Chisom Anastasia Nwaezuoke
University of Ibadan
My name is Anastasia and I’m a bit of a health freak. Since I was a teenager, I have always been interested in physical activities because I love the idea of being able to control, to an extent, how I feel and look. Getting into the university gave me the freedom I craved to pursue my interest in exercise. I sprinted, jogged, danced—anything to feel and look fit. When I was 18 years old, I discovered yoga.
The start of my yoga journey was very uncertain because, like most beginners, I had no clue what I was doing. I used to engage in daily Instagram-motivated High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) exercises when I came to the realization that I was, in fact, very ‘stiff’. Yes, I could hit those mountain climbers with impressive speed but after my training, my muscles remained sore for days; and the tiniest activities—like eating—caused me pain. Even touching my toes seemed embarrassingly impossible. So I started stretching before and after every training. It made my routines easier, my soul hungrier, and led me to discover something beautiful called yoga.
Yes, the pictures were beautiful and the videos were captivating, but what got my attention the most was the serenity that seemed present in every yogi’s flow. It was magic to watch a person speak to their body with only their breath and see it respond eagerly. I began to practise devotedly and soon enough, I ditched my high-intensity training for the mindful practice of yoga. By the time I was 20, I had taught my first yoga class and added ‘yogi’ to my Twitter bio. I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I loved practising semi-nude and was not yet comfortable sharing any evidence of that on social media. Every once in a while, I’d put on a cute outfit, take a picture and share with my followers, as if to validate my place in the yoga community.
For three years, my routine was simple: wake up, make a difference, practise yoga, sleep; the year 2020 has been a little different for me. When our school shut down in March for a reason other than the pandemic, I had just finished my final-year exams and handed in my dissertation. I was exhausted and prepared to regain my strength on the mat while awaiting my results. The management had told us that we would be gone for two weeks—just the time they needed for some renovations—and we had believed it. A week into this supposed two-week break, my country, Nigeria, was shut down as a result of the novel coronavirus; and for 3 months now, we have been out of school.
At first, I tried to keep up my enthusiasm. Even though I had not returned home with my yoga mat, I tried to make do without it. I switched from practising yoga right before bedtime to doing so early in the mornings. I no longer exercised semi-nude because I didn’t want a family member walking in on my seemingly-strange workout. My phones got broken, so I lost my carefully-selected playlists and had to practice without music. To be honest, yoga began to feel like a chore and I hate chores.
After a month of unsatisfying practice, I gave up on yoga. I had spent the last three years of my life doing yoga devotedly in the university and in all that time, I had felt peace. The university was my comfort zone and to practice there meant to practice at home. Now that I was back with the rest of my family for the first time in a long time, practising yoga here felt like practising in a really nice hotel. It’s comfortable, but it’s not home to me.
Another month (of inertia) went by and I decided to give it one more try. This time around, the motivation for going back to the mat was my health. Being a health freak who studied physical therapy, I understood the usefulness of exercise to the body; and living in the middle of a pandemic, I also understood the importance of building a strong immunity through exercise. So whether or not I enjoyed practising yoga in this pandemic, my body needed it and that was all that mattered.
I feel a lot of things during my flow, none of which is peace. I feel very anxious that the world is going to shit, unsafe because people all around me are dying, sad because injustice is racking the whole world, and weird that this isn’t normally how I practice; but most of all, I feel unwilling. Regardless, every day at 7 pm, I get to work stretching and strengthening my muscles. On some days even, I take a picture or two.
Yoga still feels like a chore but even chores are necessary. This is one that I must do for my health, and if I ever get around to enjoying it like before, the realization would only come because I was actually doing it. The world is changing and with it, our routines. In times like this, it’s not about doing things because we want to but because we need to. Every time I step onto my make-shift mat, I realize one thing: I no longer find peace in yoga. What I find instead, is a burning desire to survive—the undeniable need to keep my head above the water. For now, that is enough.