Yoga in the time of Covid-19

In July 2019 when I was 36, I wrote an article about how I struggled to believe that periods are not impure after over two decades of getting my first period.

Growing up in a Newa Hindu family in Nepal, I acknowledged and accepted that periods were dirty. The persistence of menstrual taboos is  ingrained even among Nepali women, and during a cousin’s wedding in Kathmandu, I was not allowed to participate in the religious ceremony and had to watch it from afar.

Chhaupadi’s monthly banishment of women to the cowshed is an extreme form of this superstition, but na chune (no touching) is widely practiced to this day, even in some educated and well-to-do families.

One would think that being surrounded by strong and positive female role models here in the United States, and reading about how one should embrace having my periods as a part of being a woman, I would feel less shame. But I did not.

The belief is so deeply instilled in my psyche that I still feel uncomfortable buying tampons at drug stores. Every morning, I still light an incense to three Hindu deities in my apartment for the four days of na chune. I also do not wear my rudraksha pendant during my periods. I do not want to force change, I want to evolve naturally.

In late 2019, I decided to take a break from the hormones that I was directed to take to regularise my monthly periods -- and the periods stopped.

Between July 2019 and 2020, a lot changed in my life. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking over the world, my anxiety reached an all time high and I knew I had to do something about it.

A friend of mine in Nepal had been a devout follower of Sadhguru, and I always admired her outlook on life -- she was always calm and composed even in the most stressful situations.

Winter in Chicago can be brutal and rather depressing, so I decided to get Sadhguru’s book Inner Engineering. I listen to his videos on YouTube on anger, anxiety, and compassion.

I also started doing yoga in March with everyone’s favorite Adriene Mishler (of Yoga with Adriene) and I make it a point to do it every single day-- even if it is for 10 mins. Sadhguru says that discipline is not control, but having the sense to do what is needed. And I needed yoga.

In May 2020, I also completed his Inner Engineering program and, the combination of yoga and lifestyle changes changed my life.

Since March, I have started getting my periods every month. That had never happened regularly before without hormones. My pulse rate has dropped by over 20 points since February, and my doctor said that it means that my body is running more efficiently at a relaxed pace.

Over time, I noticed I am sleeping better and waking up well-rested without struggling to sleep in. I am more relaxed. I do not feel easily irritable and frustrated by things that used to upset me quite easily.

My energy and enthusiasm level remain consistent all day. Family, friends, and work do not feel stressful like before. The situations in my life have not changed much except the pandemic, but I do not struggle internally like I had for years.

I feel more mindful. I am also taking better care of myself by eating foods that are good for my body rather than the taste. I do not turn to food for my anxiety.

In this difficult time, I chose peace because there is no time like now to start. For me, peace of mind is true acceptance of how things are. I acknowledge my differences from other people without trying to change them.

I am focusing on making myself better by accepting my uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, this is where I need help. I still struggle with issues of anger and jealously, but I acknowledge those feelings and try to act consciously than react compulsively.

I am starting to let people be and start focusing the energy on myself to move forward. I accept the fact that people only change when they want to change.

This does not mean I put up with what I do not believe in. I take things as they are without giving in and, I stick to my values. I am smart about the future, but I do not worry constantly about it.

Right now, I acknowledge that this is the way life is. At the same time, I do everything in my ability to improve the situation and take responsibility for the world I live in.

I have seen positive changes in my life within the past six months and I like the type of person I am becoming. I am happier, I am less stressed as my body is proving it.

I might still struggle with periods as being a natural part of biology but I am proof that with yoga and guidance, Sadhguru in my case, we can change our lives and be happier. I feel more capable of handling anything life throws my way.

I am learning how to manage my mind and it is making a world of difference and significantly improving my quality of life. I enjoy moment to moment experience.

Anjana Rajbhandary has been writing the occasional column All in the Mind for Nepali Times.