Yoga and the Coronavirus
April 22, 2020
The views represented here are the opinion and direct experiences of the author.
My husband and I both contracted the novel coronavirus in late fall last year. Yes, this virus was swirling around east Texas at that time with the same old boring name of “flu. After the advent of the New Year, it seemed to acquire a name, a personality mutation and growing media attention.
I first noticed unusual symptoms when I awakened in the middle of the night unable to breath. Even though I was breathing, there was little oxygen exchange. This symptom felt similar to the symptoms of the SARS virus I suffered through in 2002 after returning from India. Now, in East Texas, I noticed my breath was blocked in my left nostril. In Yoga this is known as ida, the subtle channel that is connected to the autonomic nervous system, in western science known as the parasympathetic.
I tried to open the breath in the left nostril by propping up my body to lie on my right side which usually brings balance to the breath. It did not work. In desperation, I jumped out of bed and floundered about the house opening doors and windows to bring in the cold night air in hopes I could once more receive the life force of prana into my lungs. “OMG,” I thought, this is Déjà vu of the SARS virus, which I contracted in 2002 after returning from India.
In Yoga, we would call the viruses that cause SARS and Covid-19 rajasic, which means projective as well as defensive. Being more fiery rajasic and aggressive, they can suppress the parasympathetic which then over-stimulates the sympathetic nervous system creating a heating and drying affect of the body’s mucous membranes.
Hatha Yoga is based upon balancing the polarities of Ha (sun) and Tha (moon). This correspond to the physical nerves of the autonomic nervous system divided into the sympathetic (Ha) and parasympathetic (Tha). On a subtle level ancient Yogis called these two systems Pingala and Ida. All of Yoga is based on the balance of these opposites, which includes the alternate right and left hemispheres of the brain and sides of the spine. The parasympathetic is activated by the breath through the left nostril and the sympathetic through the right. The parasympathetic dilates and cools the system. It balances high blood pressure, slows the heart rate and helps our body to rest and digest. If over-stimulated there may be excessive mucus buildup in the system.
Alternatively, when the left nostril is blocked with the breath favoring only the right nostril, there is excessive overstimulation of the sympathetic nerves, leading to constriction of blood vessels, high blood pressure, rapid or irregular heart beat, fever, inflammation and dryness. This makes breathing more difficult.
In a “normal” cold or flu there is an excessive production of mucus, which is normally expectorated through coughing up loose phlegm and blowing the nose. However, with a more rajasic virus that over-stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, it dries the mucus membranes in the respiratory tract resulting in a dry cough, inflammation and congestion that can solidify creating a blockage for oxygen to enter the system. Therefore, what is needed to counteract this virus, from the perspective of Yoga, would be more parasympathetic stimulation to dilate the bronchi and blood vessels to help expand rather than restrict the breathing passages.
Prolonging the exhalation, longer than the inhalation is a means to stimulate the parasympathetic and to relax the tissues of the lungs, dilating their passageways, so they can take in the oxygen. Simply breathing through the left nostril will also stimulate the parasympathetic and create an alkaline environment in the body. If you are not able to get out of bed or off the couch, this breathing exercise can be done with your fingers or even through the imagination. The mind is very powerful. If you imagine the breath passing through only the left nostril, it usually will.
Emotional Component of Covid-19
This experience with Covid-19 was not only a challenge physically, but emotionally as well. I have heard people who had Covid-19 describe an emergence of memories as “hallucinations.” Could we be experiencing the collective memories of humankind in the transformation of the planetary race? Could it be that we are shedding the forms of the past in our collective, evolutionary journey back to our Source? Could this novel coronavirus actually be a catalyst to help bring us together in the remembrance of our common values and humanity?
The novel coronavirus seems to carry with it a dark and dense impact upon the human emotions. It also brings up emotional patterns and memories that give a sense of rearranging one’s patterns of thinking and feeling. It seems to reach deep into our psyche bringing up memories of the past that have created mild to deep fissures in the subconscious mind. When I was sick with this virus in the fall, it was one of the few times in life that I felt truly off-center. After being sick with the virus for weeks, the darkness and despair I felt within our world began to lighten, and I felt light penetrating this shell of darkness, My joy of life began to return.
It feels as if we must now establish a new orientation of ourselves, a new way of thinking and a new way of Being. When very deep memories known in Yoga as samskaras and deeper impressions of vasanas begin to emerge from the varying layers of the psyche, past memories embedded in the subconscious mind can come up and be seen as a form of healing at the deepest level of our Being. The essence of Yoga is to bring the invisible, (that which has been buried for eons of time within the memory vaults) up to the surface for healing and releasing. In Yoga, we make the invisible visible, the involuntary voluntary. I found this virus a powerful practice for the release of personal and collective grief. Just as the emotion of anger is assigned to the liver and fear to the kidneys, grief is said to be stored in varying tissues and layers from the upper to the lowest and largest lobes of our cone-shaped lungs.
Sri Aurobindo Gosh, a great Indian Master called Yoga “compressed evolution.” This intimates that in Yoga we don’t wait lifetimes for bundles of memories to emerge. Instead, we can practice asana, pranayama and meditation to accelerate the release of these samskaras (impressions) allowing them to bubble up to the surface of the conscious mind where they can be seen, healed and released. With this release, patterns that may not have served us in the past, become light and healed. This creates a lightness in our cellular structure that paves the way for expansion of consciousness. Through breathing and stretching of the physical and subtle nerves in asana, hidden recesses are awakened, individually and collectively, as the mind of humanity.
Like Yoga, the coronavirus seems to bring up memories and remembrances of our ancestral and family DNA to the surface. This can be a deep and at times, emotionally painful, experience. When that which was buried and repressed begins to surface, it takes the second step of being fully blown or scattered but then as we continue our practices, it begins to alternate where a destructive thought pattern of the past is overcome by a new expansive thought wave that is very freeing. This may not be lasting, but with our practices, eventually this alternating pattern begins to “thin” and no longer have a hold on us. This is known as ekagrata, meaning “dwelling in oneness” or “one-pointedness.” In this concentrative state, we are overcoming the pains of the past through new insights and understandings that lift us beyond the pains of this world into a liberation of conscious.
A commentary on the Yoga Sutra says, “We cannot avoid the pains of the past because they’ve already occurred. We cannot avoid the pain of this moment because it is in the process of occurrence.” Patanjali says, “Heyam Dukham Anagatam,” the only pain that can be avoided is the pain yet to come.”
Suggestions For Staying Well
The following are practices that helped me personally to overcome viruses in late 2002, and again at the end of 2019.
1. Reduce food intake. The system does not need mucus buildup from undigested food particles. Total fasting is not advisable because the virus is drying to the mucus membranes which makes it more difficult to combat.
2. Hold off on salads and other raw foods that are more difficult to digest, and avoid cold foods that cause contraction in the lungs.
3. Take soups such as vegetable, chicken, tomato, lentil that have lots of liquid broth. Take other hot liquids. Fruit juices such as orange or grapefruit mixed with room temperature or warm water, are helpful. You do not want to dry out the mucus membranes.
4. Avoid sugar and dairy (especially when cold, like yogurt and ice cream) because these foods produce a good deal of mucus buildup in the intestines and in turn, the lungs. Also avoid caffeine, smoking and alcohol.
5. If there is a sore throat, drink hot lemon water every 20 minutes, and gargle with warm salt and turmeric water. Practice Lion’s Pose. It seems the virus can live in the throat for 3-4 days before it travels to the lungs, so I felt it could be addressed there before it goes deeper into the lung tissue.
6. If there is difficulty breathing, walk and move the body with bilateral movement to activate the lungs. Exhale longer than you inhale to relax the lung tissue and bring in more oxygen. There is a pranayama practice Anuloma/Viloma that is helpful. Its name means to go with the grain or flow of breath and then go against the grain or flow of breath.
Take the breath in in one continuous flow and then interrupt the exhalation in two second intervals meaning exhale for two counts, hold it for two…exhale 2 and hold for two. Continue this interruption for the duration of the exhalation. Then when inhaling take the breath in as slowly as possible. KEEP BREATH BELOW THE DIAPHRAGM, breathing abdominally if you can. If you can, breathe into your back on the inhalation and elongate your spine on the exhalation.
7. Rub “Wild Oregano” essential oil (from Spain or Zimbabwe) on the bottoms of your feet every night and cover with warm socks. Inhaling the strong fragrance of the oil will help open the respiratory tract.
8. Use a vaporizer or warm humidifier with essential oils such as eucalyptus, wild oregano or Thieves (blend of cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, lemon, rosemary.
9. Cleanse the intestinal tract. You might want to use a supplement of magnesium citrate such as Calm, before bedtime to gently keep the channels of elimination open. Gently massage the abdominal area in clockwise circular movements spiraling from the navel outward. It is important to relax tense muscles including the peristaltic musculature of the large (and small) intestines.
10. Vitamin C, especially with Zinc, can very useful in the prevention and early phases of treatment of viruses. For some, Vitamin C may be too drying for the mucus membranes (especially in Vata stages of life).
11. If you can move around, try to invert the body even slightly using an inversion or slant board. The inversion table or poses also help the heart to be higher than the head which strengthens the tissue and vessels of the heart increasing circulation into the lungs as well as the cerebellum which is in lower part of the brain that has more neurons than any other part of the brain. One highly recommended inversion device can be found at this web site: https://www.inclinerx.com/
Ancient scriptures of Yoga say that the shoulderstand is the most important asana of Yoga. It impacts the back of the lungs and bronchi and activates the respiratory system. If you are weak, put the feet on the wall to help support the body in this position.
12. Lastly, one of the greatest things that helped me to overcome these viruses was not to fight it, not to resist it, but to accept it and welcome it into the physical structure. Ask, “Why are you here?” “What do you need from me?” The greatest thing I found was to keep releasing, not to resist or tighten any of my musculature and cellular structure. When we can do this, much like releasing into the emotion of fear, it doesn’t have much of a hold over us. Isn’t this the way we want to live our lives? The more we feel we have to fight something, the more hold it has over us?
Perhaps this virus is teaching us how to apply this relaxation to other phases of our life. Can we love it out of existence as we embrace all humanity beyond the borders we have created in our own consciousness?
5/13/2020 08:22:49 am
Wow this was so helpful for me. I had contracted what I now know as the corona virus in early January after returning from California to Wyoming. I was sick for 6 weeks like never before. With all the symptoms you described you had. And the depression was so immense. I'm going to do your suggestions as my sinuses are still so unbelievably dry. (I'm 60 years old) it's also affected my ears ie ringing and "wet" ears every morning still. And I have to wear cotton in ears outside to keep cold out of them. With the corona I also had vertigo so horribly. And a dry cough that would not stop for weeks on end. Also so short of breath if I walked up the stairs I would do it in stages. And every morning I was so aware of a nostril blockage. .Now I mostly feel drained and trying to regain my vitality. Any suggestions for my ears You may have would be welcomed. Thanks so much again for this post and suggestions to implement, 🙏💗
5/13/2020 01:22:00 pm
GREAT article, Rama... very insightful and so helpful! Thank you!
Mary Beth Markus
5/13/2020 04:11:58 pm
Thank you Rama for your insights and words of wisdom and love. You are such a sage in every way. Much love to you always!
5/13/2020 07:16:29 pm
Thank you so much for this information. My husband and I are following the suggestions to stay well. The spring pollen is aggravating my husband's asthma, so the breathing suggestions are helping to keep his airways open and lungs relaxed. We are keeping a watchful eye for any progression of symptoms. Thanks again and sending love.
5/14/2020 10:07:03 am
Thank you Rama. I have the blockage and ringing in my ears too.
5/28/2020 06:01:28 am
Great to meet you through your writings. It has been too long!
7/24/2020 11:55:37 am
hello rama, so lovely to read your writings and know that they/you are available in this way! my what this time has wrought, yes? i was very interested to read your experience. and wonder, did you learn what you had back then? i.e. was there a test? and to hear that you are living now in east texas, again...my family is still there in longview and tyler. and when this is ever done, this time of covid, i will venture there to visit. much love from beautiful napa, susan (branum)
Bob Swan, Jr.
2/20/2021 10:36:28 am
Just learned of Rama's passing and I wish to send my sympathy and love to Mira and the family and friends who love Rama so. We were blessed to work together on several major citizen diplomacy events in America and the Soviet Union. I will always treasure these important cooperative efforts and remember what a force Rama was for peace.
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