Dealing with Anxiety in COVID times

The coronavirus pandemic is creating enormous stress on all of us. The fear that we may succumb to the virus is real and many of us are acutely suffering. What can you do when fear and anxiety grip us?

Logic doesn’t work in most of these situations. Fear is activated in a part of the brain that is not associated with reason and logic. So using logic to deal with fear and anxiety can have very limited results. The question is how can we deal with fear at a much more primeal level?

Yoga might have some answers. Yoga starts by recognizing that the mind, which is usually a collection of thoughts is essentially an energy form. In Yoga, mind is not the brain. The brain physically manifests thoughts but isn’t the originator of the thoughts. Think of the brain like the window that lets light in. The window is the means and the light is the source. Yoga address the energy system or Prana. Yoga again doesn’t mean just contorting the body in weird ways – thats exercise. Yoga simply means uniting (or harmonizing) the seven layers of our existence – body, breath, energy, mind, intellect, ego and the self. You can start at any point in Yoga. If you use Asanas then you start with the body. If you do Pranayama then you start with the breath, If you use Mudras, Bandhas, Kriyas along with the breath then you activate the energy system. Meditation begins with watching thoughts and judgement (the voice in the head), which affects the mind and the intellect. Finally the self is experienced when all effort in each of the last six layers is dropped. This deep rest. This deep quiescence is known in the Yogic tradition as Samadhi and is where the self is experienced. It is wrong to say the self is experienced, because it is the source of all experience. But this is the limitation of language.

In order to deal with fear, we need to change the energy patterns, which in turn would affect our thoughts. Start by Pranayama or breathing exercises. This brings tremendous focus and clarity in the mind. Start by some simple alternate nostril breathing (or Nadishodhan). Set a timer for eight minutes and practice this twice a day for 2 weeks. You will start noticing the changes in your mind and energy levels. Advanced students can pick any kriya. Sudharshan Kriya is a powerful breathing technique to fundamentally transform the energy system. You can try other kriyas like Isha Kriya.

An important aspect while you practice these techniques is to know that you are not bringing peace and clarity from outside. You are merely discarding the veils of misery that we have accumulated over the years. Therefore, do not make peace or joy the goal of a Yogic practice. The goal of Yoga should be to attain to your natural state of peace. This makes a tremendous difference. It is the difference between exercising with the aim of building mass and exercising because you feel good and it makes you happy. Avoid having goals. Reside in the process.

Avoiding anxiety is to avoid thought patterns that we have become accustomed to. Once you are grounded in these practices, you can start using the intellect to observe your fears and consciously start turning them around. The intellect (the one that says yes or no – the voice in the head) can be used to understand that the anxiety is always about things that may happen in the future. And these may indeed happen. However, no body on earth can predict the future. This can just not happen. Therefore know the difference between outcomes and intentions. In the case of this coronavirus outbreak. The outcome is “I will contract the virus”. This creates fear and stress. But ask yourself. What is that you want? Do you want to have the virus? I think most of us will answer “NO”. This is your intention. The skill lies in feeding and strengthening your intention and avoiding the minds fixation on the outcomes. Knowing the difference between intentions and outcomes make a huge difference in our lives.

We do not have control on the outcomes of our actions or inactions. But we do have total control on the intention. You can be very sure of what you want. Address this and strengthen this. Your mind might trick you and say “What use is my intention? How will it protect me?”. To this we can reply, “What use in the outcome? How can we predict it?”. Moreover intentions when strengthened, give strength to our actions. And when actions are strong, the risk of the disease reduces. If our intentions are strong, we exercise, eat right and stay calm – all of which positively impact our immune system. This reduces the chance of contracting the virus and even if you do, you stand a better chance of fighting it. An overly focussed attention on the outcomes weakens us – because this is not in our control. And because we cannot control it, it makes us feel anxious and tense.

So remember:

  1. Practice Yoga and your kriyas – they help change energy patterns which in turn influences our minds
  2. Once yoga is established as a routine, use your intellect to focus on the intention (“I will be healthy”) and not the outcome (“What if I get the virus?”)

Stay happy, stay calm and reach out to me if you need help!

From the bus stop at San Domenico, Firenze. 2019. Sometime before the onset of winter

1 Comment

  1. Accept (the new reality), adapt (to a new way of life) and enjoy (whatever you chose to do or not do – no pressure). And of course, reach out to Akhilesh if you need help.

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