Getting Comfortable With Discomfort: Yoga and Uncertainty During COVID
Getting comfortable with discomfort.
The only certainty is uncertainty.
Change is the only constant.
You’ve probably heard these truisms, maybe even in your yoga classes. These are the kind of statements that, in the past, probably made you think, “Huh, that sounds about right. Pass the avocado toast.” Now, however, we’re all getting a crash course in how to live cheek by jowl with our new pals discomfort, uncertainty, and change.
Even though we could (and have) argued that change is a constant in the “before” times as well, the rapid pace and global scale of the discomfort that the COVID-19 pandemic keeps serving are unprecedented in our lifetimes. Add in the whirlwind of anxiety caused by the American election throughout the world, and we're looking at whole new levels of uncertainty. As students of yoga, we have access to tools that help us handle this type of stress, but, as always, it takes practice.
The Stages of Discomfort
Eventually, we’ll probably gain the perspective to see our experiences in three stages: the before, the during, and the after. But since we’re still sitting in the middle of the during, it doesn’t make sense to think of the pandemic as a monolithic event. It has had its own stages and is evolving all the time.
In the beginning, being on high alert and adjusting all our routines lent us a frenetic energy. Back in March and April when the shutting down started, we all had to make huge lifestyle changes incredibly quickly. There was no time to process or adjust incrementally because circumstances demanded immediate action. Those of us fortunate enough to have adaptable jobs had to figure out how to work from home. We had to set up our kids for distance learning and figure out how to get groceries and basic supplies into our houses. We went into crisis mode and managed each crazy challenge as it came. We disinfected our doorknobs and apples. We acquired masks and gloves. We used Zoom as a noun.
As the true implications of our extended state of limbo set in, there may have been boredom tinged with despair. Even as our new routines took hold, an unsettled feeling persisted. As layoffs came at work, every summer plan was cancelled, and we ran out of toilet paper, the gnawing feeling of uncertainty remained. Even as novelty wore into monotony, it was monotony with an edge of panic because nobody knew what was coming next.
Even when official lockdowns began to relax, our relief was tinged with anxiety as we had to establish new boundaries for ourselves and our families and contend with the probability that the cycle would soon start up again. Sure enough, as hot spots have flared throughout the summer and autumn, regional restrictions have come back, along with, at last, one certainty: we’ll have to keep adapting to new circumstances for a while to come.
The Yoga Approach
Trying to stay balanced on constantly shifting ground is where we live now, and, like it or not, we’ve all become experts in what discomfort feels like. As students of yoga, we do have a few coping tools at our disposal. And while staying in Warrior II a little longer than we’d like isn’t equivalent to living through a global pandemic, it is a way of training the mind.
Sitting for meditation teaches us how to identify thoughts and emotions as they arise without attaching to them in that moment. Naming your discomfort allows you to distance yourself from it just a little bit. The observing mind can give you the space to be separate from the anxiety you are feeling.
Yoga’s focus on being in the present moment is another tool. Even though we’d probably all rather be living in the pre-pandemic past or the post-pandemic future, that’s not possible. When the big picture is overwhelming, focus on the little picture. In and amongst the overarching feelings of distress, there are still moments of hope and joy. Taking pleasure in the small kindnesses of neighbours, the family sitting around the dinner table, or a beautiful sunny day helps keep despair at bay. Each breath you take can serve as a reminder that you’re still here and that you are ok right now. Deep breathing also calms the nervous system, sending your body signals that you are safe.
Take Control Where You Can
When we’re dealing with extreme degrees of uncertainty, it’s helpful to take advantage of the opportunities we do have for agency. We can take a bit of control by following the protocols that are proven to stop the spread of COVID-19 infections, taking care of our friends, families, and society at large in the process. We can participate by voting in elections that will determine how the pandemic and all its related heath and economic issues will be handled in the future.
The human condition will always be one of uncertainty. We can accept this and also work at the same time to create a more positive future for everyone.