Self-Care Outside and Inside

By Swami Sahajananda

The COVID-19 pandemic has touched the lives of all of us.  We are all faced with the reality of the rising number of cases of infection and death.  Deliberating about how to deal with this worldwide situation, you may be feeling at a loss.  Reading the news or talking to others, you may even feel hopeless.  With the dramatic shifts in numbers from day to day, you may wonder what you can do.  How can I affect this situation?  How can I take care of myself, both inside and outside, during this time?

Wash your hands!  This directive tops the list of information about protecting yourself from the COVID-19 virus.   Today, this one message is the most important for keeping safe and healthy.  Diligent, consistent hand washing is the best action to take for protecting yourself from the virus.  This is how you protect yourself on the outside.

The most important message about taking care of yourself on the inside comes from yoga.  Gurudevi Nirmalananda conveys it: do more japa and more meditation.  These practices turn you inward to find your own divine Self.  Being in your Self gives you strength and steadiness in how you live in the world, especially in these difficult, challenging times.

Both handwashing and japa require attention, dedication and perseverance.  This correlation came to me as I was washing my hands for the 10th or 20th time within an hour.  You must remember to wash your hands often.  Who knows where you may encounter the virus?  Then, to manage inner self-care, remember to repeat mantra.  Bring mantra back over and over again, over and over again.  Both handwashing and japa resonate with an ancient yogic teaching, the principle of abhyasa:

sa tu diirgha-kaala-nairantarya- satkaaraasevito d.r.dhabhuumi.h. — Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.14

Abhyasa (practice) becomes firmly grounded by being cultivated for a long time, without interruption and with devotion. — Rendered by Swami Nirmalananda

Results are attained by consistent and dedicated practice.  Washing my hands has becomes a practice I do often and with dedication or perseverance.  I am engaging in abhyasa on a very practical level.  Remembering why I am doing it encourages me to continue.  There are no shortcuts to being diligent about hygiene and health in this time of a pandemic.

Keeping my hands off my face requires a heightened awareness of what I am doing.  Moment to moment, I must be more aware.  Being conscious of every detail of what I’m doing has become a consistent, dedicated practice.  I cannot drift.  Similarly, I must also dedicate myself to not losing awareness of my mind and thoughts.  If my mind wanders, then my actions become automatic and often unconscious.  Thus, I must not veer from the consistent, dedicated practice of being aware.  This consistent dedication to awareness is not only a lofty spiritual goal.  It is an essential preventative measure to keep my body safe and healthy.  In that way, it illuminates the interweaving of the spiritual and the mundane.

The applicability of yogic principles to how you live on the outside is clear.  In response to this worldwide crisis, what do you do with the emotions, feelings and spiritual angst that arise within?  News has always been good at fanning the fires of fear and panic.  Of course, you do want to be informed.  Can you do so without getting caught up or lost in your reactions to the news?

Yoga tells you to turn within and find the deeper dimension within.  Yoga urges you to experience your own beingness on the inside.  Yoga specializes in working with the mind.  Japa — mantra repetition — has been called scrubby bubbles for the mind.  Practice japa to wash your mind, just like you wash your hands!  Repeating mantra brings you inside, beyond the chatter of your mind.  Even if your mind is active, use mantra’s scrubby bubbles to clear it out.  Simply repeat the mantra along with your thoughts.  It will work.

Our Svaroopa® yoga mantra is enlivened.  Handed down to us through generations of meditation masters, this mantra vibrates with their blessings.  It takes you inward, to essence of your own being easily.  When you approach your life from the knowing of your own Divine Essence, everything changes.

For many now, the demands that usually keep you busy have lessened.  You can do things that you have wanted to do for a long time.  You did not have time for them before in your busy, hectic life.  You can catch up on your favorite TV shows, try out new recipes or take virtual museum tours.  Yet you may find yourself becoming bored after a week or two.  You may also find your mind has time to dwell on “negativities” and to get caught in old, familiar limiting thought patterns.  You may be watching too much news about the virus, and it sets you off into worry and fear.  When you have exhausted the ways of looking outside for distraction, you may find discontent and deeper emotions arising.  It is now time for a course correction, even before this happens.

This time of enforced staying at home is the perfect setup for inner exploration.  Now, you have an opportunity to be quiet, to settle and become still.  You can dive more deeply into the practices that bring you in touch with your own Self.  You have the golden opportunity to explore inward.

Yoga practices excel at inner exploration.  This time is a perfect time to learn how to meditate or to lengthen your meditation time.  This time is perfect to do more japa.  Incorporate it into your day more consistently.  Use your developing awareness of being more conscious on the outside to remember to take care or your inside.  Repeat mantra and meditate.

When you practice mantra, panic and worry take a back seat.  You may find that the thoughts and emotions are gone.  All that is left is mantra. The mantra settles you into your Self. You have a deep inner knowing that arises out of being seated within. You know your Self. You will still respond to situations that arise, but you will do so intelligently, from a settled place within.  You will be able to look at a situation and make decisions based on knowledge and wisdom.  You won’t being reacting to fear, loneliness or despair.  Instead, you will respond from a stable knowingness within your own being.

Take this time to dive deeper within to find that vast expanse of your own being.  It is right there within you; it is you, your own Divine Essence.  And it is so close.  Mantra and meditation will take you there.  You can set up an enhanced schedule for yourself so that these practices are a part of your life.  Practice abhyasa by doing your yoga practices consistently, with dedication and perseverance, just like washing your hands.  Make a commitment to yourself, so even when you don’t want to do more yoga, you do it!

This is a sacred time.  Use it to honor and serve yourself and the world around you.  You don’t have the distractions that have habitually pulled you outside of yourself.  You don’t have the excuses that have kept you focused on the outside.  Take the time now to turn within.  When you turn within you will find that which has always been there, your own Self. You can turn this crisis into a celebration of your inherent nature of being.  You can explore on the inside that who you truly are and have always been.  Do more yoga and wash your hands often!