Art during COVID: Yoga

Wednesday, May 20, 2020 - 5:32pm

NOSELL

Cara Jhang

This piece is part of a series on “Art during COVID,” an exploration of art forms to keep our idle minds creative during this pandemic. With many of us at home, our minds have ample time to wander, wonder and create. This series highlights accessible and immersive art forms to both produce and consume during the pandemic months and beyond.

I’m sure every Ann Arbor student remembers where they were when they heard the news that would change the rest of their semester. I was standing by the storage cubicles of aUM Yoga Studio when my phone started erupting with text messages: University classes were moving online. Overwhelmed by the sudden flood of information, I powered my phone off, folded it inside my jacket and tucked the bundle deep inside the cubicle. I could afford to stay in denial for one more hour. 

As I walked into the yoga room, the irony of it all hit me: I’d received life-changing information seconds before starting a yoga class, a space that encourages detaching from the external world and turning your attention inwards. I heard jittery whispers as I unrolled my mat, all in disregard of the sign hung on the front door, “We honor noble silence.” 

That March 11 class was one of my last at aUM’s studio, located on the corner of South University and South Forest Avenues. Less than a week later, aUM Yoga owner Jessie Lipkowitz decided to move all classes to a virtual platform, as did other yoga studios in downtown Ann Arbor. Shortly after, I found myself in my childhood home, isolated from my friends and sorely missing Ann Arbor. 

But I didn’t give up my yoga practice. After frustrating hours of online classes, too much screen time and too little social contact, an hour of yoga has kept me going from day to day. I see yoga as art for the body. By the end of a practice, I’ve created something — a series of movements, a new energy, a cultivated breath. My body is the vehicle that creates and carries this energy and breath, allowing it to execute postures and balances. I take comfort in knowing that this art can be created with virtually no materials or preparation, but can be just as exciting and cathartic as painting a masterpiece. 

If you’ve been hesitant to try yoga, I was once in your shoes. I was skeptical of exercising in a sauna-like room, of judgement from other students, of the countless Lululemon logos emblazoned on leggings, sports bras, even yoga mats. At the same time, I knew that yoga had often received the short end of the stick, labeled as a rich people’s form of exercise, an exaggerated form of spirituality, movement shrouded with mystical meaning. After three years of practicing, the expense and branding associated with yoga still bothers me. But if you can put this aside and focus on the art itself (which can be accessed on free platforms), the benefits are unparalleled. 

The health advantages of yoga are well known. Many osteopathic medical schools in the U.S. include yoga in their curriculum as a form of preventative medicine and natural healing. For me, the emotional benefits of yoga have been the reason I come back to my mat every day. A yoga practice forces me to remember that my mental strength is just as valuable as my physical strength. Even if I start a class relaxed and calm, I somehow come out even more grounded and mindful. It’s a feeling that I want everyone to experience. 

There are countless forms of yoga to experiment with. If my mind feels hectic and overwhelmed, I practice Hatha yoga for some mental clarity. If I want to push myself physically, I grab a towel and some water before starting an Ashtanga yoga routine, or its derivative Vinyasa form. If that Vinyasa class makes it hard to walk up the stairs the next day, I practice Yin yoga to alleviate my tight muscles. When I find myself comparing myself to others around me, I remind myself that each pose looks and feels different on different bodies. The art of yoga allows room for individual expression without judgement. Your art, and your body, are distinctive from all others. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has made yoga more accessible than ever before, and the Ann Arbor yoga community has transitioned well to online platforms. aUM Yoga, Red Yoga and Tiny Buddha Yoga all hold livestreamed classes on Zoom, available for purchase as packages or drop-in sessions. If paying for a class isn’t your cup of tea, YouTube channels like Yoga with Adrienne and Five Parks Yoga offer free classes. If there was ever a time to get bendy, quarantine is it. 

The hidden jewel of a regular yoga practice is taking its benefits off of the mat. Just like displaying a work of art, your improved mental and emotional wellbeing can be shared with those around you. It’s humbling to know that you have the power to change your mindset and simultaneously touch the lives of those around you. In the midst of a pandemic, isn’t that all we can ask for? If staying at home has you in the slumps, grab a mat and get started.