The Covid-19 Pandemic has caused a massive loss of life, particularly for the elderly, and many millions worldwide have tested positive for the virus. Yet the psychological suffering the pandemic causes may be as difficult as the physical suffering, particularly as it lingers on well into 2021.
First is the psychological suffering that goes with the danger of the disease itself, its symptoms, and the loss of life involved. The psychological stress of the health care workers treating it is also be enormous. In addition is the suffering of the relatives whose loved ones suffer or are taken away by the disease.
Second is the widespread fear, sometimes panic, among people that they or someone close to them may come down with or succumb to the virus, which is highly contagious, making physical human contact into a danger to be avoided.
Even the lockdowns and social distancing necessary to counter the pandemic have psychological side-effects. Being confined at home can contract and disrupt our mental energies and emotions. It is particularly difficult for children who are at stage of life when they want to be active and expressive. The mind does best when it has space and when confined our thoughts and emotions more easily become negative.
Yet in addition to these health worries are many other problems caused by the pandemic. The economic fallout from the lockdown pushing the world to the brink of a financial depression is a matter of great concern for everyone. Economic uncertainty hangs like a cloud, even for those who may not any symptoms from the disease. This results in fear, anxiety, worry and agitation in the psyche.
Thee social disturbances from the pandemic are bringing up deep-seated political, religious and cultural divides. We see greater polarization in countries East and West, with people getting emotionally disturbed at individual and collective levels. We must remember that these are conditions of increased fear affected by the pandemic, blocking real solutions to the problem which require a united approach to the disease. The media too often highlights panic for the power of sensationalism to draw in readers, but which can become irresponsible and misleading.
Yoga and Ayurveda
How then can we address the psychological ramifications of this massive pandemic? Here Yoga and Ayurveda provide many tools to help bring peace and clarity to our psyche, which people throughout the world have experienced.
Fear is the root of all mental disturbances in Vedantic thought. It is the first emotion that arises from ignorance of our true nature that gets us caught in duality, conflict and uncertainty. To remove fear we must remove our attachment to the separate self and look to our higher Self that is one with all and beyond death and sorrow. We must have a broader vision of the unity of life and our own inner immortal nature.
According to Ayurveda, fear is the main emotion that imbalances the primary biological air humor, Vata Dosha, which governs the nervous system, and is closely connected to our Prana. By disturbing Vata dosha in body and mind, fear upsets our equilibrium for body, prana and mind, down to instinctual and subconscious levels. It can literally paralyze us.
Fear promotes Apana Vayu, the downward movement of Vata, which is the main factor of disease in Ayurveda, disrupting digestion, disturbing sleep and reducing acuity of mind and senses. It causes inertia, negative thinking and attitudes, leading to anxiety and depression.
There are many Ayurvedic herbs for the mind (Medhya Rasayanas) that help promote calm and meditation like Brahmi, Manduka Parni, Tulsi, Jatamamsi, Shankha Pushpi, Amla, Ashwagandha and Calamus. These counter the Vata dosha in the nervous system behind fear. A regular nutritive Vata-reducing diet is helpful to support these herbs. An Ayurvedic practitioner can guide you with these. The application of Ayurvedic massage and their calming massage oils like Chandanadi or Balashwagandha is very important.
From a yogic perspective, pranayama, mantra and meditation counter fear by opening up the prana and mind to deeper energies. Fear blocks the prana and reduces its flow, causing our awareness to fall into inertia and negativity. Pranayama restores the flow of prana dispersing fear, particularly if we practice a slow and deep inhalation and hold it within. Fear causes superficial or rapid breathing or even forgetting to breath, which inhibit the positive prana in the lungs and heart, and black the mind as well. To counter fear we must breathe from the navel and let go of emotional stress held there.
Above all, we should learn to witness our fear from the standpoint of the Seer within us, our true consciousness. Whatever we deeply see and witness in our minds will naturally get transformed. This is the essence of meditation. To dwell in the state of the Seer transforms what we see, even our own thoughts extending to subconscious compulsions.
Overall we must learn to keep our minds free from outside disturbances and attempts to intimidate us, which the both the social and mainstream media frequently throws at us, provoking fear and panic, or just distracts us with fantasy and entertainment that fails to address the reality of our lives. We must beware of taking negative sensory impressions in through our minds and senses, which carry emotional toxins, and open ourselves to healing presence of nature and its boundless space. We must learn to draw our mind and prana within through meditation.
We must challenge our fears and move beyond them with a respect for the cosmic dharma, using difficulties for inner growth. What takes us forward in life is not that we never fall down, but that we always get up and keep going, even if we fall for a while.
We are immortal souls with the consciousness of the entire universe dwelling deep within us. There is no challenge we cannot overcome with a higher awareness, but fear can prevent us from doing so if we fall into its murky shadows.
Lord Shiva grants freedom from fear with his abhaya mudra, as does Ma Durga and Ma Kali. Divine grace and presence, however we best relate to it, will neutralize all fear. But we must be open to it within our own deeper minds and hearts. We must remember our true Self beyond body and mind, birth and death. Fear is not our ultimate reality. Fearlessness is our true nature.
Vamadeva Shastri (David Frawley)