The Covid-19 Pandemic is causing a massive loss of life, particularly for the elderly, and millions worldwide have tested positive for the virus. Yet the psychological suffering the pandemic causes may be as difficult as the physical suffering.
First is the psychological suffering that goes with the disease itself and the loss of life involved. The psychological stress of the health care workers treating is also be enormous. In addition is the suffering of the relatives whose loved ones 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. Along with this is the fear that the virus may continue or return in areas where it has receded, or similar new pathogens may arise.
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. It is threatening the jobs, savings and investments of entire populations, which have taken many years for people to accumulate. 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.
Along with the economic unrest the social disturbances from the pandemic are bringing up deep-seated political, religious and cultural divides, not unifying humanity. We see greater polarization socially and politically in many countries East and West, with people getting emotionally disturbed at individual and collective, with numerous protests and riots.
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 spiritual 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.
According to Ayurveda, fear is the main emotion that imbalances the primary biological air humor, Vata Dosha that is closely connected to our Prana. By disturbing Vata dosha in the mind and nervous system, 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, 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, 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 this.
From a yogic perspective, pranayama, mantra and meditation counter fear by opening up the prana and mind. Fear blocks the prana and reduces its flow. Pranayama restores the power and the flow of prana dispersing fear, particularly if we practice slow and deep inhalation. Fear causes superficial or rapid breathing or even forgetting to breath, which inhibit the positive prana in the lungs and heart. 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 thoughts will naturally get transformed. This is the essence of meditation.
Overall we must learn to keep our minds free from outside disturbances, which the media frequently throws at us, provoking fear and panic, or just distracting us with fantasy and entertainment. We must beware of taking negative sensory impressions in through our mind and senses and open ourselves to healing presence of nature and its . We must learn to draw our mind and prana within through meditation.
Franklin D. Roosevelt’s statement in World War II comes to mind here that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. Fear paralyzes us, makes us doubt anything we can do to improve our situation, or worry about anything negative that may possibly happen. 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 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.