Dear Michael, you work as a yoga teacher worldwide. Where are you currently based and how does the situation look like there?
Om Namaha Sivaya Susanna,
I am currently in the US and I see an entire wave of information flooding our airwaves. Some of it, thankfully, is very helpful and some, sadly, is just unnecessary and creating an environment of uncertainty and fear. The response to this situation here in the US, from a governmental perspective, has been much slower than in other Western locations, especially in Europe. Now, it seems like all the decisions being taken here are based on trying to “catch up”. Certainly, there are precautions being implemented that will curb the spread of the virus. Some states have already called for a full shutdown of any unnecessary movement of people. Travel into the US from a number of countries has been restricted. This also brings up many restrictions or a sense of restriction. Overall, we are learning new ways of being.
Many people in Europe are, therefore, in panic and anxious, starting with the fear of becoming infected up to existential and identity crises. How do you see the situation from the perspective of a spiritual teacher?
I would like to respond to this question by stating, firstly, that I simply share knowledge and some wisdom based on my 30+ years of exploration in the field of Yoga, Meditation, Tantra and Spirituality. I believe that the term “spiritual teacher” is a very particular “box” that I am not comfortable with. So, having that in place, I am able to proceed. The fear of being infected is very real. I believe that, like any virus, it can be transmitted from person to person via all the usual methods that viruses are shared. When it is flu season or when we have had an outbreak of some of the other known viruses over the last 20 years ranging from Ebola, West Nile Fever, Anthrax, MersCov (also a coronavirus), H1N1, and a variety of other know flu-like conditions, the usual way to deal with those is to isolate the infected from those that have not been infected. This is what we have traditionally done. It is what is being done now, just on a much larger scale and it is being enforced by our governments, rather than being suggested by health care officials. So this is where we are currently. This is what the general populations of Europe, North and South America are facing currently.
The panic and anxious feelings that people are experiencing are deeply rooted in the Sympathetic Nervous which is a part of our nervous system. Its function is to keep us safe in times of real or perceived danger. At this very moment in our history we, people, are feeling our sense of “freedom” of movement and choice is being threatened and, in this case, it is causing the natural function of the nervous system to be over-activated. Once this occurs, we can reset the system. This requires us to make the precise effort of deepening our breath, which will help in restoring the equilibrium between the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems. This is a very simple yet effective method of bringing ourselves back into a state that will allow us to clearly perceive what is happening within and around us.
The above description is what is happening on a physiological level. The other aspect of our being that is affected here is on a more subtle level. This is in the area of the Mind. By “Mind” here I mean that area in our brain, or maybe even in every part of ourselves, that can identify, categorize, have sensations and discern. This is where most are experiencing this great shift at this moment. The part in the mind that houses the “Ego” is Western psychology or Ahamkara in Yoga terms – that aspect that identifies the “I”, “me” “mine”. This is where we can have the most existential crisis. All our ideas that we define ourselves by – as communities and as individuals – are being questioned and challenged. The belief that “I” can choose where I go, when I go. The possibility to have an abundance of food, medication, and other basic necessities, as we have become accustomed to, are all being challenged. So, it is no wonder that people everywhere are facing and will face these moments of “identity crisis”. All that we believed were our choices are being restricted and since we have mostly oriented to the external perspectives of being, to define ourselves; Now we face this situation.
How do you think the virus will change our world?
There will be some major shifts in how we approach our time and relationships with ourselves and others. I believe that we will remember that we can thrive by spending more quiet time with ourselves. Once again, people will actually take the time to recognize the other with more depth and understanding, seeing the other as ourselves. The way we travel around the planet might be effected by this situation, which will be a positive benefit to the vitality of our world. Our methods of travel themselves might be altered, as will our means of education. We can already see how many teachers, universities and centers of education are turning to the the digital medium for knowledge and sharing of information.
This leads to the most amazing gift we have forgotten – ourselves. We will all deepen our relationships with ourselves which, in turn, will deepen our relationships with others.
What do you think this will lead to?
This leads to the most amazing gift we have forgotten: ourselves. We will all deepen our relationships with ourselves which, in turn, will deepen our relationships with others. Our relationships will become more substantial. By this I mean that, as we look inwards, we will know more profoundly what our needs are and then which external relationships support and nurture them. This nurturing will, once again, connect us intimately with those we choose to relate to. Now, we are once again connecting in ways that are not only functional, but profoundly meaningful and enhancing for us and those around us.
Do you see any chances and reasons for what is happening right now?
The most beneficial outcome that comes to mind is that it is time for us to shift our awareness into a more conscious being. Our species is really an incredibly gifted one. By this, I mean that we have some of the most amazing qualities of any species. We have choice, creativity and we can adapt at an exponential rate. Having said that, I also see that, unless we are challenged, we rarely alter our modus operandi. It occurs to me also that we have not cultivated the art of stopping or even slowing down unless we are forced. This situation is allowing us the moment to do just that.
I have some other thoughts on why this might be happening at this moment in time but perhaps those might be best revealed on another occasion under different circumstances. I want to add: stay alert, keep yourselves healthy and be prepared to change what you believe about reality and, most important, look at the other as yourself.
Is there a routine / meditation that you can recommend to people in the world during this time?
The best I can suggest is “get into your bodies”. Yes I said BODIES – all of them: Physical, Mental, Energetic and Spiritual. If you have Yoga practice, deepen it. If you have a Meditation practice, deepen it. If you have any practices that bring you into intimate relationships to ALL YOUR BODIES, deepen them. The way we perceive the world at any time is how well we are in the instrument that does the perceiving and that, my dears, is this wonderful gift we call “I”, “me”, “mine”.
Here are some simple ways for everyone to do this quite easily:
1) Daily, in the waking hour, set your intention for your day. What do you want most deeply? What is your truest deepest desire for yourself? The practice of Intention (or Samkalpa, in Sanskrit) works on the most subtle layers of our consciousness and creates the field on which we can manifest. Think of how the Intention will benefit you, those around you and every living being.
2) Breathe deeply for 100 Conscious-Consecutive Breaths. This means that, when you breathe in and out, that counts as 1. Now do 100 of those. If you lose count of the breath you are in, go back to 1. Do this in the morning and at night.
3) 30 minutes of dancing to you favorite music, by yourself is quite fun and, of course, with others is even more FUN. Go WILD! Anytime of the day, several times a day is best.
4) If you recite Mantras, choose your favorite Mantra and use it for your 100 Conscious-Consecutive Breaths. Recite it silently when you breath in and say it out loud when you exhale.
5) If you don’t have a Mantra practice, try “Om Gam Ganapatye Namaha”. It is the mantra to help remove obstacles and much more. Alternatively, you can try the simple mantra “Maa”. Recite it for 15 minutes with a deep connection to whatever you consider the energy of MOTHER. Yours or the Planet or the divine energy of creation.
Michael J. Stewart is a teacher, nomad and creator of Shanta Vira Yoga. Born in Karachi to an Assamese mother and a Scottish-Irish father, he developed an early interest in a broad sense of humanity. His first initiation in to spirituality and esoteric practices came from his maternal grandmother, a healer who was deeply connected to her Hindu roots and as much, a counter-cultural rebel. Michael has since lived, studied and traveled in over 30 countries. Michael offers workshops, trainings and retreats around the world for guiding people to make wellness, art and community.