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Daoist Tips for the 21stCentury – Back to Nature - Learning from Long Covid

by Vicki McKenna(more info)

listed in cfs me long covid, originally published in issue 270 - May 2021

“Heaven, Earth, and I were produced together, and all things and I are one.”



Covid as an Enemy

Someone experiencing “long Covid”, the aftermath of Covid-19, writes;

“My Covid journey began in February 2020 where I became unwell with a cold, fever and cough. At the time I didn’t really notice I was unwell but over the following few weeks I noticed that I seemed to be unable to recover and I was now suffering with a crippling fatigue as well as the other symptoms of exhaustion, a strange taste and brain fog. Whereas before I was a relatively fit person and wouldn’t think twice at walking over 5/6 miles on a daily basis, I would now struggle to walk to the end of my street. I also found social situations really hard and couldn’t keep up with conversations and online meetings were a real problem.”

Some recover from Covid -19 in a couple of weeks whereas others experience on going issues with extreme fatigue, problems with their respiratory system, brain, cardiovascular system, heart, kidneys, gut, digestion, liver, joints and skin. These symptoms come and go and not only do people experience physical issues but also there are emotional and cognitive effects –people report acute anxiety, agitation, brain fog and depression. As with other chronic fatigue syndromes (CFS) such as Post-Polio Syndrome and ME, healthcare services are slow to recognise that these Covid patients are suffering and need help. Particularly ignored are those people who contracted the virus but were not hospitalised – they are a group experiencing long term chronic health issues who often feel completely unsupported by healthcare services and this of course leads to further anxiety and frustration.

Researchers are puzzled by long Covid and currently seem to be seeing it as consisting of several different syndromes as this article from October 2020 in the BMJ suggests;

“Long Covid, the name commonly used to explain lasting effects of Covid-19, may actually be four different syndromes, according to a review by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). A team of researchers and doctors reviewed current evidence and interviewed post-hospitalised and non-hospitalised patients and reported that long Covid did not seem to fit as one syndrome. They suggested that people experiencing long term effects of Covid-19 may have different syndromes such as post-intensive care syndrome, post-viral fatigue syndrome, and long term Covid syndrome.”[1]

CFS, and long Covid is no exception, is a challenge to western medicine and often results in medics ruefully admitting they have nothing to offer the patient or offering symptomatic, rather than holistic treatments. Also allopathic medicine tends to see illness as an enemy to be overcome, beaten and vanquished and often those working in hospitals with Covid patients will liken their work to being in the front line of a battlefield fighting a war against the invisible enemy – the virus. I am sure that this battleground analogy may well be useful in those emergency and critical situations such as in an ICU dealing with the acute stage of severe Covid symptoms. However this approach is not so useful at handling the long term effects of the virus – long term chronic syndromes require a very different approach.

Energy Centre

Learning from Long Covid

The Daoist model of health and healing is holistic, does not treat symptoms in isolation nor does it see disease as an enemy to be suppressed. In Daoist Five Element theory the body and mind, the virus SARS-CoV2, the disease of Covid 19 and its after effects of long Covid, are all part of the whole of nature. Everything is connected in the Dao – there is no separation between us, our experience of health and disease, our inner and outer environments. All the “ten thousand things“ are thus all one whole, where everything is connected, each affecting the other in the cycle of the Five elements. And in this Daoist model viruses, diseases, syndromes are symptoms of a deeper malaise – symptoms not to be treated separately or as enemies to be beaten but having the function of messengers come to help us get to the root cause of imbalance and advise us of where we need correction to restore harmony.

By opening to the message we can learn from long Covid and have the opportunity to deeply heal ourselves and our environment physically and spiritually. This virus and its long term effects seem to be telling us that our connection to nature has become disrupted – we humans seem to see ourselves as separate from the natural world. Currently much in our twenty first century inner and outer environments is out of balance and the end result is the pandemic we are currently experiencing. We have polluted our inner environment by feeding our bodies junk food, feeding our minds with greed and fear and forgetting to feed our spirits at all. Furthermore we have polluted and disconnected from our outer environment by having a deep disconnect to nature, a lack of understanding that what happens in the natural, outer world affects all aspects of life. For example we do not see the connection between our farming methods, global warming and disease. In this case the huge areas of deforestation created to farm cattle, release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere causing the earth to heat up and also forcing disease carrying bats and other animals into closer contact with humans – possibly this is how coronavirus started. A further example of our disrupted connection to the natural world can be seen in the effects of the planetary wide wild fires that are caused by global warming – these create the smoke pollution that can make our lungs more vulnerable to Covid-19.

Covid-19 is a symptom – nature's way of telling us that the cause of this disease lies in our inability to treat our inner and outer environments with loving care as one complete whole. As we smash down forests and overheat the earth, mistreat animals and each other, modify genes in plants and now in humans, it is no wonder that a virus has arrived to awaken us, bring us to our senses. Instead of fighting it, trying to crush it, we need to learn from it, accept its message –that we need to reconnect with living more naturally. And if we want to deeply heal and recover from the long term effects of Covid we need to let go of the idea of a quick fix, of treating symptoms in isolation or suppressing them and instead focus on leading lives that reconnect us with nature to bring about long term wholeness and healing.

Healing Long Covid

For those of us who have experienced Covid and now feel exhausted with a worrying range of symptoms the bad news is that there is no quick fix. The good news is that we can heal, but this, in large part, involves slowing down and connecting to the natural world. Our bodies are part of nature and spending time out of doors not only strengthens us physically and mentally it also enables us to feel whole and complete – no longer separated from the elements we came from. Spend time out of doors connecting to the outer world, acknowledging its rhythms and cycles – even 10 minutes outside in winter, wrapped up well on a cold dark day can lift the spirits. To spend time absorbing and feeling at home in the elements is the path to recovery and healing. If you are experiencing long Covid here are some ways to fully feel the benefits of nature;

  • Take Your Time; Don't be in a hurry, take all the time in the world to take a daily stroll round your garden or park. Do not have a goal in mind of walking a certain distance. Start with a few minutes of walking and then sit on a bench, rest and pace – take time out to absorb the scenery. If you feel too unwell to go outside start by simply sitting at your window and look out at the birds, notice the clouds, enjoy looking at the trees. Rest your mind body spirit!
  • Appreciate the Elements; Once you are able to walk or sit outside breathe in the air, absorb the energy and vibrancy of the earth, the plants and trees, listen to the sound of running water, connect with the ground beneath your feet. Soak up the sun – even on a gloomy winter's day the watery sun can be appreciated! Smell loss is a prominent symptom of Covid-19, and long-term smell loss is often seen in long Covid. Take the opportunity out of doors to literally smell the roses, or any local foliage! At home try smell training –this involves sniffing at least four different odours twice a day, every day. Use 4 types of essential oils – rose, eucalyptus, clove and lemon to encourage your ability to smell.
  • Cultivate the Earth; You might not have the energy , or space, to grow your own vegetables but get your hands in the soil – touch, feel, handle the earth by cultivating flowers in a window box or by caring for house plants. When summer comes lie in the grass and feel the earth's healing energy filling every cell of your being.
  • Ancient Daoists had many complicated practises to align and attune with nature but we can draw on their wisdom to simply and profoundly reflect on the interdependence of the human being and his environment. And when we take time to respect our natural environment and recognise ourselves as part of the natural world we can feel sustained and nourished by it.

Abdominal Breathing

The other crucial aspect to recovering from long Covid is breathing. Breathing is the most natural and nourishing activity for all living creatures but most of us, especially when tense and anxious, tend to breathe shallowly from the upper chest. Breathing in this way means that our oxygen and energy levels are negatively affected. Deep, abdominal breathing is extremely helpful as it will raise oxygen levels and can help increase lung capacity – crucial if lung function has been damaged by long Covid. Furthermore when we breathe fully we oxygenate the blood which nourishes the brain and the nervous system to help produce a calm, relaxed mind as well as increased energy levels.

  • Lie on your back and bend your knees so that the bottom of your feet are resting on the bed or if outside rest your feet on the ground.
  • Place your right hand on your chest and your left hand on your stomach.
  • Breathe out slowly, relaxing completely. Once your lungs are emptied, breathe in making sure this time that your left hand moves upwards - in other words your abdomen rises - before your chest does. Slowly and calmly breathe out . The crucial point in abdominal breathing is to ensure that as you breathe in the abdomen rises and as you breathe out it falls.
  • Practise this twice a day for 10 minutes and it will become completely natural for you. Practise also during your day to day activities - any activity is an opportunity to learn abdominal breathing. Do it whenever you feel stressed or in pain and your mind will feel clearer, your body more relaxed. Particularly remember to always practise this breathing exercise as an introduction to any other form of relaxation technique.

Diseases do not arrive in isolation out of the blue – they are symptoms of causes deep within our inner and outer environments. We need to see these symptoms – Covid and long Covid as messengers come to give us the opportunity to change how we live, to treat ourselves and our environment with respect and loving care. Learn from long Covid to get back to nature, rest and pace, breathe deeply, eat well, be kind to yourself -- this is the path to healing.


  1. Long covid could be four different syndromes, review suggests. BMJ 2020;371:m3981. doi: 14 October 2020.


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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; Practical and Holistic Strategies for Coping with Post Polio Syndrome is available from 


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