How to Know Thyself

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Know Thyself - Yoga in Corona Times - Nico Sarani - Berlin - Vegan Good Life Magazine

Recently, I saw a meme on Instagram, stating there would be two kinds of people coming out of “The Great Pause” (a.k.a. Corona): The rather unfortunate ones with a severe alcohol problem, and the ones ready to save the world with all their newly acquired superhero skills (by the way, if your name is superman and you teach levitation, call me). But what if we took the pressure out of this for a moment?

Words: Nico Sarani
Photo: Marc Andre Jourdan

Only a few months ago, when social distancing regulations had just come out, I remember many of my friends being sent into the adventures of home-office-land, claiming: “Yeehaw! Finally, some well-deserved time to unwind and do all the stuff I never had time to do!” And well, as honorable an endeavor I feel this is (definitely better than turning a glass of Gin Tonic into your new bestie), after several weeks of quarantining and avoiding human contact, tell me, how’s that been going for y’all so far...? Were you one of the very rare heroes manning up (or womaning up, for lack of a better word) to your statement and factually losing those ten useless pounds you always said you would if you “just finally had the time to learn how to cook”? Have you set up the amazing paper-maché business you said ”would totally make me rich”? What about that life-changing “breathwork masterclass” you bragged about last summer? Dang - seems like it’s not that easy to say “byebye” to the land of “Netflix & Chill” after all.

But hey: You're not alone in this. Did you know that installing new habits and maintaining healthy ones is, unfortunately, almost exponentially harder in times of stress? When our body & mind feel threatened (think evil virus flyin’ around, you’re worried about your family, business becomes a mess etc.) our system shifts gears: From rest-and-digest-mode into fight-or-flight-mode. Stress hormones are being released into your system faster than you can say “COVID-19”, and just that singular process in itself already uses up a lot of energy. The result: There isn't much energy left to level-up your discipline, create new exciting habits or businesses, and say no to chocolate ice cream. A bit of a bummer, I know, as it seems like we’re fighting some kind of biological vicious circle here. But don’t throw in the towel right from the start and take this as the long-awaited excuse to give way to endless hours of Netflix & Chill.

What if we took a deep breath and checked in with ourselves?

Here’s another proposal: What if we took the pressure off a little - and think of these very unusual times not as daunting but as a chance to revamp our skillset or finally get our shit together. What if, instead, we used this newly gained time vacuum to simply reflect about the point in life we’re at right now? What if we took a deep breath, looked around, and checked in with ourselves and our personal bubble, taking note of the path we’re on and the direction we’re heading? What if we assessed our level of momentary contentment and by that practiced (probably) long overdue self-care, rather than lingering in endless fomo (“fear of missing out”) over all the opportunities we may miss out on if we don’t use any freakin’ minute of the day productively (calling out all over-achievers here, I know who you are!).

In yoga philosophy, there’s a word for the concept of “self-inquiry”. It’s called “vichara” (in ancient Sanskrit language). “Vichara” is usually connected to the process of inquiry regarding the essence of the Self (with a big ‘S’, yes). That means thoroughly investigating “who am I really?”, “Who is the ‘I’ that is thinking?” and so on and so forth, usually during very long hours of very deep meditation. For practical purposes, I don’t think we necessarily have to go all the way down that rabbit hole. We could start by practicing a “light-version” of self-inquiry, simply by honestly assessing our personal life circumstances. For instance: “Am I truly thrilled about the present situation I’m in (work-wise, relationship-wise, personality-wise...)?”, “what kind of habits and beliefs have been serving me in my life so far?”, or, on the other hand, “what has had my life go down the toilet?” etc. (you get the point).

By the way, besides our knowledgeable yogic friends, another group of very smart dudes, the ancient Greek Stoics (the crew around Marcus Aurelius and Seneca) equally celebrated a similar concept: "Know Thyself". That dazzling insight was revealed to them by the superwise Oracle of Delphi back in the Golden Age, amongst a few other pretty cool precepts to live by. Discovering the similarities between some of the realizations of those ancient traditions makes me think: Maybe there’s a reason why certain practices have stood the test of time. Maybe there really is some profound, undeniable truth to them that wants to be acknowledged.

Becoming aware of your bullshit helps addressing it.

So why not give it a shot? Whether you’re a fan of yoga, a secret stoic or none of the above, I do believe that becoming aware of the status quo in your life, including your personal bullshit, eventually helps you address it. Because only when you notice what’s not running so smoothly right now, and maybe also why, you can rearrange your clutter into a more beautiful pattern.

And as we’ll have to keep a bit more distance from each other for a little longer we may do well looking for a bit of inspiration inside rather than outside of us.


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