Ayurveda Experts on COVID-19 Era And Your Body, Mind and Spirit

There was a time in history when there was a similar situation to now and there was a need to accumulate knowledge on the crisis and give rise to solutions. A convention of medical practitioners, seers, monks gathered at the Himalayas to discuss the course of action at that time of disease which disturbed their inner tranquil and hindered their spiritual journey. They all collectively meditated hoping they would find an answer to this crisis situation and at the end of the meditation they realised that they needed to find new knowledge. Sage Bharadwaja volunteered to find this knowledge and after thorough studies and research, he put together personal and collective conducts, surgical procedures and he made a classification of the natural substances that could either be healing or toxic to health.

What we are facing today in terms of the crisis is no different. We are isolating ourselves, but along with this isolation, we are also understanding and beginning to appreciate family, the society and the values it holds. We are also immensely indebted to all those who are not able to isolate themselves and are working tirelessly at the frontline to tend to our needs.

The Boston Center of Excellence hosted a webinar on April 5 which included over 500 participants from 60 countries across the globe. The topic of the webinar was “COVID-19 Era And Your Body, Mind & Spirit” and the panelists for the webinar were Dr David Frawley and Dr Darshan Mehta, and this session was moderated by Dr Jay Glacer. Dr Glacer, MD Internal Medicine, practises hospital medicine at the University of Massachusetts Health Alliance Hospital and was one of the first western modern medicine practitioners to include Ayurveda in his practise.

Dr David Frawley also known as Pandit Vamadeva Shastry, a Vedic teacher and an author of fifty books on Vedic Studies, Ayurveda and Yoga addressed immunity at various levels - individual and community levels. The current pandemic seems to affect older people with low immunity, people with compromised immune systems and those with pre-existing health conditions, particularly with the respiratory and circulatory systems and not to forget those in continuous exposure to the virus, the frontline healthcare workers. Continuous exposure can weaken strong and intact immune systems. Dr Frawley suggested a few ways to keep one's immune system strong and it can be via yoga-asanas, ayurvedic herbs, oils, massages, Pranayama, preferred diets and mantras. However he also mentioned that when the condition is acute, it is better to integrate all spectrums of medicine- Yoga and Ayurveda and modern medicine in terms of medicines and hospitalisation, to bring about a cure.

Apart from physical immunity, there is also psychological immunity and these two go hand in hand. When the mind is perturbed, especially at a time like this when there is panic and stress which signify negative emotions, it can affect the digestive fire or the agni and this ultimately leads to accumulation of ama or toxins and thus disturbs the physical immunity. Individually, one can practise meditation, pranayama, mantras, asanas, proper care of the mind and most importantly proper rest.

Collective immunity can help one maintain and spread positive messages and attitudes among the community members and maintain a sense of unity of humanity, culture and spirituality. Dr Frawley mentioned how the media can cause stress with their reports and statistics of the epidemic, like when we see a graph that shows a high pointy curve or a steep fall. It is at times like this where we must maintain positive attitudes and collective peace and unity.

Dr Frawley made an interesting point of how this situation can bring in a sense of doom and gloom among people but it is important to bear in mind that we need to be prepared, resilient, and that we need to be ready to act for us and for the community. It is also important to stay alone, and in the process of staying alone, we need to project positive thoughts for all of humanity. He further addressed the immunity and the integrity of the biosphere, wherein we need to look at our personal ecology such as the digestive system and the nervous system. Collective ecology is where we create this collective will to bring about the global health and well-being of all the creatures of the ecosystem and all of humanity.

The concept of herd immunity with respect to mind and prana was put forth beautifully by Dr Frawley. Apart from having a collective mind, we have a collective prana (the survival energy) and this is exchanged between one another during conversations and this has a genetic effect in terms of behavioural attitude and this could have an influence on our immunity. Now this collective mind and collective prana share immunity across barriers that are not physical. This immunity is shared among people via the means of food, water. What is really fascinating to observe is that an epidemic can travel through many such communities and can slowly and gradually fall and this immunity can be passed on to the future generations. He stressed on how important it is to develop that immunity at this point of time when the infection is at an acute stage and this is possible only by projecting positive and inspiring thoughts across the community.

He then spoke about the immune system of the Earth. Most of us today dig the soil while gardening with gloves on and other safety gear to avoid germs from entering our body through the nails. Dr Frawley is one of those people who does the opposite. The soil that is dug is a part of the biosphere, and plants grow in the soil and we acquire our food from these plants. This shines light on how we must be grounded in nature and this is very important at gaining immunity at the psychological and the spiritual level. Being grounded in nature can be taking a walk at the park, hiking, playing outside, watching the moon and the stars, something all of us did as children and all of this allows us to be a part of the biosphere.

Today we are only connected to the screen which is two dimensional and we need to be connected at a three dimensional level to embrace the earth and also move beyond into the space of consciousness where one can share consciousness with each other and other creatures, says Dr Frawley. This can energise our medicines, herbs and food and this energy that belongs to the earth can be taken in by us.

He then went on to explain the importance of the Dhatu agni and the digestive agni in creating the ojas and how this can contribute to immunity. Ojas is the essence of dhatus which are the tissues- plasma, lung, muscle, fat, bone, nerves and the reproductive. The digestive agni allows digestion of the food and each of these dhatus have their own agni and the ultimate essence of that agni is the Ojas. It gives rise to innate strength and it is therefore necessary to maintain that Agni to build ojas and to allow the digestion of those factors that contribute to the ojas.

He explained the connection between Ojas and Tejas and Ojas and Prana. What is Tejas? Tejas is the essence of all the agnis and becomes the inner support of immunity. The Prana aids in the healing process and the Tejas allows the immune responses to occur like an increase in the temperature of the body in case of a fever. The ojas, the prana and the agni at a deeper level allow the body to heal and rejuvenate. At the same time, these three also calm the mind, and promote mental immunity.

What makes this agni strong? What should one do to maintain the fire thereby maintaining a good and healthy immune system? Dr Frawley mentioned a few spices and herbs that keep the peripheral movements of the agni going. These include clove, cardamom, cinnamon and teas that have ginger and tulsi. He emphasised on the importance of pranayama practises that can kindle the agni (especially the Surya Bheda Pranayama that is associated with the heating of the body and is symbolised by the sun).

Questions rolled in from many listeners. One such question was that the virus has a short incubation period and how might it be possible to develop strong immunity within that short period of time. Dr Frawley recommended various strategies to build and strengthen the immune system. But he also mentioned that ojas is a product of time and it requires time to build your immunity.

Proper nutrition is extremely important- A whole set of herbs such as Ashwagandha, Shatavari and medicinal compositions like Chyawanprash can be taken. Of course it has to be borne in mind that these take time to absorb into the system. According to Ayurveda, it takes 35 days for the nutrients in the food to be absorbed by the tissues.
Raw foods require much stronger agni to be digested and if the body has a weak agni, it can lead to the build up of ama. Thus it is better to have freshly cooked food. Dr Frawley spoke of the availability of fresh greens as it is spring season. A certain amount of raw food can be raw but it is not preferred to have raw food alone. Some of these foods can be cooling but at a time like this, the body requires some amount of heat in the system. Having less oily and sugary items and having regular meals and less food after sunset is the best way to keep the agni strong and to avoid the toxic buildup.

Good pranayama, sweating and ingesting herbs will keep the circulation going and can also allow immediate immunity when in diseased state.
Deep sleep is a must as it can take one’s mind back to silence. One must get to bed early and rise early. Exercise allows the energy to move around and also avoids the energy to stagnate. If energy stagnates, prana also stagnates. Anuloma-Viloma breathing technique helps in the movement of the Prana.

If someone has the virus, will pacifying the kapha help? Dr Mehta suggested taking proper and adequate rest at that time. Focusing on inward reflection and doing mind-body practices can help. Dr Mehta explained the effect of the cytokine storm that occurs at a later stage of the infection when the virus enters the lungs. Cytokine storm can hinder the process of oxygenation in the lungs. He recommended deep breathing practices that keep the lungs expanded. Sleeping well and taking in less calorific foods is preferred as foods high in carbohydrates produce more carbon-dioxide and this can impair with some of the gas exchange.

Dr Frawley added that proper hydration by sipping warm water with ginger, turmeric, cinnamon and tulsi, as hydration helps to lubricate the lungs. He also said massage oils like sesame based or oils with camphor can help hydrate the skin as the immune system is connected to the skin as well. One must also keep a watch on the body temperature and if there is a rise in the temperature, appropriate medicines must be taken. If the temperature is normal, these general measures can be taken up.

With the news rolling in everyday regarding the virus, it can set in anxiety and panic and therefore it is important to stay calm and not be overwhelmed. Keeping a set period of time to watch the news and setting a limit to the screen time just like for children. Dr Mehta talks of the screens of today as of the iPads, laptops, mobile phones and even the light bulbs that emit a blue light. This blue light can affect the rate of melatonin production. He said getting back to our roots now would be a good idea like writing more than typing and calling dear ones over the phones rather than being on video call with them. Also getting in touch with arts and music can be healing to the mind. Dr Frawley also recommended shutting off the screens two hours before sleep, not checking the news and practicing pranayama or reading a book and other pre-sleep routines at that time. Similar routines in the morning such as listening to positive things, pranayama, Yoga Asanas rather than watching the news is beneficial to calm the mind. Performing kapalbhati for a short amount of time is alright and this improves the circulation. Performing Suryabheda Pranayama in the morning and Chandrabheda Pranayama at night is recommended. He explained that anxiety is mainly Vata dosha and this can only be maintained by proper nutrition, rest, communication, sharing with the community and maintaining human connections.

Dr David Frawley says” The human body is our Earth, our nature and we must honour and protect the organic basis of the body and we should not just treat our body as a machine or through drugs”

Dr Frawley spoke of cleansing techniques such as Panchakarma and how one can pacify the three doshas as they come up. Panchakarma is not to be performed at a time like this as it can weaken the immunity, particularly for the Vata type people. Oil therapy and sweating is alright however one must be careful to not allow excess oil to enter the system especially in the Kapha type people as this can cause congestion. Also maintaining circulation with the help of herbs like ginger, turmeric, Tulsi and Sage is good. Accumulation of Ama in the system needs to be removed without stressing the system. He emphasised the need for lighter meals at night and to deal with proper spices to keep the ama out of the system to not allow toxic build up and clog channels. There is a need to have good energy and good Ojas and deeper detoxification can be done at a later time (once the pandemic passes).

He finally spoke of the benefits of mantras and the positive vibrations they carry to the body. He spoke of the Beeja mantras- Shreem, Hreem and Om.

Shreem is Lakshmi and increases positive kapha.

Hreem is the mantra of the heart and increases the Prana and increases circulation overall.

Om is the Vama Beej and is the protective force that pushes out the negative energies.

Chanting Om Shanti can also create a sense of calm in one.

Guru Mantras or Ishta devata (favourite gods) mantra can be chanted and this keeps the mind circulating and stops the accumulation of negative emotions.

Mantras increase the circulation of the Chit and raises the vibrations of the Prana down to the cellular level. Of course this is not scientifically proven and doesn't have to be as personal experiences is what matters.

The webinar provided one with a quarantine survival kit to one and all. A healthy lifestyle and keeping calm is what is going to help us pull through this crisis. Let us put out positive thoughts daily and be united as we fight the pandemic until the end.

|| लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनोभवंतु ||