6 Ways Yoga Helped Me Through COVID-19 & Long-Covid — And How I Continue To Deepen My Practice Through Long-Hauler Recovery
Here’s a look at how my yoga practice helped me stay calm during COVID-19 (and all its dramas) and recover during the first four months after.
ICYMI: I wrote about emerging from the virus on the blog back in February.
My recovery is ongoing, as I’m a covid long-hauler.
I want to share with you the invaluable wisdom of yoga that helped me mentally and physically during the first five months of 2021. I faced many challenges besides health, like financial issues, a career change, and grief. The biggest concern for me was accepting a new level of disability during and after my bout with the world-famous virus.
When I say “yoga practice” I mean the entire thing — all eight limbs of yoga.
I am not talking about merely asana practice, or the postures, what some call “exercise” or a “workout.” I was as far from a physical workout as one could be while recovering from covid (left lowercase to steal its power because, honestly, F— that virus). In the beginning, I could hardly sit on my yoga mat, do three minutes of neck rolls, and then get back up. Loading and unloading the dishwasher was as taxing as doing a one-hour Krav Maga workout back when I was 21.
When I say “yoga practice,” I am not talking about the fortune-cookie wisdom we see shared on Facebook. (Yawn).
I’m talking about the true yoga of self-awareness and union, the true yoga that helped me deal with my grief when sobbing would have led to an asthma attack, and the TRUE yoga that helped me be kind and gentle to a body that could no longer do simple things like take the trash out. Let’s get started on that.
1. Yoga brings you much-needed self-awareness
Nothing makes you more self-aware than going through a crisis completely alone, isolated, and quarantined. You learn what you’re made of, what you lack, and where you need to improve. The mirror is suddenly quite clear.
In yoga, the niyama of svadhyaya is the study of the self. It supports the rest of the yamas and niyamas — which also supported my journey. For example, I had to learn to practice ahimsa (non-violence) towards myself as I learned to pace a body through the day that couldn’t handle very much, let alone sitting up straight in a chair.
It was svadhyaya, or self-study, that began to become both fascinating and real work — once I stopped judging myself. (Another opportunity for ahimsa). Nearly dying changes your priorities and brings up a lot of uncomfortable emotions, issues, and other “stuff” that is in our heads. I began the painstaking tasks of unpacking whatever samskaras (patterns) I could discover. I excavated millions — or so it felt like I did.
Which brings me to my next point...
2. Leaning into discomfort, handling the “hard stuff”
Just as the yuck comes up on the mat and you have to lean into the discomfort, when you practice yoga off the mat during a major health crisis, obviously the pain is greater and so is the suffering.
I had quite a few habits I wasn’t aware of because life had been going pretty good. I didn’t need to notice the habits or patterns until my life exploded due to a virus I couldn’t see. I had a samskara (pattern) of not asking for help, or asking for what I needed. I blew that one out of the water when I let nurse friends to come by to take care of me, or when neighbors brought me meals.
I also used to have only two speeds — stop and go.
I had never learned to slow down until covid forced me to. I used to do whatever I wanted when I wanted. I could run errands all afternoon. Now, I need to stop and rest. I now have a voice that gets raspy and weak without warning. There was a time when it would go out completely.
How do you handle the hard stuff?
You learn to do it somehow because life gives you no other choice. I learned to lean into discomfort in ways I’d learned already through Krav Maga and marathon running — but with covid, physical discomfort wasn’t just confined to running some miles or a one-hour self-defense class. It had become 24/7 and inescapable.
To handle the new demands on my body, I also had to learn to deal with pain and discomfort.
I had to learn to sit and sleep differently. There were weeks I could hardly sit in a chair because I physically couldn’t lean back. I had to prop myself up/forward with pillows in order to sit. My muscles on my upper chest, back, and shoulders are just now starting to relax three weeks after my second vaccine and more than four months since the illness itself.
In short, I had to adapt.
I had a new body I had to learn how to use. Doctors were unable to give me guidance on covid’s more baffling effects. All of us who are covid long haulers? We are experiments. We got a new disease; there are no answers yet. So I had to experiment with what works. My personal solutions have been surprisingly low-tech: a heating pad, yoga, and CBD muscle spray.
I’ve been sober since 7-1-13 and I got through ALL of this sober. I leaned into my yoga practice. It gave me solutions. It gave me work to do. It gave me a healthy obsession — yoga — to focus my energy on instead of going for the quick-fix of substances.
3. Cleanliness has a new meaning
I cleaned out everything that didn’t serve me. I disinfected the house and my life. I thought I’d decluttered before but this was a new level. A deeper level. On some level, I decluttered my soul.
There is a yoga niyama of saucha, or cleanliness. You don’t need to run out and buy disinfectant wipes to practice it. Yes, saucha is about keeping your house clean. Which house though? ALL of them!
Beyond cleaning out the clutter, I’m keeping new medical supplies clean & sanitized. I’m letting go of what no longer serves this body, mind, and soul. I released a career path, a bunch of people, and tangible things, too.
How to Clear Mental Clutter in 3 Steps
How to do a Digital Detox
4. I never knew how hard yoga was physically until I lost my physical abilities
This illness completely changed how I look at my body, my health. “Getting healthy” was something I looked at as a “hobby” before. Now it’s life and death. I changed my diet and exercise practices out of necessity. A friend said, “You’re so disciplined.” Which is true, technically.
It’s just so much more than that. It’s desire + discipline. It’s wanting to get the steroid/covid weight off but being unable to do more than 10 minutes on the treadmill. So I’ve become disciplined about my new keto/paleo diet. I noticed superfood smoothies made me feel better, so I make a lot more of those.
I’d been doing yoga asana practice since I was a teenager, so muscle memory was strong. What I had thought of for years as “easy poses” were suddenly difficult or impossible. I will never again take for granted the ability to walk or simply sit in meditation. There was a time I couldn’t even carry a single gallon of water this year. I was that weak.
5. Yoga means union & connection.
My connection to those in my life is greater now because I became more vulnerable than ever. I had to ask for help to take out my trash, for God’s sake — MY TRASH. Imagine not being able to take out your own trash.
Imagine asking friends for money because the state department that sends out unemployment and PUA money never answers. And then imagine every single one of your friends showing up to make sure you eat and have a place to live. Imagine a world in which your friends are getting to know your landlord because they are all helping you TOGETHER. This happened. I lived that. Union & connection are beautiful things.
It was like there was a heroic conspiracy to keep me alive among strangers and friends.
The ugly parts of the ordeal showed me also how much we are connected. Connection is not always light and fluffy! I saw how the actions of others affected myself and those I loved — especially my dear friends who are no longer here. The ones who didn’t make it. The non-mask wearers who selfishly fought against sensible measures to stop the spread of the virus took so many lives from this Earth — and for no good reason. I saw how others’ foolish beliefs can change the lives of those they don’t even know.
Nothing shows more how we are interconnected across this planet than watching a virus spread far and wide rapidly.
6. Disability doesn’t count me out — I learned to accept it
I’m not in a wheelchair, I don’t have a wheelchair placard for my car, I’m not “fully disabled” and “on disability.” But I am newly disabled, thanks to covid. I don’t know if/when that will change.
What this means is I spend an insane amount of time planning. Nearest parking space? Hopefully. But I need a parking space on flat ground because when I park on a slant, I have trouble getting the car door open and getting in/out.
I am spending a ton of mental energy on things like this trying to find the easiest way for me to do things:
- I no longer go to large stores.
- Drive-thru is always the preferable option.
- I drive with my heated seats on to help with pain.
- I can no longer run errands for hours. I have to pace myself.
- I avoid crowds.
- I double mask — my lungs are still quite weak. I can’t get sick again.
- I plan physical activity — ever hear of spoon theory?
- Some things just don’t get done.
- I have yet to work an 8-hour day.
- There has to be an elevator. (Or there better be only one story).
- I cannot carry kitty litter. I have to order it delivered and scoot it on the floor.
- I got so sick I couldn’t care for my cat. (Friends helped).
- If I’m out, my medical ID needs to be visible. I am horrible at this.
- I pick foods up off the shelf at the store to gauge their weight and if I can carry it all home. Too heavy? Not today.
I also realize that “too heavy” one day may be “just fine” another day.
I call on the yoga yama of ahimsa to help me be more kind (non-violent) to my body and its capabilities — and disabilities. This also requires some satya — or truthfulness. I need to be honest with myself about what I am able to do.
I’m not coveting the life of old by practicing aparigraha, or non-coveting. Instead, the path is to find contentment, or santosha, with the life I have. So many of us didn’t make it. I lost friends to this virus so this gives me grief but it also gives me purpose.
I am slowly getting back into life, seeing friends, going places, even taking my mask off sometimes (only when it’s safe). But I am forever changed. I’m grateful to yoga for being there for me as it has been at so many difficult points in my life. Yoga has always been there for me to lean on and for that, I am blessed.
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