This worldwide Covid-19 pandemic is currently causing a lot of panic, stress and anxiety.
If you are living abroad you might feel even more vulnerable at the moment, especially if your spouse, your family is far away. Whether you have a company, a small business, or are employed, you might be financially deeply affected by this situation. If you are single you might be anxious at the thought of spending an indefinite time on your own. If you are at home with your spouse and children you might be wondering how you are going to be able to entertain the kids, provide schooling, work for yourself and maintain a healthy relationship with your spouse.
Well, we weren’t expecting this virus to hit us so hard, but here it is. I firmly believe though that in every challenging situation, there is always -even if well hidden- a silver lining.
Each experience can teach us important lessons, make us learn and grow.
The biggest priority right now, however, is to remain calm in these stressful times. I will therefore suggest some simple yet powerful age-old body and mind practices you can start implementing right now. They will help you get grounded, anchored in the now, serene, and will possibly make you healthier than you were before Covid.
We are learning and growing
In these trying times, we are bitterly reminded that individuality has its limits, that we, individuals, are part of a big community of other human beings, and that we are interconnected.
Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, would say : we ‘inter-are’. All things in life are interconnected, not only humans but also animals and nature. We are not separate from nature, from each other, we evolve within a system in which each component (including us human beings) has an influence on another one.
Do you notice how social distancing brings out a desire to connect to each other, yet in a deeper, more meaningful way?
Chinese Medicine for instance doesn’t distinguish the body from the mind, they are interconnected, one affects the other and vice-versa. That particular aspect of Chinese medicine constitutes for me the missing piece in Western medicine. It has been the trigger for my interest in studying that medicine and, many years later, graduating and making it my main occupation after operating a career shift.
Change and Fear
Life is about change, nothing is ever static. We are collectively facing the truth of this today. We feel like the ground is shaking under our feet, our landmarks are being altered and we are losing control.
Nature is reminding us that she is the boss and her laws have to be our laws, not the other way around.
The age old Book of Change (or Yijing, or I-Ching) is the ultimate guide to living life according to the laws of nature in order to experience happiness, health and success in times of change and uncertainty. It is a book which recenters us on the essentials, on what we tend to easily forget when we are not confronted to any specific challenge. It brings us back to the wisdom which is present in each of us.
Fear, in the traditional Chinese medicine system, is connected with the Kidneys (we are not talking about the organs per say here but about the underlying system related to these organs- I won’t go into details here). Will power is the so called ‘positive’ emotion also connected with the kidneys. It means that when you are afraid, the kidneys system is affected. If your kidney system is healthy, you will be less likely to be vulnerable to fear, and you will have more will power.
It means that the more you take care of your fear, the healthier your kidneys will get, the healthier and stronger your mind will get, especially in terms of will power.
It is precisely what we need at the moment.
Fear, like all other emotions, is legitimate, and is there for a purpose : to make us more aware and more responsible in times of danger. Yet it becomes toxic when it overpowers all the other emotions.
How can we overcome fear and better handle change?
Wu Wei – Go with the flow
Having the right attitude to ensure peace of mind in times of change is all about letting go of resistance to what is.
What does that mean? It means that we have no choice but to surrender and accept the fact that if we go against the current, if we resist and keep sticking to landmarks which are obsolete, we will suffer greatly.
Fear and anxiety stem from the fear of losing control. How long can our body and mind stay healthy while we are fighting reality? We will exhaust ourselves, because eventually, reality is the ultimate winner.
It is all about accepting things as they currently are and releasing control.
It is all about adopting a flexible mind.
It is all about accepting that we don’t have a lot of answers at the moment, and it is ok.
It is about ‘bending like the bamboo’, ie adopting a low profile, saving your energy by surrendering to the situation and its uncertainties, like the bamboo bends and surrenders to the blowing wind…
It is not about wasting precious time and energy fighting and resisting the current situation (fighting the wind).
We need to accept that we are in unknown territory and that it is ok.
We cannot control the universe. We cannot control what will happen. But we can control what is directly in our power. That feeling of being in control will keep us from losing our sanity. So, here are a few examples below of things we can control and take action on.
Increase mind and body health
First of all, bear in mind, again, that anything you will do for your body will have positive repercussions on your mind. The recommendations I will give below regarding how to help your body are consequently not just about helping your body.
Vice versa, the recommendations given about how to keep a healthy and peaceful mind will have a positive effect on your body and its immunity.
Do you know that chronic depression, anxiety and worry greatly depress the immune system?
Healthy body practices
What I would most recommend in terms of prevention and treatment, would be of course to get a customised herbal prescription or/and have acupuncture. But that is unlikely to happen due to most practices being currently closed.
So, here are other DIY practical actions you can take from the comfort of your home!
Breathing properly and efficiently will help your immune system!
Do you know how to breathe deeply and efficiently so as to ensure your blood cells get plenty of clean oxygen from your lungs that they can then deliver to all of your organs?
In Chinese medicine the Lungs govern ‘wei qi’, the defensive energy of the body. They are (their energy is) crucial to immunity. If they are healthy they provide a good resistance against ‘pathogens’ (ie viruses, colds, etc).
🌿 Let’s take a deep breath together 🌿
Check your abdomen. Is it rising as you inhale? Place your hands on your belly, inhale deeply and slowly so you can feel your hands being pushed up. Stop. Exhale, let the air out naturally and feel your abdomen (and your hands) fall down.
Focus only on your breathing, your thoughts will subside, leaving you feeling more peaceful and relaxed… Do this every day, several times a day.
For more insights about what you can do to increase the Lungs energy you can read Doing Detox Differently and 5 Ancient Ways to Handle Melancholy.
Move – Practice health qigong
Qigong is a practice passed down from ancient China and it has its roots in taoism, traditional Chinese medicine and buddhism. It consists of body and mind health promoting movements.
If practiced regularly, they have a quick effect on strengthening the body, therefore preventing diseases and promoting health and longevity. In our jargon we say they increase the flow of qi(energy) and blood, harmonise yin and yang, stimulate the 12 meridians.
Here’s a relatively easy qigong form you can start practicing now:
Ba Duan Jin Qigong (‘the 8 Brocades’, literally meaning ‘8 movements which flow like silk’):
This series of 8 easy exercises have recently been prescribed by many Chinese medicine doctors during their coronavirus crisis which appears to be now behind them.
Of course the best would be to follow qigong classes (remotely) but if you can’t you can always try and follow this :
Be gentle, know your limits, don’t push your body, take it slow and easy, breathe normally. Don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions. Let me know how it goes.
There are several forms of meditation.
There is for example meditation in the form of sitting down in silence, just being aware of your thoughts passing by and coming back to the present moment. This will help your mind calm down.
But some people find it very difficult to sit down in silence. Their thoughts come racing in their heads and make them uncomfortable. Know that it is ok and perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by the flow of thoughts, the goal is just to become aware they are there, and to bring yourself back in the present moment.
You can sometimes end up feeling more stressed out than you were before meditating. It is ok. It takes a bit of practice.
But Meditation doesn’t have to be only about sitting down in silence in a lotus position. We will dig deeper into this in a later paragraph.
For optimal health, bear in mind that if your level of physical activity decreases you will need to slightly decrease the amount of food you’re taking.
Avoid eating too much sugar, although, while in stressful situations, our relationship to sugar can become unhealthy to the point of becoming addictive, try to limit your intake. Check out glycemic indexes, the lower the glycemic index the slower blood sugar rises after eating, the less you are likely to experience symptoms of fatigue.
Make sure you keep a regular rhythm, as much as possible go to bed at the same time, wake up at the same time, make sure you get plenty of sleep. Staying late in front of your computer or tv will have consequences on the quality of your sleep therefore on the quality of your day. Then the unhealthy spiralling begins and can lead to exhaustion.
Healthy mind practices
Panic, fear, worry are emotions which are calling us to STOP and LOOK deeply at what is happening inside of us.
Yes it is uncomfortable to stop. Especially, when it is forced upon you. The current situation has slowed down (virtually) everyone’s life. Hexagram 52 of the Book of Change (Yijing, I-Ching), teaches us that stopping is the beginning point of true, lasting, and healthy change.
So many unresolved issues, difficult decisions can be sorted out during those moments of stillness, as opposed to when we give in to agitation and initiate more action without having stopped beforehand.
“The practice of stopping is very crucial. There are moments when we sit down and do nothing but our body does not stop. There’s tension in our body. There’s an energy that pushes your body to do something, to be active.” Thich Nhat Hanh.
Do you experience those moments when you know you have to stop but your body pushes you to be active? It’s normal! Not being able to go outside much can drive anyone crazy! But if we teach our body and our mind to slow down, all will be well !
Likewise, the mind suffers from overactivity. Overthinking is a modern plague, it is manifesting especially when unexpected events disturb the normal flow of life, when the secure path we were walking on falls into pieces and we are left with no landmarks.
We know in Chinese medicine that overthinking damages the blood, this has repercussions on so many vital functions and can lead to headaches, disruption of the cycle, anaemia and all sorts of disturbances.
Which is why, in order to avoid to let your brain go into overthinking mode, you will need to anchor yourself. Your anchor has to be something which cannot easily be swayed. The only safe place where you can anchor yourself is the NOW.
Mindfulness is about coming back to the now. The here and now.
As previously stated, a mindfulness meditation doesn’t have to be static. It can be practiced while you are going about your daily life activities. You can turn your routine actions, such as washing the dishes, or walking from one room to another, into mindfulness meditations. For that, you just need to give your full awareness to what you are doing. It is extremely grounding.
When you walk, know that you are walking, feel your feet on the ground. When you stop to do some breathing exercises, focus only on your breathing. When you cook, be fully present, proceed slowly and give your fullest attention to what you are doing right this very minute. Do everything with presence and awareness, this will stop your brain propel you into an imaginary future, made of all kinds of scenarios which create anxiety and deplete your mental and physical energy.
Accept your emotions, don’t push them away or ignore them
Same here. Stick to the ‘Wu Wei, Go with the Flow’ method. Accept and surrender to your emotions, even the so called ‘negative’ ones. Don’t try and take action, don’t try and ‘fix’ them.
If you attended my webinar called The Rescue Remedy for International Life, you might remember that there was a part about Emotions and how they are all there for a reason.
Why do we try to get rid of the ones we don’t like experiencing? Why do we always try to be happy and positive in all circumstances, at all costs?
Don’t worry be happy can be frustrating to hear when we feel stuck. No positive thoughts can be forced into our system, we first need to release the negative ones.
Sit down, take a break and feel your body. Stay in the discomfort.
Let whatever wants to come, come. Express what you feel, cry, shout, hit a pillow, write things down on paper, unload…..
Then, embrace your feelings, just throw your full awareness on them, be there for yourself. You can, if you want, place a hand on your heart, or give yourself a hug.
After doing this you can ask yourself these 3 question:
What do I feel?
What do I need?
How can I give it to myself?
This will give you some clarity and make you more aware of where you are, so that you are less thrown away by the next fear trigger.
This will help you step out of being a victim and step into taking responsibility and healing.
Finish by embracing your feelings. This means just throwing your full awareness on them and being there. You can, if you want, place a hand on your heart, or give yourself a hug.
Then come back to yourself, your breathing for example. You will feel calmer and more focused once you’ve done all that.
Focus on love
Once you’ve released the uncomfortable emotions, you can start training yourself to focus on nourishing thoughts.
Your mind has to serve you, and not the other way around!
The mind is flexible and open to learning new ways of thinking. It has the incredible power to change! It can renew itself (you have probably heard of neuroplasticity). You can rewire your brain, give it new, healthier habits. The more you train your mind to be serene and resourceful, the more it will be.
Keep a happiness journal
Every single night before going to bed, take 5mn to write down a few things which you are grateful for during that day. Don’t say there is nothing I’m grateful for. There has to be at least One thing, even if small. It can be as small as a ray of sun on your face. There is always something. If you start getting into that habit, you will write down a list of so many things which have made you feel joy, and your mind will slowly shift from ‘victim’ to ‘grateful’.
Save your brain from overthinking and focus on nourishing (rather than ‘positive’) thoughts.
Do what brings you joy
- Keep dressing up with the clothes which bring you joy, even if you’re at home.
- Create, paint, play an instrument, draw, write
- Make yourself a ‘feel good’ favourite tunes play list
- Laugh and be silly, play with your children
‘A day without laughter is a day wasted’- Charlie Chaplin
The proof is the incredible number of funny videos popping out on the internet at the moment. People need laughter and humour more than ever.
- Watch the first flowers of spring pop out, even if only by looking through your window
- Take scented baths
- Don’t do this alone, call your friends and family, stay in touch, ask for professional support
Recite a mantra
It is a buddhist mindfulness practice which consists in reciting an ‘affirmation’ over and over to yourself. It can be compared to the French ‘Coué’ method.
The Loving kindness prayer or mantra (Metta mantra in pali.
It can be very helpful in times of fear, to reinforce self love, love for others and trust.
When you sit in meditation you can focus on only reciting and feeling theses words.
Several times a day, for instance, when you wash your hands, or when you cook or put the dishes away, you can repeat out loud or silently:
May I be safe
May I be happy
May I be be healthy
May I live with ease
You can choose to stick to these sentences. But you can also choose to extend these loving thoughts to others and add:
May you be safe
May you be happy
May you be healthy
May you live with ease
May all beings be safe
May all beings be happy
May all beings be healthy
May all beings live with ease
You can choose to increase your level of compassion and tolerance towards others. Understand that everyone is experiencing a lot of tension and reacting to the situation as best as they can.
This situation can be a real challenge for families or couples. Confinement can bring out or intensifie pre-existing challenges.
Focus on yourself, build a stronger you, practice the suggestions above, it will make you more immune to tensions, and more able to practice peaceful communication.
Be a role model!
Trust – this too shall pass
Life equals change and transformation. That is what Taoism, the Book of Change (Yijing, I-Ching), the YinYang concept, are reminding us. If we align with this natural and universal principle all will be well, we will suffer less.
Winter gives way to spring. Flowers are popping out everywhere, despite the circumstances. Nature has our back.
This situation will change and transform into something different, and we will adapt, we will learn, we will grow, we will thrive again. The sun is behind the clouds. Hang in there.
KK Ponting is a life and health coach, as well as a Chinese Medicine practitioner. In her coaching she uses Ancient Wisdom applied to Modern life to help individuals (Internationals in particular) feel at home, regain their energy (body and mind) and thrive in challenging times.
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Best of luck!