The alarm goes off and my brain switches to go mode. Whether it was living day to day attending in-person activities or now through our devices, many things in a day demand our attention and energy. But when I step onto my turquoise mat, I grant myself a moment to quiet my mind and detach from the external world.
My eyelids close, I take a deep breath and release with a stretch to reach my toes. My feet stand grounded as I then stretch my spine tall with my arms towards the ceiling. It’s now 12:05 p.m. and the instructor, Karen Chiarelli, begins easing into the session.
Until the end of April, Algonquin College’s Health Services is offering online lunchtime yoga every Monday to help individuals care for their mental and physical health.
This specific class helps students and faculty work through worries with the theme of strength. Chiarelli guides attendees through different warrior postures and focuses on grounding down through the soles of our feet.
“It’s so you have clarity, so there’s not the fog, there’s not that layer in front of you that you just don’t even know where to go from those feelings,” Chiarelli says. “It’s like a wave washes over the brain and helps you continue on, so you don’t have that panicked or that anxious feeling depending on what’s going on in your day-to-day life.”
Chiarelli works through different themes with fellow yogis each week. She says our energies are very different this time of year and our bodies will feel different every day.
You have to modify and be mindful as you move through practices, depending on any injuries or how your body is feeling. Chiarelli offers her students posture techniques at the beginning of class for lethargic or flighty anxious energy. She is a believer that combined breathwork and movement lead to transformative experiences.
Cristha Sinden, a marketing and entrepreneurship professor that attended Chiarelli’s class says the exercises help to stretch her back and open up her hips. This is especially beneficial during this time where we’re sitting in the same positions all day.
“The most notable benefits so far have been less stiffness, being more mindfully present, and remembering to take time to just ‘be’ versus feeling like I have to be doing something productive all of the time,” she says. “It’s a hard trap not to fall into being stuck at home.”
Society lives in a digital world where individuals are constantly gratified by new information. Social media’s algorithms show people what to think about in every moment. People are prepared to receive and respond or in some cases, react. Based on how one perceives something determines their physiological reaction – also known as a fight or flight response. Living day to day in fluctuation between feelings can be exhausting. When will the mind take the time to settle in the moment before thinking about what will happen next?
“When COVID happened and we came into a remote setting and once we found kind of a new rhythm working remotely, I realized that a lot of what I was carrying was in fact not my own, it was the energy that was going on in the office or in whatever setting, whether it was a meeting you took part in or there was a project happening,” says Chiarelli.
Like a sponge, I easily absorb the energies around me which makes me an empathetic person. Sometimes I have to sit back and tune in with how I’m feeling physically and emotionally to understand if it is truly my state of being or the result of an interaction. It is crucial I find grounding techniques to help transform the energies I gather from my experiences. Life continues to be unpredictable but the one thing that changes and remains a constant is oneself.
It was a major turning point in the relationship with myself when I attended my first yoga class on-campus last year. For a long time, I’ve felt out of touch with my body. In this session, we were specifically focusing on the hip area which helps release built-up emotional tension. I was forced to feel everything I was consciously or unconsciously resisting. I merged with my feelings, good or bad, and surrendered to patience and growth. The participants in the room, including myself, began to cry. A wave washed over and cleared all the feelings that no longer served me.
“There’s not one day you step on your mat that’s going to be identical to the day before,” Chiarelli says. “When you connect with yourself on your mat the possibilities off your mat are endless.”
Yoga and meditation have grounded and liberated me throughout my healing journey. It helps create a brand-new start to a closer relationship with myself. It is an internal practice that helps me find a centre to travel through life with ease. When humanity went into isolation, much like yoga and meditation, we had no other choice but to reflect and look within.
Instructors and studios have transitioned to online platforms like Instagram, YouTube and Zoom as requests and participation in online yoga is on the rise. Many people have been leaning more towards connecting through online classes, challenges and communities to help cope with isolation.
Catrina McBride, an English professor in the school of business who has been working at the college for 16 years began attending Algonquin’s virtual sessions once the gyms closed.
“It’s easier to be focused and centred in the yoga studio at the gym compared to trying to do it from home when everyone else is at home too,” she says with a laugh. “I have a family of four here, so other people are working and doing school and going and getting lunch, so the environment is also a bit different.”
Chiarelli used to teach at the spiritual centre and a couple of times a week with the Students’ Association on-campus. When everything transitioned online some of the faculty asked if she would consider online classes but to Chiarelli, that goes against the yoga experience.
An instructor is able to direct their class more easily based on the feeling of the room according to Chiarelli. Now that we’re virtual and most people keep their cameras off, it makes it difficult for her to know if they’re internalizing her queues just the same. She wants to ensure she is providing a safe environment with options and safety queues and says because of this she is more verbal than in a face-to-face class.
“To me there has to be that connection,” she says. “Because I’m an empath, I’m very touchy feely so I quite often inject a little relaxation touch at the end with essential oils and then I’m thinking I can’t even – how can I connect virtually with the yoga students?”
She realizes that if people are coming to her then they want something. Though a virtual session cannot compare to the connectedness of an in-person experience, she says it’s better than nothing and you try your best to make that connection.
“It’s different than being face to face in the studio – as I used to attend Karen’s classes on campus – however, the benefit of relaxation is still there,” Sinden says. “Although I don’t see the other participants in the online yoga class as I would in a studio atmosphere, it’s still comforting to know that there is a group of people engaging in the same activity simultaneously.”
At the end of the day, yoga is an internal practice that creates opportunities to benefit your mental, emotional and physical wellbeing. I continue to practice tuning within – without allowing distractions of external thoughts to interfere with my peace.
Chiarelli says taking a moment to care for yourself is no different than tending to our devices when they require a reboot for updates to happen.
“We take care of our electronics to make sure that they’re running bug free,” she says. “We need the same as humans, that opportunity just to close our eyes, come back to the breath, come back to a quiet moment so then you can get into the flurry because that’s life.”
She says life is not always going to be rainbows and butterflies. Yoga is a good practice to rest and forge on. Whether it’s at a studio or in the basement of your house, endless possibilities begin when you step on the mat.