We’re in the sustaining phase.
If you’ve taken a 200-hr Kripalu Yoga Teacher Training (KYTT) in the last decade or two, chances are good that the word “sustain” may conjure up some pleasant (and perhaps not-so-pleasant) memories of a bridge pose that you held for 20, 30, maybe even 40 minutes or more (depending on how fiery your Yoga Teacher Trainer was feeling on that particular day). And though you may cringe at the idea of such a thing, a posture sustained for an extended period can teach us a lot about how to move through this difficult period safely, skillfully and perhaps feeling stronger than we can possibly imagine right now. Not every yoga teacher trainee enjoys the posture sustaining experience, but every trainee learns and grows as a result of it. Many end up transformed by it, and most are deeply grateful for it.
Long past the 20- to 40-minute mark at this point, we’ve already been sustaining this Covid-19 pose for days, weeks, even months. As time goes on, sensations and their intensity will probably increase. Like holding a pose in a room full of humans of various age, injury, fitness and proportion, the challenges of this moment may be similar for all of us, but each person’s experience will be unique. There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will meet all our needs. But there are principles that can help all of us.
A skillful response to a long-held challenging pose requires a balance of effort and ease. Yoga Sutra 2.46 reads “sthira sukham asanam” (May the posture be steady and sweet). Our job as yoga practitioners right now is to mindfully assess each moment and determine what is required to help us sustain the pose with as much steadiness and ease as possible. This is how we do that:
1) Props and modifications. Do you need extra support to be in this pose safely? Are you gritting your teeth and trying to make it on your own? Are you causing yourself additional pain unnecessarily? This is no time to be proud. When we push beyond our limits and don’t ask for help, we get hurt. Identify what extra support you personally need and use it — friends, family, therapist, free depression support at LiveWell-Foundation.org, 12-Step meetings, daily guided meditation, subscription yoga or dance, workout apps, activities for your children at DeepPlayforKids.com, info on your local food banks… For each one of us the challenges will be slightly different. Some are struggling to put food on the table. Others are battling loneliness. Some are dealing with fear and anxiety, others with anger. In addition, the challenges may change and shift from day to day and hour to hour. Our job is to tune in to our own bodies, minds and hearts and respond intelligently, resourcefully and creatively — as best we can.
2) BRFWA (Breathe, Relax, Feel, Watch, Allow). This may not be easy, but when the really challenging moments arise, don’t push them away. Instead, pause, deepen your breath, soften where you can, feel all the difficult emotions you’re feeling, watch the thoughts moving through you, and allow yourself to have the experience you’re having in that moment. Because it will pass. Every time you let yourself ride a wave of big emotion, you get stronger emotionally. You become more resilient. You are teaching yourself that there is nothing to fear. Difficult moments don’t need to be resisted. You can let them move through you, and in doing so, you will grow stronger.
3) Will AND Surrender. The sustaining phase of the pose requires a balance of both. Some of us are more practiced at engaging our will; we love a challenge, and the bigger the better. Some of us are more adept at letting go; we’re happy to take things easy. This phase of the posture needs both. You’ll burn out very quickly if you try to be a superhero every moment of every day. Conversely, if you spend the all your time watching Netflix and cat videos you’ll miss a great opportunity to meet yourself and this virus head on. Know what your habit is and cultivate the opposite. Even superheroes need an occasional day of rest. Whatever rest and relaxation look like for you in this current world, make time for it. And for gentler folks who crumple when the fire gets hot, try upping your vigor with small bite-size pieces, like a 7-minute workout, a few sit-ups or kappalabhati pranayama (skull-polishing breath).
4) It’s okay to use the release valve. In fact, do. When sensations, thoughts, feelings get intense, it’s wise to release them in a healthy, non-harming way. Turn on some loud music and dance it out, shout it out, cry it out, whatever works. Punch a pillow, have a temper tantrum. That’s far better than letting it build up and releasing it in inadvertently at a loved one or at a stranger behind the wheel of your car or on Twitter.
We have no idea how long we’ll be sustaining this posture. We have no idea what this virus has planned, how long we’ll be asked to shelter in place, what difficulties we’ll meet along the way. We must remember that though we cannot control the virus, we can — at least to some degree — control our response to it. We are called to practice off-the-mat yoga as never before. If we do this skillfully, we will grow, we will learn, we will transform, and we will discover resources within ourselves of which we are not now even aware. May we meet each moment to the best of our ability. May we practice trust and faith that we are exactly where we need to be, and that we have all the tools we require.