Yoga, Murder, and Navigating the Current State of Teaching
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | May 13, 2020
A few days ago a member of the Subtle Yoga Facebook group posted that she had been asked to return to work and teach classes at a senior center. She was feeling conflicted about it and was seeking advice about masks. One response was particularly vituperative:
Yes, we are in the middle of an unprecedented, chaotic, worldwide crisis, but suggesting that yoga teachers who are teaching live classes should be “banged up” and imprisoned as murderers is perhaps not the most… ahem… yogic response.
Look, I understand that things are very scary right now and people are dying.
My father is 81 and had bypass surgery last year. He’s definitely at risk. I recently canceled plans to visit. Which makes me wonder when and if I will be able to see my parents again. And that stirs up many emotions including sadness, fear, and shame (should I have even considered going to visit him?).
But right now, every situation needs careful, deliberate, individual consideration – whether it’s visiting your parents, teaching yoga, or buying groceries.
I know a few yoga teachers who are considered essential service providers (some of them are qualified both as yoga teachers and mental health or allied health providers) and are currently teaching classes (to low-risk populations), under careful guidelines, in medical settings.
They are not murderers because they are doing their jobs. Similarly, medical workers who may be unwittingly transmitting the disease in nursing homes are not murderers either.
Tensions are running high right now and understandably so.
As yoga professionals or enthusiasts we have tools to help us stay composed and deal rationally with the current situation and we need to be using them. If yoga folks are losing their heads, what hope is there for the rest of humanity?
I’ve written before about primal emotions – fear, rage, shame and grief and how they initiate behavior, long before our front brain can jump in and mediate things.
These emotions are boiling up with great intensity at the moment and we need to recognize them and respond to them with compassion and kindness. We need to take time to meditate, to practice pranayama and asanas, to work on being considerate, understanding, and thoughtful. And we need to defy the urge to shame people who are trying to do their jobs, or who don’t have the luxury of staying home. What about those who are trying to figure out how to survive? Particularly when their main source of income has been teaching in person?
Perhaps it would help to clarify some things about health care.
The United States Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Sciences) has used this model to distinguish different areas of health care.
The medical powers that be have defined health care as a continuum that includes, but is not limited to, treatment. Health care also includes prevention, health promotion, and recovery. This model was originally developed to address addiction, but is now also being used to address other chronic conditions as well. The most prominent feature of this model is that health promotion (otherwise known as wellness and defined in Ayurveda and yoga as dinacarya or lifestyle interventions) should be implemented across the whole continuum.
One thing this epidemic has highlighted is the fact that many people living in the western world are unhealthy. We have an epidemic of chronic diseases. 6 out of 10 American adults have at least one and 4 out of 10 have two or more.
Right now, we, as an entire population, are called to improve our own health in order to be as strong as possible in the face of this epidemic.
Yoga is an excellent vehicle for creating health and research suggests it may also help people increase immunity. Which is not the same thing as saying that yoga will give you superhuman powers against COVID-19. It just means that it can help you be a healthier person, which, logically, would be a good thing to work on right now.
The U.S. health care system was in really bad shape for decades before this virus emerged. And, politics aside, one of the reasons is that individuals, as well as the society in general, have some really bad health habits. Another reason is that we have surrendered our health to the powers that be. Taking your health back, internalizing your locus of control, is part of what we are all called to do right now. If you are a yoga professional, you have some unique and essential skills in assisting folks in that endeavor.
Right now, teaching and practicing yoga is of paramount importance – it can help to improve the health of whole populations. We have the tools of technology to share yoga safely. And together, as a yoga community, we need to find better ways to use these tools effectively, and to reach out to more folks who are at risk.
- Let’s keep trying to find more common ground – despite our individual opinions (to which we are entitled but should never weaponize).
- Let’s keep working on mindfulness and compassion in our interactions with each other.
- Let’s not shame or blame anyone who is being thoughtful about how they share these practices.
- And let’s keep doing our own work personal work in order to deepen our own sense of meaning and purpose during these difficult times.