you add energy to the whole world. We create this positive energy to balance out all the negative vibrations.
You know that mantra has an effect. It is a question of knowledge, not just of blind faith. This way, you can repeat a few mantras, teach people to repeat the mantra properly and gather in groups to repeat mantra. It helps to strengthen the mind. The mantra’s healing properties are radiating out.
The best mantra that you can use, record, broadcast and play is the Mahamrityunjaya Mantra, an excellent mantra for healing and for liberation. Someone that is sick or upset mentally because they have lost their loved ones or are afraid of sickness, can use this Mantra:
Om Tryambakam Yajamahe Sugandhim Pushthivardhanam. Urvaarukamiva Bandhanaan Mrityormuksheeya Maamritaat
Please record this mantra and play it for those who are anxious in your household and community. Play it at low volume all the time, 24 hours a day, so they can hear it.
Even though they might not understand the words, it brings peace to their mind. Play mantras for those who have just died or are on the sick bed.
Every Yoga teacher needs to use his or her consciousness when repeating mantra.
You cannot really repeat the mantra with only your lips, but rather you have to repeat the mantra with your heart, because consciousness or God is dwelling in your own heart.
Yoga teachers as counselors
When the world is lost and afraid, it is important that Yoga teachers explain a few helpful points:
• The connection between Prana, Thought and Immunity:
The more that you know how to increase prana, the stronger you become and the stronger your immune system will be to prevent disease. You need to explain this to your students and to your family, the link between prana and thought.
Prana is found in nature. By changing your lifestyle to connect to the prana in nature you improve your immunity. The best thing to prevent the world from being sick is to increase immunity, which is the mechanism nature has given us to prevent diseases. The prana needs to be high. You increase the prana by absorbing the prana from nature.
This is done by leading a proper lifestyle, by proper contact with the earth (eating the right food, contemplate trees, mountains, gardening, etc.); water (drink pure water, bath in rivers, oceans); fire (being in the sun daily, eat warm food); air (breathing exercises in the clean air) and; ether (being in a positive thought atmosphere).
We need to learn how to conserve prana and not spending prana through negative thinking, such as useless worries and actions that are mindless. We need to learn to train the mind, to concentrate the mind, to perform only mindful actions. The higher the prana, the more that we increase immunity and prevent disease.
Increase the prana through your connection with nature, decrease the loss of prana by detaching from the sense objects and the negative thoughts, worries and emotions.
Too much information on the Internet that you cannot digest will cause you to lose prana. Gather only the information that you can digest. Like food, if you eat too much, you cannot digest what you eat, toxins will build up.
• Listening, comforting, being present: At this current time people need comfort, not merely calmness but also a comforting presence and comforting words. Of course, we cannot meet each other like before, now we are in quarantine—but you can call people on the phone and talk.
Yoga teachers need to know that their presence is important. Sometimes you have some kind of feeling with people and relationship and you don’t want to talk to them, but now is a good time to transcend this kind of limitation that comes from ego, relationship dynamics.
Now it is good to call people, your friends and relatives, and reach out to your neighbors to give them comforting words. It’s very easy to give comforting words:
“How are you? How are you doing? We are concerned about you. Is everything okay, we love you.” Give these kinds of comforting words and offer empathy.
Empathy means we understand why you lost your job. We understand why you are at home and you don’t know what to do and you’re depressed, you’re worried. We understand. Empathy comes by listening. People need to be able to talk out their worry. Then you just listen without trying to give an answer because really truly nobody has an answer. Be humble and just try to listen, not just engaging people when you feel that you have an answer. Nobody has an answer.
Listen to what they have to say, whatever they’re worried and concerned about. That’s enough to help them to comfort them and to help them to calm down. It is a need to be listened to.
• Relaxation by contemplating Nature Being in nature helps us to relax. Maybe you have to be quarantined in your house and you cannot go out but you can look at your plants and take care of your plants or flowers. Look through the window and look at the trees. Anything natural helps us to relax. You have to do it, focus on nature. We can do an exercise contemplating on nature. We don’t have to go anywhere. Actually, you can sit in one place and just look at the tree and look at the water in the pond, look at the dog that is passing by. Just contemplating.
By being still, learning how to contemplate, everyone experiences a state of calmness, and not just calmness, but a state of joy and unity. This is exactly what we mean when we talk about spiritual relaxation. There are a lot of techniques of Yoga that can bring you to that state. Yoga has a wealth of information we can apply to achieve physical, mental and spiritual relaxation. The more you apply, the more you see that it works, and the more that it encourages you to use it more.
Now is the time for Yoga and Yoga teachers to share the secret techniques and methods to serve the world. There’s no time to lose. This is the time. Yoga teachers need to explain to people that the way they can take care of their fear and anxiety is through
increasing relaxation, physically, mentally and spiritually.
• Yoga for overcoming anxiety
A few pointers for Yoga teachers to help people to overcome anxiety:
Breathing: The first point is to help people to improve the breath-body-mind awareness. Improve breath, body and mind awareness with rhythmical breathing. Just breathe with the diaphragm to get more oxygen, but also use rhythmical breathing.
When you do asana, make sure that people coordinate their breath with their movement and do pranayama. People are sometimes afraid to breathe because they are afraid of bringing in the virus. It’s wrong thinking because this only creates more tension.
Asanas for stress resilience: The second point is to increase prana by moving the body. If you feel that you are stuck and if you feel that you are panicking, then the flow of prana is blocked. When the prana is blocked your thoughts goes down more.
You need to just keep moving, but properly, by performing Yoga postures in proper sequence to move the prana and to balance the flow of prana.
We increase our capacity to deal with stress when the prana is balanced. Simple moving of the body, stretching but moving the body in the way of Yoga, right and left, backward and forward, in a balanced manner with awareness helps to balance the prana and increase stress resilience.
Improve Mental-Emotional Balance:
The third point is to improve mental and emotional balance. Mental and emotional balance is accomplished by regulating the breath. If you feel tension, you need to learn to exhale properly, calmly and slowly as possible to release tension. Let’s say you are talking to the neighbor and the neighbor is panicking, you can tell them, “OK, calm down now, just exhale slowly. Inhale and exhale to the count of six, or inhale and exhale to the count of ten.
Go very slowly and they will calm down. Then the breath needs to go with the movement and the concentration of the mind. The awareness and the concentration need to be there. People cannot practice Yoga when they are stressed. Why? Because their mind is obsessed with something external. At that time, you tell them to lie down, to stretch, to breathe, and to concentrate on the breath.
Learn Ayurveda: Increase Ojas Shakti to avoid burn out: The fourth point is to understand that if we burn out (immunity goes down), the virus can attack. One Ayurvedic teacher states the virus is a pitta disease, which means there is too much heat in the body. That is why relaxation is important. If you have too much heat and too much anger and too much thinking and too much stress, what you are doing is burning out your ojas. Ojas is the helpful energy that sustains life.
What you need to do is increase the ojas shakti, increase the power of sustenance that brings contentment, gratitude and the sense of relaxation. The key is in increasing ojas. This is the subtle energy as taught by Ayurveda. This is a good time to learn Ayurveda. Apply Ayurvedic principles in your diet and your lifestyle to increase ojas. When you see people that are anxious, they cannot sleep well. You need to apply some warm oil on your body, on your head. You can use warm sesame oil. Even warm water can be put on the body. You can rub warm water on your body. You can eat properly. Eat very nutritious, simple food. The essence of the food will nourish you, feed the ojas and will help you to calm down.
If you have ghee, you can take one or two teaspoons of ghee in your food and you will be nourished. Warm almond drink is also very good for increasing ojas. You need to have a positive feeling and connection to the Divine. That will give you the direct connection to the source of life and will sustain you and increase your ojas Shakti.
In this time of the Covid-19 threat, we need to increase ojas Shakti, which means increasing our quality of life, not destroying life by our wrong habits. It’s a time to be much more careful of what we eat, think and feel.
Increase the sense of safety: The fifth point we have already talked about, to create the sense of security, warmth, of quiet and support so that we feel safe. The key is feeling safe. To let go of the worries and the defense mechanism because if you feel worried and your fight-or-flight response is activated, your defense mechanism will wear you out.
So it is important to relax, to activate your parasympathetic nervous system by Yoga asana in a conscious manner, rhythmical breathing—all this is helping to activate your parasympathetic nervous system along with the faith that we talked about.
Increase the detachment attitude: The sixth point is relaxation but going deeper. It is about a change of attitude towards life. The prevalent attitude before was the attitude of being passionate about life, passionate about enjoyment of the senses, a rajasic attitude, running here and there so life feels more meaningful experiencing and enjoying everything. That is called a rajasic kind of activity.
Now we need to decrease these rajasic activities. We need to increase our attitude of detachment. This is a meditative, contemplative attitude towards life, stepping back to find the fullness within and detaching from what is going on outside.
Yoga teachers as spiritual health educators
Holistic health encompasses the physical, mental and spiritual aspects of being. The whole world has a fever and is forced to quit the race, to stay home, to rest and to detoxify.
This is a great opportunity for Yoga teachers to offer the pearls of spiritual wisdom from Yoga philosophy teachings:
The best person who can support you is your own Self:
The sense of connection is very important for mental health. The connection is with your own Self and with others. However, in this new context of social distancing when everyone is asked to stay away from each other, stay home and not traveling, when they are deprived from social activities, how can we counsel people that are isolated, depressed, angry and worried? Social distancing and lock down might help to slow down the spread of the virus, but there is an increase in the spread of the negative virus of the mind. When people are worried and lonely, they send negative thoughts into the atmosphere.
What to tell them? We tell them to turn inward and feel the inner strength and the Self-love within. We help people feel connected to their own Self by teaching
Yoga techniques of asana, pranayama and meditation.
Do Self Affirmation:
Teach people to practice Self-affirmation.
For example, ask the person to write down this sentence and repeat it many times: “I am content and happy with my Self, ”or “Day by day, everything is improving, everything is better in every way,” or “I am happy with the present moment”.
Affirm your Self and repeat what you feel is good. If you keep repeating the positive thought that helps you, that thought gains more momentum and more power in the psychic world and helps you in due time.
For example, when you are panicking, this affirming thought will rise to the surface of the mind to help you. Self affirmation needs to be done as a habit. Another practice is to create a daily gratitude list and use what we are grateful for as affirmations.
Teach a gentler Yoga class:
The last point to remind Yoga teachers who teach asana class in the time of crisis, is to teach a gentler Yoga class, an encouraging and calming Yoga class. This is to help with the stress and trauma that many of your students are experiencing.
Of course, in this time of social distancing, we advise that Yoga teachers do not correct the students and do continue to teach people online, using video conferencing.
Restoring faith, faith gives you stronger immunity:
The last point is to help people to restore faith. In times of crisis, people tend to doubt, to be afraid, and to lose their faith. People might be suspicious of nature, because the virus comes from nature, or they might be afraid and doubtful of the supreme intelligence that allows such tragedy to take place.
The helpful link to point out to them is their inherent connection with Mother Nature, the mother Goddess, the universal presence within our own body and always around us.
This is nature. People need to reconnect with Mother Nature instead of being fearful and blameful of Her. For a Yoga teacher, it is very important to have strong faith, because you have to be positive and guide your students out of their fears.
Fear immediately disappears the moment faith is restored.
Vedanta philosophy about the Self and the not-Self:
For a Vedanta student, it is helpful that we talk about the Self, the immortal Atman, ever-present, untouched, blissful as the consciousness underlying all things. Remember the Atman and detach from all that is transient and changing. Use your higher faculty to discriminate, to know the difference between what is permanent and that which changes, what is the Self and that which is the not-Self.
Remember that there is a presence within you, a consciousness within you that is here, no matter what. Find safety and comfort in that presence as your own inner reality. Tune to that divinity that we see outside as the all-present, nourishing and caring Mother Nature.
Swami Sitaramananda is Acharya of the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres. She is the director of Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Ashram Resort and Training Centre in Da Lat, Vietnam.