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Welcome to week 6 of the Be Well Series – Strategies for Coping with COVID. So far, we have discussed the following: Sleep Well, Eat Well, Breathe Well, Drink Well and Move Well. This week’s focus in on the mind. Think Well. Yup, you can change your thoughts. We practice directing our thoughts in yoga all the time. You can choose to direct your mind in ways that are helpful or harmful. Our minds are also an important part of our immune system. Learning to direct our thoughts and to learn to become less reactionary can not only help us be happier overall, but it can also help our bodies be healthier as well. When we are chronically stressed, our bodies are flooded with hormones that are great for dealing with an emergency but not good for general everyday health. Here’s a great article on meditation and your immune system: https://www.mindful.org/train-brain-boost-immune-system/
The ancient yogis understood the importance of cultivating a healthy the mind. The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali, is an ancient yogic wisdom text. It spends a lot of time discussing how we think and different types of thinking, how to calm the mind, meditation and concentration among other things. The Yoga Sutras were written around 400 CE. This information was likely orally transmitted previously for centuries. The fact that it is still a widely studied book, suggests it has something to offer to our modern-day world.
The yoga sutras talk about the vrtts of the mind, a Sanskrit word meaning turning or churning. Meaning that our minds are always active. One mindfulness meditation teacher, who sadly I do not remember their name, called the mind a sense organ, like your eyes or ears. They explained that just like your eyes cannot choose to not see nor your ears choose not to hear, your mind cannot choose not to think. The mind’s job it to think. However, we can learn to skillfully direct our mind, instead of it being a raging hurricane (think churning) of challenging thoughts. The yoga sutras spend a considerable time offering ways to slow the vrtts of the mind.
Many schools and styles of mediation have been developed to aid in this endeavor. If you have ever tried meditation and you didn’t like it, or it “wasn’t for you,” try again. There are so many different ways to meditate that there is pretty much a type for everyone. Practicing mediation helps us learn how to direct the mind and to avoid being hijacked by our mind. Sometimes, we get hijacked when we are very deeply attached to particular beliefs or viewpoints. If someone verbalizes sentiments that are diametrically opposed to our views, we may feel powerful emotions of fear, anger, or disgust. Suddenly, we may be unable to focus on anything else. Your thoughts just hijacked you! Another example is when you first fall in love, and you just can’t stop thinking about that new wonderful person in your life. It feels good, but maybe you aren’t getting all of your work done. You may even neglect your other relationships and friendships. You’ve been hijacked again!
With this COVID-19 crisis, it is really easy to get hijacked. It’s really easy to worry about the future, about what the government is or isn’t doing, to worry about your friends or other people. It is easy to get hijacked when we feel overwhelmed, sad, angry, powerless, or scared. It’s not that these feelings are bad, but when they consume you, then they rob you of the present moment in time and flood your body with stress hormones. These strong emotions can keep you from sleeping. They may even lead to addictions if you make a habit of coping by overeating or drinking. You may end up emotionally compromised in dealing with the situation at hand and this emotional compromise may even lead to a lowered immune system as well.
All we really have is today. Accept your current experiences and ty not to allow them to hijack you. Turn your attention to this moment and do whatever you can to make the next moment better. Here are some strategies for Thinking Well:
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
― Lao Tzu
In Peace & Health,
Andrea Carvalho, musings on the journey to vibrant embodiment.