A Yogi in a Pandemic

By Sadguru Swami Nirmalananda

Anxiety is peaking, growing higher than I believed possible.  Beyond self-quarantine, might we soon have people barricading themselves in their homes?  The enemy is their neighbor, co-worker, even family member, anyone who might have the flu.  Is it the virus that is pandemic, or is it the anxiety that’s pandemic?

Of course you must be intelligent about preventing disease!  But first you must assess the risk.   

  • Dr. Greg Poland, Mayo Clinic, explained:  30 million American have been infected with a virus in the last few months — the influenza virus.  About 1% of them needed hospitalization, and unfortunately about 30,000 of them died.  He says we are so “culturally numb to ‘just the flu’ that we don’t take it seriously despite the numbers. And in contrast, the coronavirus has killed about 3,300 in roughly the same time.”  — CNN

There have been 100,000 cases identified as COVID-19, now labeled as a pandemic by World Health Organization.  It’s true that the potential for global illness is huge.  Yet the reality is currently (fortunately) small, only .0012% of the population.  Don’t let the media fuel your anxiety unnecessarily.

Even air travel is not the scary thing that everyone thinks it is.  One airline describes it this way:

  • “We know that because of high cleaning standards and hospital-grade air filtration systems, the risk of catching a virus on an aircraft is low. Inflight transmissions have not been a feature of this outbreak… As the US Centres for Disease Control says, ‘the cabin air environment is not conducive to the spread of most infectious diseases.’”  — Qantas customer email

The reality is that it’s the flu.  The death rate is running about 3%, which means 97 of 100 infected people do fine.  This is not the black plague or Ebola.  The real problem is that the virus lives on, outside the host’s body, for up to two weeks.  Thus everything that an infected person has touched is a potential carrier for quite a while.  This also means it’s easy to control.

Hygiene is the answer.  While that’s not new, it’s a good thing to get everyone to pay attention.  From my Girl Scout camping days, and my many trips in third-world countries, I have relied on my immune system to handle a wide variety of threats.  As a yogi, I have an excellent immune system.  Yet the experts include me in one of the high-risk groups, “older adults,” along with people who suffer from chronic disease or long-term health problems.  So I’m washing my hands more often and following the other CDC recommmendations.

At the Ashram, we’re increasing our cleaning routines, disinfecting doorknobs and other surfaces several times daily.  We’ve added face cloths for your yoga classes, so you rest your face on a clean personal towel.  And we’re doing more — see our Coronavirus Update

Please take care of yourself and your loved ones.  Be intelligent and improve your hygiene practices.  But, while you’re doing this, take a look at the fear.  Anxiety diminishes your immune response, so the more you worry, the more likely you’ll experience the very thing you fear.  Planning ahead and taking care of yourself is not the same as worrying — it’s strategizing.  See my October 2006 Teachings Article explaining the difference, titled “Your Mind Needs Yoga.”

Keep breathing.  Be kind to those who are near panic, obsessing on something they actually can control with personal hygiene.  Remember, anxiety decreases your intelligence.  Settle deeper within, assess your risk and act prudently to take care of it.  And… do more yoga.

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