There is a tendency in all of us to be suspicious of, if not downright resistant to change. If things are going well, it is in our nature to want to keep them like that. We are comfortable in routine; in knowing where we stand and what we can expect. Maintaining the status quo is like a safety blanket; it keeps us cosy and we feel secure and content. We like everything to be familiar and easy, not to have to think, and as long as everything continues in its regular rhythm, we are relatively happy.

attachment and aversion cause suffering

I say relatively, because this affinity with the ‘known’ is also a source of suffering for us. Even while our desired, regular rhythms are still flowing, we often suffer from bouts of anxiety at the mere idea that they might somehow be interrupted. The notion of change alone can cause us distress. This is one of the most intractable problems that we are faced with in life. What we like, we try to hold on to, and, what we dislike, we try to push away. The fact that so much of life is not in our control, renders this a flawed strategy and when it proves impossible to keep a desired situation going, or to avoid an undesired one, we suffer. The resolution of this problem is one of the principal aims of Yoga.

embracing change

Yoga recognises that change is inherent to the nature of the Universe, and therefore, it is imperative that we learn to accept it, or we will suffer all the time. In chapter 2 of the Gitā, Kṛṣṇa tells Arjuna, that ‘to be a Yogi means to be unaffected by whether things go well or not’, and that ‘this equanimity is called Yoga’. As we can readily see, most of what we experience in life is not under our direct control. What others do or think is not; where we are born is not; the weather definitely isn’t! It is an incontrovertible truth that if we seek permanent happiness in things that are, by their very nature, impermanent, we are going to be disappointed.

And while many natural changes, like the changing seasons for instance, being expected, can be coped with, undesired change will often come in the most unexpected and turbulent ways, ravaging all of our carefully structured routines and habits and laying waste to our sense of security, even to our very sense of who we are and what life is all about.

look for the opportunity

Yoga offers the way out of this predicament, but what happens if even the way we do Yoga is impacted by a change? This is the situation we all currently find ourselves in. The familiar routines of practice are unavailable to us; we can’t attend live classes; we miss the energy of practising in company with others. We feel put out and the mind starts to react; ‘It’s not the same at home’, ‘The kids get in the way’, ‘I have no room’, ‘I don’t feel the same motivation’, etc etc.

It doesn’t matter how the mind rationalises it, what very good ‘reasons’ and justifications it finds for ‘how everything has been messed up and there is no way you can practice in these circumstances’, the truth is simpler. Our attachment to things being a certain way, and our resistance to change, is the root of our unhappiness. Instead of seeing a problem and a negative, we need to see an opportunity and a positive.

surrender is key

If we are not able to attend live classes, and it makes us feel unhappy or demotivated, we should look at this as a fantastic chance to let go of another attachment, another source of suffering. We thought going to Yoga class was a strength and a way of reducing unhappiness, and of course it was, but at another level, even without our being conscious of it, an attachment was being formed, which now, because we are denied it, is causing us pain. Pātaňjali says it very simply in Sutra 2: 7, Sukhānuśayi rāgaḥ - Enjoyment is quickly followed by attachment. (Unless we are very mindful).

So, we now have a chance to rid ourselves of a source of unhappiness, simply by accepting the reality that is. Of course, acceptance in Yoga is not resignation. We need to be cognisant of Kṛṣṇa’s advice in Chapter 6 of the Bhagavad Gitā, and not fall into the trap of giving up practice, but rather, we must become self-motivating and practice in whatever way is possible in the new circumstances. Doing this is Yoga in itself.

All evolution is simply the adaptation to change, all change, the challenge to evolve. If we can be happy to practice whatever way we can, even if it be without the energy of others around us, in a small space between the bed and the wall, without friends on their mats beside us, without adjustments, then we have achieved a major stride on the path of Yoga. We come to understand that Yoga is more than postures, more than any of the techniques. When we realise that surrender is the essence of it, accepting what is and doing the best we can, without allowing ourselves to be discommoded by external circumstances, then we are embarking on the real journey of Yoga.

happiness lies within

I am happy that we are, of necessity, teaching and practising Yoga online. It has revealed that many preconceptions I might have had about it were unfounded! It has revealed that there are more ways to be together than physically. We don’t actually ‘need’ to be in the room with a teacher, or students, or other practitioners, or indeed, many of the other things by which we defined the ‘quality’ of our practice. We can enjoy our practice, whatever form it takes, in whatever space and for however long, because we realise that what is really key in Yoga is knowing that our happiness lies within us, and is accessible at all times and in all circumstances, when we surrender to what is, embracing the challenge of change and responding with positivity and trust.

Pātaňjali Sutra 1:20 gives us the approach that we should adopt: Shraddhā vīrya smṛti samādhi prajňāpurvaka itareṣām - Trust, energy and remembering that the goal of Yoga is happiness free of dependency, are the ways in which understanding and serenity grow.

And having embraced Online Yoga, it has presented us with many gifts that we had not anticipated. The virtual sangha, the community, is a stronger and more supportive presence than we could ever have imagined. We are connected across oceans and mountains, practising together in a way we might never have experienced without the changes wrought by Coronavirus. We have met new friends, learned new skills and created new ways of teaching. We have had to strive to be more precise in our instructions and to watch and listen to our students with a greater acuity and alertness.

We have discovered more about what the appropriate Yoga is for these times and how to teach and practice in a way that balances the Doshas and strengthens immunity. We have gained new insights into the many ways that Yoga can save us from ourselves if we allow it to be free, unencumbered by attachment or by any requirement that it be a certain way. The gift of change is in the challenge it presents to us to re-imagine ourselves; to live each moment as it comes, fresh and new, without expectation or fear. The rewards are only revealed when the gauntlet is taken up. Moving online initially seemed like the most daunting of challenges, yet it has brought us so much. We need to be challenged if we are to grow. So, don’t be afraid of change, it comes with a gift for you in its hands.