While we may all celebrate different December holidays, what we share in 2020 is that this is the first time we will be celebrating during a pandemic. It is true that during any given year you probably have experienced joy as well as loss in some way or another. What is different this year is that as a society, we are experiencing loss on a grand scale.

We complete our journey of the koshas this week by exploring Anandamaya kosha, the bliss body. In Sanskrit, ananda means bliss. This is the most subtle of the layers.

The fourth of the five koshas is Vijnanamaya Kosha, the wisdom body. Vi means “inner” and jnana means “knowledge.” In Sanskrit, vijna means “to discern, to know rightly, to understand.”

This week we explore the third layer or sheath, the Manomaya Kosha. Mano means “mind.”  This kosha is the psycho-emotional body, which encompasses our thoughts and feelings. Many would agree that thoughts and feelings can often be challenging to deal with. As the pandemic rages on, national surveys find many people are faced with increased negative thoughts and feelings of loneliness, anxiety and depression.

Today we turn our attention to Pranamaya kosha, the energy body. This is the second innermost layer, more subtle than the physical body. Prana is translated as “life force energy.” This energy sustains all of creation, and links the body and mind.

In the human body, the breath is our source of prana. This kosha also governs the respiratory, circulatory, nervous, endocrine, excretory and reproductive systems. We receive prana by means of fresh air and water, natural foods, nature and sunlight.

This week, as we begin to explore the five koshas, we focus our attention on Annamaya kosha – the physical body. Anna means “food.” Each of the names of the koshas is followed by the word maya, which means, “consisting of.” As mentioned last week, the word kosha is translated as “sheath” or “layer.” Therefore, Annamaya kosha is the layer consisting of food.

One of the many things I enjoy about my work as a health educator is expanding knowledge about self-care. When teaching, I often joke that my students will get angry with me when they learn that I’m not just going to tell them to go to the spa. While many definitions exist, the self-care I advocate for takes a holistic approach, and often involves doing some of the “stickier” work of examining how aligned our daily actions and choices are with our goals, values and ideals.

This week we unearth the last of the niyamas, Ishvara Pranidhana, otherwise known as surrender. The practice of surrender reminds us to let go of what we can’t change, which in turn opens one up to greater possibility.

This week we turn our attention toward the fourth of the five niyamas (personal practices), Svadhyaya, also known as self-study. Svadhyaya is an invitation to look at ourselves honestly and objectively, and then set an intention to release the negative qualities and reinforce the positive. As you reflect, you may ask yourself questions such as: In what situations do I react, and why? How much of my response is automatic? What are my habitual tendencies?

This week we turn our attention toward Tapas, the third of the five niyamas (personal practices). While Tapas literally means “heat”, it is most often translated as self-discipline. Tapas reminds us of the importance our everyday choices and actions play in accomplishing our goals.

The second of the niyamas is Santosha, contentment. Santosha invites us into contentment by taking retreat in the calm center within.

As a society, we are conditioned to look for contentment outside ourselves. We often find ourselves thinking “I’ll be happy when I get the job, lose the weight, buy the house”, etc. The principle of Santosha reminds us that as long as we think satisfaction comes from an external source, we can never truly be content. Looking outside of oneself for fulfillment actually keeps the very contentment we seek forever out of reach.

As we continue to navigate yoga philosophy, this week we begin to explore the niyamas. The second of the eight limbs of yoga, niyamas are referred to as observances and are described as “attitudes that reflect how we relate to our self.” The five niyamas include purity, contentment, self-discipline, self-study and surrender.

“A bird cannot hold its perch and fly. Neither can we grasp anything and be free.” – Deborah Adele

This week we explore the fifth and final of the yamas, Aparigraha, or nonpossessiveness. It can also be translated as nonhoarding, nonattachment, nongreed, nonclinging or nongrasping. Aparigraha can be thought of as the ability to “let go.”

Are you familiar with the uncomfortable feelings of overindulgence? Whether it be excess eating, working or sleeping, many have felt the pains of overdoing it. In yogic thought, there is a moment in time when we reach the perfect limit of what we are engaged in. Practicing Brahmacharya, the fourth yama of nonexcess, helps one discern this moment of fulfillment before excess.

This week, we turn our attention towards the third of the five yamas, Asteya, nonstealing. In the yoga tradition, Asteya is about more than just not stealing physical objects. One may steal from others through time and attention. It is also possible for one to steal from oneself.

Stealing someone’s time may take the form of not being fully present when spending time with him or her. You may have experienced this if you have ever had a friend who is distracted by repeatedly checking their cell phone while you are talking or enjoying a meal together.

As we continue exploring the yoga philosophies known as yamas, this week we turn our attention toward the principle of truthfulness, known as Satya in Sanskrit. In essence, Satya means communicating what one understands to be true.

As we begin exploration of the yoga principles known as the yamas, this week, we turn our attention toward Ahimsa. This ethical practice of nonharm/nonviolence toward others and ourselves is the first of the five yamas. Ahimsa is considered the core of yoga philosophy, and is intended to be practiced alongside the other yamas.

A nonjudgmental and forgiving attitude is essential to practicing Ahimsa. Harming others can occur through thoughts, words, or deeds. Just as an act of violence causes both parties to suffer, both parties benefit from an act of nonviolence.

When one hears the word yoga, it is common to simply think about the physical practice of holding yoga postures. As viewed by the ancients, yoga is a way of life that also includes breathing techniques, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation and transcendence.

As we conclude our journey of the five elements, we take a moment to explore the element of space. Space is the essence of emptiness. Everything that isn’t earth, water, fire, or air is space. It is the void that the other four elements fill. Translated as Akasha in Sanskrit, space possesses the qualities of vastness, expansiveness, limitlessness and subtlety.

Our focus this week is on the element of air, known as “vayu” in Sanskrit. The qualities of air include lightness, mobility, gracefulness and sensitivity. In the physical body, the air element governs the movement of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs as well as the movement of nerve impulses, the circulation of the blood and the flow of thoughts. Air is the force behind all motion. 

This week, our journey of the five elements brings us to the element of fire. The Sanskrit name for fire is Tejas, which means “light” or “brilliance”. The qualities of this element include energy, warmth, radiance and transformation.

This week, as we continue our journey through the five elements we turn our attention towards the element of water. There are no shortage of example of water in nature, including streams, rivers, lakes and the ocean. The human body contains a significant amount of water as well as other fluids including blood and lymph.

One of my favorite resources for creating and maintaining balance in mind, body and spirit is the five element theory. I have worked with the model on and off for over a decade through my studies of yoga and Ayurveda. The five elements provide the foundation of Ayurveda, the ancient system of natural medicine. Ayurveda is a sister science to yoga, both disciplines are rooted in the Vedic tradition of India.

While you were most likely aware of the uncertainty of life pre-pandemic, for many of us, the global health crisis has heightened the reality of insecurity in the face of inevitable change and loss in our daily lives. During these times, I find it critical to practice strategies to keep me connected to an inner place of shelter and protection.

As many states ease restrictions, there are new decisions to be made regarding how ready one feels (or not) to go out there and engage with the “new normal.” Here in Illinois, we are on track to move into phase four. Among other things, that will mean restaurants can offer indoor service with limited capacity, and movie theaters and gyms will reopen. There will be guidelines in place for all of these, including continuing to wear face masks and physically distance.

"If you can't change it, change your attitude."
– Maya Angelou

There are many different definitions of trauma. The definition I use in my work training PK-12 teachers on trauma informed care is this: “Trauma is the word we use to say that a stressful event(s) has overwhelmed and thereby compromised the health and welfare of an individual and his/her community.” The Heart of Learning and Teaching, 2011. This definition focuses on the impact on the individual/community.

Have you found yourself feeling as if you are riding an emotional roller coaster lately? As we continue to navigate the challenges of a global pandemic, you may experience a variety of emotions on any given day: fear, anxiety, grief, worry, maybe even moments of joy.

Are you finding it a little more difficult to find joy during pandemic life? While the burden of suffering felt during this experience is undoubtedly unequal, it is quite possible you have felt the toll in one way or another. Upon reflection, you may find your mental list of thorns to be more extensive than your list of roses, so to speak. You may actually find yourself ruminating over negative experiences.   

We are living in anxious times. Yes, anxiety levels are heightened as we continue to navigate day-to-day life during a pandemic. Chances are, even if you have never personally experienced anxiety, you may have had an anxious thought or two over the past few months.

“Self-Compassion is the biggest gift we can give everyone we come into contact with.” – Kristen Neff

While many would describe themselves as a compassionate person, few agree they easily offer compassion to themselves. One may be quick to offer words of comfort to a friend who is experiencing hard times, however it’s often with a critical voice of judgment or criticism that we respond to ourselves.

For many of us, when we think of nutrition our thoughts begin and end with eating healthy. During stressful times, I challenge you to think of the nutrition you are taking in through your other senses:  sight, hearing, touch and smell.

“Our fear is great, but greater yet is the truth of our connectedness.” – Tara Brach

The above quote is something that I am currently working to remind myself of every day. Under the current pandemic, just daily living itself can trigger fear. In conversations with friends, family and colleagues during the past few weeks, I have heard any number of fears: will I be able to secure toilet paper, am I going to lose my job, will my already compromised loved one be okay if they contract the virus, and the list goes on.