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The Yamas and Pandem-ic-monium

As COVID-19 (aka Corona Virus) has begun to spread throughout the U.S. and other countries, the World Health Organization has declared it a "pandemic", meaning a new disease, for which people do not have immunity, spreading around the world beyond expectations. Each country, including the U.S., and each state affected has issued guidelines as to how to prevent the spread of this new disease. Many states are closing schools and banning large public gatherings. Many public places, like Libraries, are also closing. This, of course, causes unanticipated problems for people without childcare, people without sick leave, people who have nowhere to go, etc. Sadly, because people tend to react out of fear to things they do not understand, it causes panic, anxiety and even hostility.

In times of crisis like this, it seems the best and the worst comes out in people. In times like this, we have the opportunity to strengthen or weaken our communities. Many people are stocking up on cleaning products, toilet paper and canned goods, anticipating being ill or not being able to get to the store. Most are being forced to isolate or practice "social-distancing" (the buzz word of the hour) to help flatten the curve of the disease, so as not to overwhelm medical providers, and stop the spread of the virus.

By following the Yamas - the first limb of the practice of yoga - we can go a long way towards staying grounded, kind and healthy while strengthening our communities.

The first Yama, "Ahimsa", or "non-violence", tells us to be compassionate towards ourselves and each other. Obviously, if you are sick, stay home from work. Take care of yourself so you can heal, and take precautions not to spread germs in public areas. This is demonstrating compassion for others. If you are not ill, perhaps offer to be of service to others in your community who may need assistance - either with childcare, animal care, or shopping for food and supplies. The second Yama, "Satya" tells us to practice Truthfulness. Recognize your own fears around this disease, or of being sick or even of death. Look for real information from experts to guide your decision making at this time - not jus confirmation bias. Don't be an alarmist and pass around unfounded hype on social media. If you are on social media and reading too much information that is depressing - turn it off. Give yourself a break. Remember to stick to facts, and if your health is compromised, go see a doctor and get diagnosed. Remember that there is also a flu virus going around now that is NOT Corona virus.

The third Yama, "Asteya", or "non-stealing" tells us not to take from others. This is a perfect time to practice gratitude and share with those in need who may truly not be prepared for a pandemic because they lack the emotional or physical support. Be smart and plan for extended periods away from work, be prepared for illness - but do not take so much from the stores that there is nothing left for others. If you have extra of something because you bought it in bulk, reach out and share with others who may be in need - without blaming them for not "stocking up" sooner. Remember that we are all human and that you do not know another person's experience or situation in the world.

The fourth Yama, "Brahmacarya" refers to moderating the senses and conserving your energy. It goes hand in hand with Pratyahara - the idea of withdrawing the senses, letting go of negative impressions and filling that void with positive impressions. Again, if you are practicing social distancing - take care of yourself. Take a break from social media - particularly negative social media. Find things that make you laugh. Listen to music, or dance. Go for a walk in nature and soak in all the beauty of the natural world. Time in nature can be very healing, and foster a sense of connectedness when we cannot connect with other humans.

The fifth Yama, "Aparigraha", or non-possessiveness. During this time of social -distancing, be careful not to distance yourself from humanity. Call friends, neighbors, co-workers and parents. Check in and make sure they are okay. Again, offer what you can - whether it's physical things like food, or offering childcare to a neighbor who has none. If you have unexpected time off, reach out to local nonprofits that are still open and see if they need help. Does your local humane society or homeless shelter need supplies? If you are home b/c children are off from school, do some research and find a project you can become active volunteering in when things get better.

And, remember that things will get better. This is temporary. It is said that everything is a gift, and what we choose to do with that gift is up to us. If we don't let this experience bring out the worst in us, perhaps we can emerge a better, stronger community. Namaste.

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