Wednesday, April 1, 2020

The Path of Yoga to Deal with Viral Infections and Stress

by Ram Rao

A single strand of ribonucleic acid virus (COVID-19) changed the landscape of the world and brought it down to its knees. And people all over the world are grappling with the numerous changes and shifting priorities. No one is happy. Fear, worry, anger, rage, and depression have encapsulated mankind like never before. Everyone’s looking for the magic pill and everyone is seeking answers. But you actually do not need to wait for the magic pill. There are numerous natural interventions that provide resistance against all kinds of viral infections and may keep you safe.

Let me confess though that I am a bit skeptical of all the articles that discuss the benefits of an asana practice for dealing with the viral infection and chronic stress associated with it. True, there are manifold benefits from an asana practice and if you follow them, you may have done an excellent job of improving your health status (weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, stress level, etc.). But asana alone is not a panacea for infections and viral illnesses.

You may be practicing asanas daily but you are not immune from health issues if you continue exploding with emotional outbursts, eat an imbalanced diet, and lead a sedentary lifestyle. You will be susceptible to all sorts of health issues and that includes infection as well. To address the yogic path to deal with the virus and virus-associated health challenges, let me present some excerpts drawn from my ‘soon-to-be published’ book called Good Living Practices.

When we define ourselves as ‘human’ it includes (1) a physical body, (2) a mental body, and (3) an emotional body. While these three facets appear as independent entities, such a limiting belief is the root cause of suffering and disease according to the Yoga/Ayurveda traditions. Instead, if we believe that we are a combination of body, mind, and emotions, and work to achieve oneness of these three entities, we will be on a course toward a long, healthy, purposeful, and extraordinary life. Thus, in an era filled with wars, natural calamities, and infections, it is imperative that we keep the body, mind, and emotions in sync, functioning as one unit, and act in that manner to achieve optimal health and wellness. So what does this look alike in the present scenario where we are besieged with an unknown deadly virus? I will describe here the tools for optimal health and living that keep the body, mind, and emotions in sync.

Physical Body. Good physical practices include mindful eating, physical exercise, and regular tuning of the body to nurture one’s physical health. The principles of good physical practices can be found in three of the eight limbs of Yoga philosophy: the Yamas (moral injunctions), Niyamas (moral observances), and Pratyahara (managing the senses). Let me just say that combining good physical practices with a daily practice of asana will nourish all the organs and body systems and help to gain strength and may improve immunity. People who incorporate these practices are more stable physically and likely to feel energetic, empowered, and positive about their direction in life.

Mental Body. Good mental practices are about strengthening brain structure and function, and this is achieved through good quality sleep, mental training, and selfless service. According to Yoga/Ayurveda, inculcating and putting into practice the principles of Yama (moral injunctions), Niyama (moral observances), Asana (poses), Pratyahara (management of senses), Pranayama (breath practice), Dharana (focus), Dhyana (meditation), and Karma yoga (selfless-action or selfless service) will lower the risk of acute and chronic health problems, reduce stress, improve sleep and mood, enhance mental clarity, and help an individual to make wise decisions. A clear mind is not affected by stress and produces a healthy body, thus creating a greater connection with one's own pure, essential nature.

Emotional Body. We carry with us an enormous amount of emotional baggage which weighs us down and clouds our perception and awareness. According to Yoga/Ayurveda wisdom, failure to detach from the negativity may lead to mental illnesses and make us more susceptible to infections, illness, and chronic physical conditions. Being on the yoga path means to cultivate good emotions and harmonious thoughts to reduce mental conflict and promote a fully functional life. This involves using suitable tools to perceive, understand, and express emotions and to be aware of life’s daily dramas and act effortlessly to experience complete peace and joy. A steady and regular practice of Pratyahara (management of senses), Pranayama (breath practice), Dharana (focus), Dhyana (meditation), and Karma yoga (selfless-action or selfless service) is a key to manage and overcome any emotional disturbance.

I am not wrong when I say that every human wishes to experience less stress, feel more energy and joy, sleep better, and put all the virus talk on the back burner. But to do this effectively, you need to keep the body, mind, and emotions in sync and this balanced approach as described above is a pathway to optimal health and wellness.

For more on the principles of Ashtanga Yoga (8 limbs), see the following articles:

  1. Yama: The First Branch of Yoga: Yamas and Yama Drama: Considering the First Branch of Yoga
  2. Niyama: The Second Branch of Yoga: Niyamas
  3. Asana:The Third Branch of Yoga: Asana
  4. Pranayama: The Fourth Branch of Yoga: Pranayama and Friday Q&A: Recommended Pranayama Practices
  5. Pratyahara: The Fifth Branch of Yoga: Pratyahara and Building Bridges
  6. Samyama: Samyama: The Trinity of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi and Friday Q&A: What is Meditation?

Rammohan (Ram) Rao comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and Vedic teachers in India tracing back to the illustrious Vedic-acharya Rishi Kaundinya (although Ram admits he cannot do the Eka pada or Dwi pada Kaundinyasana). With a doctorate in Neuroscience, Ram was a Research Associate Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He focused on various aspects of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases with emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, Ram completed the academic training at the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) and received his certification as Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. He has been a faculty member of the California College of Ayurveda and teaches in their Nevada City location. Ram is also a dedicated Hatha yoga practitioner and is a Registered Yoga Teacher from Yoga Alliance USA. In his spare time he offers consultations in YAMP techniques (Yoga, Ayurveda, Meditation & Pranayama). Ram has published several articles in major Yoga/Ayurveda magazines and has been a featured speaker in several national and international meetings and symposia. He is a member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and is on the Research Board of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA).

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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