How Yoga Helped me Cope with my COVID-19 Anxiety

Urban Yogis instructor, Madeline Phang, shares her personal story

Almost a year since Singapore exited Circuit Breaker and things were looking up, I stopped keeping up with the number of COVID-19 cases. I had accustomed myself to, and became comfortable with, the new norm. But this month, everything took a turn. New variants, stricter measures, unlinked cases, a slowing economy, more personal milestones missed, and updates upon updates on news media and WhatsApp group chats. As Singapore’s daily new infections climbed up over the past three weeks, so did my anxiety.

 

You are not alone!

Everybody around me seems to be taking the new changes in their own stride; some look like they are coping really well. Yet here I am, experiencing multiple panic attacks a day, wondering if I’m the only one going crazy. But I’m quickly learning that is far from the truth. 

Last week, I decided to finally open up to my Mum about how I was really feeling. I was surprised to hear that despite her cheerful disposition, she was feeling the same too. The more I opened up to others, the more I realised I wasn’t alone. We are all in this together. Everyone is affected by COVID-19 one way or another, and they are all figuring out how to deal with everything all on their own.

But we don’t have to cope with this zigzag pandemic by ourselves. There is so much power in shared experiences. So being able to connect (even just virtually) with people who are going through the same thing and learn from each other makes everything so much easier. So, I’m here to share what has helped me tide over my pandemic anxiety in the last few weeks, and I hope it’ll be of great help for some of you. If you have anything to share with the rest of the community, please comment down below. I would be happy to learn from you as well.

 

Alleviating my anxiety with Yoga and Meditation

The coping skills that I’ve developed over the last year have really been challenged this month as I struggle to keep my emotions and thoughts in check. When I read the news, I often feel like my chest is caving in. When I leave the house, I get so paranoid that I need to gather all the energy in the world just to simply breathe. 

This heightened state of arousal has really pushed me to check back in with what my mind, body and soul really need. But the tools that I was so desperately searching for were already part of my daily routine: Yoga and Meditation. I have developed a daily practice since the start of the pandemic, but something has shifted inside of me over time. So I did a little attuning of my practice to match my current state of mind.  

With so much going on, what I truly needed was some Yin to balance out the Yang. Rather than fast-paced Vinyasa in our sea of constant “moving”, I opted for some Yin Yoga to invite some space and stillness to calm my mind. It was my way of embodying the pause that I craved – the pause that allowed me to be present and aware of what was actually happening to me. 

Practicing pranayama during long holds in Yin has also helped me silence the mind and reach a more centred awareness, rather than being “hypervigilant” and absorbed in my mind chatters. I was able to put all my focus on the breath, and that drove my attention away from things that didn’t really matter. 

Furthermore, I took my daily mediation back to basics. Rediscovering meditation removed the expectations from my practice and my fixation on the idea of what meditation means. Opening myself up to a whole new approach made way for new possibilities, and I felt brand new again. 

Little by little, the noise in my head was starting to quieten. I was able to lessen the frequency of my panic attacks and episodes of major stress. 

Finally, being able to attain a small degree of true mental stillness and silence, I was able to just simply “see”, to just simply “be” — living and breathing, unhindered by my own limitations.

 

Tips to get started

Not only has Yoga and Meditation allowed my mind and body to gain a sense of calm and ease, but it has helped me to cope with paranoia and pandemic anxiety.  If you’re new to Yoga and meditation, you can always attend a safe practice with us, and reconnect with people and the outdoors. Otherwise, try starting with this breathing exercise that has helped me tremendously over the last year. Research has shown that abdominal breathing for 20 to 30 minutes a day can help reduce anxiety and stress significantly.

  • Take a deep breath in through your nose, letting your belly rise first, then your chest. 
  • Short pause over here.
  • Release the air through your nose as slow and as steady as you can, extending your exhalation. 
  • Repeat for 10 breath cycles. See how you feel, and if you need to, you can repeat this exercise for another 10 more breath cycles. 

Even though Yoga has helped me deal with my COVID-19 anxiety, I sometimes still have little pockets of anxiousness that resurface. So, at the end of the day, it is still normal to feel anxious and stressed during times like these, and we are allowed to give ourselves the space to feel. There is nothing to be ashamed of. However, if it starts to become overwhelming and takes a toll on your well-being, come back to ground zero. Listen to your body. Stay connected with friends and family. Take time for yourself and practice self-care. And, if you need professional help, there is absolutely no shame in that as well. Speak with someone if that’s what you need right now.

My practice may not look like what it has been in the past and yours might not too, but this is what serves you now and there is no need for fixing. Always remember that when we start from the inside, the outside work will begin to flow as well. 


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Practice with us through our short guided meditations and breath courses on Urban Yogis Online Academy !

Short guided breath-focused meditations: Keep Calm and Meditate 

Complete course on the anatomy and biomechanics of breath: Biomechanics of Breath


About the Author

Madeline is just your everyday girl. She shares life experiences to connect and empower people while she navigates the sea of uncertainty in life. After a major burnout that led her into the hospital, Madeline has since been advocating for slow movement and the importance of wellness. On her journey of self-discovery and leading a life with purpose, she started sharing her practice through teaching Yoga online and with Urban Yogis in Singapore. Find Maddie on IG  @madyogithings.




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