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Coronavirus: A Daoist Approach

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in chinese oriental medicine, originally published in issue 263 - June 2020

So here we all are – in lock down and under the threat of infection from a virus. It’s not an easy time for any of us. Hard for most of us emotionally as we are separated from our family and friends, hard for many of us fainancially as we are laid off work with a pittance to live on. For families with small children there is the strain of keeping kids occupied all day, often whilst parents are working from home. For elderly living alone there is the stress of feeling cut off whilst living in total isolation. We look to the government for advice and find a lack of clarity, we turn to Facebook instead and get inundated with messages that often conflict with each other. We are all anxious, grief stricken, frustrated and confused. Daoism does not profess to have all the answers but it is a philosophy behind the 5 element acupuncture I have practised for nearly 40 years and it has helped me through challenging times in the past. Certainly I find it helpful today in the current circumstances. Here are some basic building blocks of Daoism – I offer them to you in the spirit of help and support in these troubled times.....

 

Chinese character for the word Tao

Chinese character for the word Tao Courtesy Wikipedia

The Way of Wu Wei

The Daoist teacher Lao Tzu taught that the universe is full of constant change – it is composed of cycles that contract and expand – winter for example is a cycle of contraction that expands into spring. So it is that we find ourselves in a cycle where the coronavirus pandemic is expanding and eventually it will contract and move on. All life is change, nothing ever remains static, nothing stays the same. As humans we tend to fear change and we cling to our comfort zones wanting everything to remain as it ever was. To use an analogy – if a thirty foot wave were to come at you it’s no use asking the universe to rewind and get back to a more comfortable reality – best to go with the flow and either ride the wave or get out of the way. This then is the basic principle of Daoism – the way of Wu Wei – flowing in harmony with life’s circumstances.

Although Wu-Wei means to flow in harmony with life’s circumstances usually we do the opposite of this – we attempt to force circumstances so that life will, we hope, go the way we want it to. Daoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously according to its own ways. When someone pits his will against the world, against the stressors he faces he disrupts that harmony. Humans need to yield their will and align it in harmony with the natural universe. Faced with a pandemic we will find it is best to yield and accept what we are faced with – trying to maintain the status quo is doomed to failure. So we accept social distancing, not going to work as we used to, washing our hands more frequently than we ever have, but deep down we may still object to this new way of living – we yearn, understandably for our old life. This resistance is indeed futile and furthermore it drains our energy as we resist, objecting psychologically to the new circumstances. But what happens if eventually we truly, deeply yield, say “yes” and accept in a positive fashion the very thing we fight against ?

Hans Selye the stress researcher talks about “adaptation energy” – a certain type of energy that helps us adjust to stressors. He says; “we have no objective way of measuring adaptability at any given moment: but there appears to be a readily available, replaceable type (of energy), and another more deeply hidden in reserves which can replenish the superficial kind only after some rest or diversion of activity”. Once we truly, deeply accept the circumstances we are in and accept that we feel fearful, angry, worried, then we are yielding in the way of Wu Wei and we are allowing ourselves respite – we let go of clinging to our comfort zone. In this way we can access adaptation energy. This will allow us to adjust to the challenging circumstances we find ourselves in.

 

Energy Centre

 

One of the best ways to yield to stressful circumstances and draw on this adaptation energy is to practise Hara Breathing daily where you focus on the Dan Tian (sea of energy) – the energy centre just below the naval. This will have a calming, balancing, energising and spiritually uplifting influence on your energy field . Try it when you feel anxious, sad, frustrated and frazzled for it will help you to connect with and preserve your deep reserves of energy – the source of strength, health and healing in these troubled times.

Hara Breathing

Lie comfortably on your back and focus on the Dan Tien – the energy centre just below the naval to practise lower abdominal breathing also known as “Hara “ breathing .

  • Sitting or lying comfortable with loose clothing inhale slowly through your nose and gently exhale through your mouth .Do this several times;
  • As you inhale feel a movement all the way down to the Dan Tien – the energy centre just below the naval. Allow your abdomen to expand as your diaphragm moves down in a full breath, then let your abdomen relax as you exhale completely. Breathe continuously, with no pauses between the exhalation and the inhalation;
  • With closed eyes focus attention fully on the Dan Tien. As thoughts arise simply let them go. You may start to feel a warmth in this area and a deep sense of relaxation. Continue focusing and breathing like this for fifteen minutes or so. Practise twice daily.

The Three Treasures

Daoists understood that there are 3 principles that help us live in harmony with a changing universe. The first is Kindness, the second is Moderation, the third is Humility. When faced with this pandemic Kindness – tender compassion and benevolence – is crucial if we are to learn and grow as a result of these challenging times. We are seeing incredible acts of charity and kindness as people open their hearts and purses to help others. And Moderation is without a doubt the order of the day in these troubled times. Nature is the foremost teacher in Daoism and we learn from her to waste nothing. Let go of craving new stuff, make do and mend – a life of moderation and simplicity is the way forward and is in fact the choiceless choice. The third treasure is Humility. Adverse times such as this pandemic are the great leveller – your career, titles, money, power cannot protect you from destructive forces. We are all suddenly in the same vulnerable boat and this is truly a humbling experience.

Now we realize we are not separate beings – we are all part of the process called Life. Daoists were the first organized environmentalist movement and taught that we are all part of the web, the process of life – all in this together. From this place of Humility we can reach out to live lives of Moderation and Kindness – sharing all that we have and letting go of desiring more. This also means that for now we are witnessing a curbing of the ravaging of the natural world – pollution levels are falling as many heavy industries grind to a halt, people are no longer able to fly willy nilly here and there – it seems this might all impact positively on climate change. Hopefully this change in habits is something that will continue even after the virus threat is over.

Health and Longevity

One of the key aspects of Daoism is the focus on looking after one's health. Daoists see that the purpose of life is to feel fully alive and to this end the emphasis is on cultivating longevity. To feel well and live a long life Daoism teaches us how to balance our energy by exercising, by eating in harmony with the seasons, by keeping a sense of humour. Daoists see illness and its signs and symptoms as an opportunity to encourage and restore the flow of Chi energy so that healing takes place and harmony is restored. Interestingly, in Chinese character writing the same symbol is used for the word “crisis” as for “opportunity”. Thus whatever creates a disturbance in the flow of life, whatever stressors create crisis, will also serve as an opportunity for fresh growth. Coronavirus, as a threat or a reality can be an opportunity to restore health and balance to your life.

Eat Well

Eat well and in harmony with the seasons...eat foods that are fresh and locally grown. In summer raw foods are best but when winter comes, forego salads and, in keeping with the season eat warm, cooked food such as stir fries and stews made with earthy root vegetables. Daoists also realize that if you are elderly you might be best eating hot cooked foods all year round and forget about salads in the summer.  Daoist diet is all about using these ancient principles along with your intuition and common sense to keep your immunity strong and healthy! Omit foods considered to be Damp in the theory of traditional Chinese Medicine –sugar in all its shapes and forms is to be avoided as are dairy foods. As we hunker down and make do and mend this is the time to make meals from scratch – soup costs next to nothing and a pot can be kept on the go and added to daily. Any left overs? Add them to the pot .

Relaxing Exercise

Daoist exercises such as Chi Gung and Tai Chi have been practised for thousands of years and you can easily access YouTube videos to learn how to practise these gentle and relaxing movements. Perhaps one of the simplest and yet most incredibly potent forms of Daoist exercise is Standing Meditation. Yang Yang, founder of the Centre For Tai Chi And Chi Gung Studies in the US says “Standing meditation is one of the fundamental training methods of internal Chinese martial arts....Practitioners hold standing postures to cultivate mental and physical relaxation, tranquillity, awareness and power.... Standing meditation improves core strength, balance, bone density, power, awareness, sleep quality, body alignment, efficiency of movements, and mind-body connection”. Yang Yang has conducted research studies into standing meditation at the Kinesiology faculty at the University of Illinois in the US, and found significant improvements in balance, strength, immune function and well-being. He says “In one of my research projects, the lower-body strength increased by about 20 per cent after six months of taking part in a one-hour class, which included about 20 minutes of standing, three times per week.” Try practising Standing Mediation on a daily basis and see an improvement in energy and wellbeing. If you cannot stand for any reason then practise seated.

 

Tree standing

 

Standing Like a Tree

Wear loose comfortable clothing. Gently bend your knees slightly and align the spine vertically so that it is as straight as possible but do not strain to be perfectly straight. Relax your head, neck and shoulders with arms in front of the body but bent gently at the elbows and hands – positioned so that it appears as if you are holding a giant bubble in front of your navel.

Place your tongue on the roof of the mouth just behind the front teeth. Close your eyes, relax your breathing and simply watch your thoughts go by rather than clinging to them.

If your legs begin to ache simply increase or decrease the bend of the knees slightly to allow the muscles to pump blood. If your arms become tired, it is usually because you are trying to hold them up. If need be, simply move them so that your hands are slightly higher or lower than the original position in front of the navel. Begin with five minutes and build by five minutes per day until you can stand for 20 minutes in one session. As you stand feel the chi filling you from above and below and know that you are fully alive, fully and powerfully present!

Practise this exercise and Hara breathing daily, eat well and most of all remember that Laughter is the best medicine – stop watching the anxiety provoking rolling news and get onto a comedy channel! Stay well.

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About Vicki McKenna

Vicki McKenna BA Lic Ac trained at The College of Traditional Chinese Acupuncture in Leamington Spa with Professor Worsley from 1981 gaining her Lic Ac. in 1984 and has been practising acupuncture in Scotland since then. Her book A Balanced Way Of Living is an ‘inside out’ way of thinking about and managing Post Polio Syndrome (PPS). Her practical strategies and holistic approach encourages even Type A polio survivors to slow down and listen to what their bodies, hearts - and even souls - are telling them: "Do for yourself as you have been doing for others." A Balanced Way Of Living is unusual because it includes dietary, natural and alternative therapies for PPS plus a unique Eastern view that outlines meditation, breathing and yoga as PPS treatments. The book is clearly and sympathetically written by a polio survivor who is also a acupuncture therapist and includes many case studies. By following McKenna's strategies, polio survivors cannot help but feel better, inside and out. To purchase A Balanced Way Of Living please visit  www.postpolioinfo.com/balanced_way.php  Vicki may be contacted via vickimckenna51@hotmail.co.uk    www.balancedway.simplesite.com/

 

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