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This has been a horrible week for the thousands of people who lost so much in hurricane Sandy on the East Coast.  And while I’ve been extremely lucky to have not lost power or belongings, it’s still been a very stressful week. And as I donate money and blood and sign up for volunteer opportunities, and work from home, I have maintained my yoga practice. Practicing yoga can seem really self-indulgent when there are people in need of life’s basics who have lost everything in your city, truly doing most things that weren’t directly helping others this week felt a little pointless.

(photo via. MindBodyGreen)

But here’s why I think practicing yoga in times of crisis is important:

1. When you feel helpless it’s a good reminder to breathe. It’s irresponsible that some gyms and yoga studios stayed open during the hurricane, putting the lives of their customers and staff at risk. But when you are stuck at home, hearing the wind whipping outside as trees fall and smash cars and building outside (as was the case here on Monday night).

You can either sit in front of Internet/TV/radio listening to all of the horrible news pouring in and be scared and worried, or you can move your body or be still and connect to your breath. It’s much more useful to you, your mind and body, and your loved ones to try to cultivate a sense of peace admit such a stressful event.

2. It’s important to your health. In times of stress, yoga and breathing practices are important to your nervous system and mental state. But when many of us were forced to stay in our homes for several days or more, we were moving much less and eating much more. After pulling 9-10 hours sitting at my desk, going though even just a few sun salutations felt like exactly what I needed.

3. It can provide a much needed sense of community. Last night I went to my first class of the week, the Prospect Park YMCA had re-opened (the Armory Y is still being used as a shelter). The class was bigger than normal and you could feel the gratitude in the room. We were all lucky here in Park Slope–no flooding, no fires, no power lost. But we were all shaken too by how narrowly we had escaped the fate that so many so close to us had suffered. That hour and a half with people breathing and being grateful made gave me the space to start to process rather than just consume the events of the week.

So is practicing yoga in a time of crisis indulgent or healing? It’s both. And for many people it maybe just what they need to start to repair the less tangible damage of the storm.