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Recently, I attended a new yoga studio and learned that they do not wear masks.
Unfortunately, that will be my last class at that studio until a time comes when mass deathly contagion is no longer a concern.
I did express this to the instructor. She told me that she feels uncomfortable teaching with a mask on.
I enjoyed her class very much, but I was uneasy with their studio’s policy of personal choice in regard to mask-wearing. I was the only one in class wearing a mask. The man across the room was hacking, blowing his nose, and not wearing a mask. Since in that studio personal preference was put above public safety, perhaps the instructor did not feel comfortable asking the sickly student to not attend classes until he was well.
This got me thinking a lot about the relationship between yoga and mask-wearing. While I found a lot of information online about how masks are perfectly safe to wear during your yoga practice and the best masks to wear for your asana flows, I saw little about the spiritual considerations of mask-wearing.
As someone who teaches yoga in a mask and has attended two live yoga classes, both strong vinyasa flows, while wearing a mask, I feel confident saying that wearing a mask is part of my deeper yoga practice.
Many people will tell you that they don’t even notice the mask in class after a while, and this has been true for me. But more than that, I don’t notice it because my yoga practice is about being present and accepting myself and the moment for what it is.
If my students feel uncomfortable in a pose, I invite them to breathe through it, to stay anchored in the moment with their breath—unless they are in pain or severe discomfort, in which case I do not tell them to leave class, but instead to find a pose they can rest in where they feel safe.
Yoga is a practice of mindfulness. We do not always have the opportunity to change our reality. Sometimes we must accept it for what it is and learn to be with it, to find santosha, or contentment, despite the discomfort. When I wear a mask during my practice and realize that I forgot it was even there, I know that I am deep in my yogic practice of mindfulness and focus. I have forgotten any discomfort because I am utilizing the tools I have learned in my training.
Sometimes in a strong vinyasa flow, I will notice the mask. I notice it when I inhale and find fabric entering my mouth instead of a deep breath of fresh air. I must fiddle and adjust the mask, just like I might pull down on my shirt or my pants legs riding up. However, it also reminds me to notice my breath. My mask becomes a kind of pranayama practice. I am reminded to slow and steady my breath in these moments. To be mindful of how I am breathing with my movement and to slow down if I need to.
This mindfulness is the same kind I might use if I were taking care of an injury. If my shoulder hurts, I will skip the side plank. Wearing a mask, I might skip a salutation if my breath is too erratic for my covered mouth and stay in down dog instead to stabilize my pranayama.
Aside from mindfulness and breath control, there are important spiritual lessons in wearing a mask. For one, wearing a mask is about releasing our egos for the sake of the greatest good. This small irritation is for the betterment of our entire yoga community.
This is ahimsa, being non-violent toward others by protecting them from your potentially dangerous germs.
This is asteya, not taking risks with other people’s health, or stealing their health, for the sake of our own comfort.
This is saucha, a form of cleanliness by decreasing germs in our body and environment.
This is satya, being honest that we don’t know enough about this virus to determine if we can create a safe environment without masks.
This is tapas, disciplining ourselves to wear a mask during our practice. And isvara pranidhana, surrendering to the highest good for all over self.
For me, wearing a mask is an essential part of my yoga practice within my community. If I don’t want to wear a mask, then there are plenty of online classes I can take. Many yoga communities are being formed online and this is always the safest option.
But as long as I want to teach in person, I will continue to wear my mask for my students because being a yoga teacher means to be in service to our students and to model best practices in our studio.