International Yoga Day special: How the COVID-19 virus is getting more people to meditate
Every year since 2015, International Yoga Day has been celebrated on June 21. And as the big day rolls around, you know what to expect: Surya Namaskars aplenty, promotional campaigns, asana selfies and of course, a marathon of classes at your studio of choice. But this year, it appears, the pandemic has brought with it a perspective shift. Every single yoga teacher we spoke to, whether based in Chennai, Bengaluru or Bali, told us this: ‘people want more meditation’. In fact, the shift is so dramatic that Mumbai-based Sarvesh Shashi (28), founder of Sarva Yoga Studios, says, “There are two kinds of consumers — pre-COVID-19 and post. A pre-COVID consumer was focused only on physicality — becoming flexible, losing weight, strength and so on. The same consumer, post-COVID, is saying ‘Hey, I’d like to lose weight but can you also add pranayama because breathing is very important’. In yoga speak, Sarvesh shares, “There is now an awareness that health ‘above the shoulders’ is just as much of a priority.”
Sadhguru’s message on International Yoga Day
This pandemic is one of the biggest challenges that we as a generation have faced. Unfortunately, a huge number of people have paid the price of losing their lives. Right now, studies are saying that post this pandemic, one of the biggest challenges will be the psychological crisis that human beings will face. When a problem is thrown at us, we should not become a problem. For this, there is no better way to approach life than through the yogic system.
One of the most fundamental aspects of the yogic process is that you are able to create a little distance between you and your physiological process, because these are the only two dimensions in which a human being can suffer or create well-being. Simple yogic processes can help you achieve this and also enhance your immune system in a significant way.
I would like everyone to not only experience this, but become instruments for offering this to large numbers of people. It is important that your personal life, the nation and the world, and humanity as a whole should get back on track as quickly as possible. For this, all of us need to be mentally stable, emotionally balanced and physically fit.
The International Yoga Day was brought forth in the United Nations with the intention that the tools for self-transformation should be in the hands of every human being, not in the hands of an organisation or a guru. And over 177 countries endorsed it immediately because they saw yoga as a technology for self-transformation which is beyond religion, philosophies and ideologies.
On this International Yoga Day, it is my wish and my blessing that everyone should have these tools of self-transformation to transform themselves into joyful, wonderful and impactful human beings in the world.
Meditate, don’t procrastinate
For anyone confused about yoga and meditation being separate entities, Chennai-based yoga instructor Mansi Gandhi (44) clarifies, “Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit word yuj that means ‘to connect’. It is a unification of the body, mind and soul.” To get a context of where priorities lie — ancient texts like The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, out of 200-odd sutras, dedicates only three or four lines to asanas (body postures) while the remaining are focused entirely on the mind. “So really, up until now — people have been doing it completely upside down,” Mansi points out.
But COVID-19 has changed all that, with more people wanting to tackle anxieties at the root — their thoughts. As virtual sessions have taken over, via apps and Zoom calls, over the past three months, breathwork and meditation have found takers with newly-introduced solo sessions — to cater to the demand. Bengaluru-based Divya Rolla (39), who heads the yoga division at Cure.Fit, tells us, “Pranayama before this made up a very small, insignificant part of a class. But with more people asking for it, we introduced a separate pranayama class a few weeks into the lockdown.” What is astounding, we discover, is when she adds that this hour-long class can be accessed from 5 am to 10 pm on the brand’s app and has anywhere between 15,000 to 20,000 people doing it every day. Interestingly enough, more men are showing an interest, we are told, and especially when it comes to quietening of the mind. “Post the lockdown, we have gone from 30 per cent to 55 per cent of men showing a keen interest in meditation and pranayama sessions,” says Sarvesh.
Sound of focus
However, in the age of TikTok and Instagram where our attention spans are often under a minute, there are some challenges, reveals Rohini Manohar of the Chennai Yoga Studio. “Yes, there is a demand. But not a readiness of the human mind, so to speak. People’s attention spans are so short that sitting quietly for an hour can be an impossibility for some,” she shares. Possibly why guided meditation apps like Calm and Headspace with compact listening templates that range from three minutes to five, ten and 15 — are helping so many people ease in with baby steps.
Sound is another big aid when it comes to centering one’s focus. “Simply chant ‘so’ as you breathe in and ‘hum’ as you breathe out,” Manish Pole, co-founder of Total Yoga School, who is currently in Bali, offers us a tactical tip. “Layering breathing with sound helps improve focus.” More elaborate soundscapes that range from sessions focused around sleep to relaxation to boosting self-confidence are available in a range of apps. Sarvesh tells us, “The music on our app is scientifically-backed. Stringed instruments, for instance, are known to help with sleep as well as certain ragas... Incorporating music into live classes is still a work in progress because logistically it’s very difficult to mute every person’s volume.”
Corporate coach Anuja Jacob (46), who meditates every day, decided when the lockdown hit — to take employees through guided meditation sessions as her personal seva. What started as a group of known faces within a Chennai office getting together over a Zoom call, quickly expanded through WhatsApp shares to include working professionals and homemakers in different parts of India, Australia, America, the Middle East and even the Philippines! The 48-minute sessions take place on Tuesdays at 3.30 pm and Fridays at 6.30 am to meet the needs of different timezones. After 30 sessions, we wonder what kind of feedback she has been getting, are working folks happier and healthier? “I prefer not to ask those questions,” she responds with a smile. And elaborates, “Meditation is after all about thinking less,