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Things I Learned This Summer: Yoga and Technology

 

Pretty much every day this summer, I would mindfully flow on my yoga mat from Mountain Pose to Downward Dog and into Warrior One, my instructor in front of me, reminding everyone in the class to breathe in and out.

But there were no sweat-dripping, Lululemon-wearing, tight-hairbunned yogis surrounding me in this "studio" in the Philadelphia countryside. Instead, I practiced alongside my orange, meowing cat, in my teal-painted bedroom, at my parents' house, after college was canceled for the semester and my plans changed for the summer. The others around me showed up on my computer through their Zoom circles as they too practiced from their bedrooms.

I had taken part in yoga practices since I was in fourth grade. It was something I've been pretty good at, which I have my loose joints and child-ballerina background to thank. So, when I heard about Yoga Otzma, a program for college students created by Philadelphia-metro-based artist and yoga instructor Evan Joblin and sponsored by Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston, I knew it was something for me. The practice fuses both ancient and cutting-edge mindfulness practices together while learning the Jewish-imperative of "tikkun olam," or reparing the world. Students zoom-ed in from across the world to come together and find challenge workouts that both worked their cores, inner calm, and became just a distraction from the chaos surrounding us from the pandemic.

As a university student who was suddenly placed in limbo, I had no real sense of "normal." My classes finished up online. My friends were miles and miles away. My internship hours were cut in half and I worked alone from my bedroom. My parents were now again the ones ruling the house. I was somehow back to middle school but living as an adult. To say the least, it was weird.

Yoga Otzma, though, gave me the chance to grapple with the reality of spending five months in quarantine while rarely leaving the confines of my house, for fear of catching a potentially deadly virus should I venture into the world that I had formerly taken for granted. This program made me realize the importance of maintaining and nurturing routines that were beneficial both for my physical and mental health. Pandemics are stressful: businesses are closed, isolation is dissociative, and social media is mind-numbing. People are on the edge and high strung at all moments of the day, overcome with frustration, confusion, and depression--often all in the same day. I can say I personally felt these too.

But that's where yoga helps. A consistent yoga practice in a supportive community became the perfect remedy not only for myself but my other yoga counterparts. We found sustainable and constructive practices that also brought us together. We recognized a communal well-being, helping each other and encouraging growth along the way. We helped to better prepare ourselvves not only for "normal" times but also in the event of a second outbreak or when school may reshut down. There's a way to cope with all of this down.

Breathing in. And out.

And it's easy to find yoga videos on Youtube or an app but those are not a true community. Yoga Otzma was able to foster a community feel even though we were in a pandemic-induced lockdown. Our connectiosn grew miles apart. That's where the digital-first yoga community wins. Yoga can now happen anywhere at anytime.

Yoga Otzma has allowed me the chance to not only dive deeper into my inner world but also connect with others on a similar journey. Even as we met through screens in our respective rooms, technology still brought a tangible sense of "togtherness." The marriage of mindfulness and technology transcended what the physical reality was at the moment. We still cultivated strength, grace, and wellness, even during challenging times. The yoga practice brought regular self-inquiry through intention-setting and reflection that would only normally be done on an expensive retreat in person. Virtually, we dove deeper. Virtually, we came together closer.

But when we think of technology first, often times we think of the new normal as weakening our physical communities and driving us into some terrifying Matrix- or Black-Mirror-like dystopia.

That doesn't have to be the reality.

Yoga Otzma proved that we can diverge from dystopian narratives and come together even more so and even more inclusively than ever before. Mindful applications and togetherness still follow through on a technological setting. Cutting-edge technology may not alone "save" us from ourselves or the pandemic, but that doesn't mean we should assume that it will inevitably destroy us either. 

We must embrace technology and how it can keep us mindfully together, as we are inextricably bound to and dependent on the ever-evoloving realm of technology. We might as well make the most of our situtations and create stronger minds, bodies, and spirits with what we have at the tips of our finger tips.

Monica Sager is a freelance writer from Clark University, where she is pursuing a double major in psychology and self-designed journalism with a minor in English. She wants to become an investigative journalist to combat and highlight humanitarian issues. Monica has previously been published in The Pottstown Mercury, The Week UK, Worcester Telegram and Gazette and even The Boston Globe. Read more of Monica’s previous work on her Twitter @MonicaSager3.
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