This is an unprecedented situation, at least for the new generation, not only for an individual or a nation but for the entire humanity. Besides the fear of the coronavirus infection, people have been confined to their homes. How would spirituality help to cope with this situation?
A: Take the imposed social distancing or self-quarantine as an opportunity to slow down and go inward. It offers you space and time to focus on yourself, to reflect and reset your roles and goals.
It is also an excuse to break the monotonous pattern of fast paced life and indulge in some creative activities like writing, cooking, music, painting or learning a language. It’s the time to move beyond the outer scenery and go inside to find the seer. It’s also the time to strike a balance between rest and activity. One who is always in rest doesn’t progress in life and one who is always in activity misses the bliss of deep rest.
Silence and solitude are a potent means for personal growth and self-renewal. Many great works of the world have emerged out of solitude. Meditate more and use this forced solitude to improve your mental strength, creativity, empathy, and productivity. You can use mobile phone apps to do a guided meditation, or we have live meditation sessions twice a day. You can join in.
At this time, we need spiritual strength, and it can come from meditation and chanting. Vishnu Sahasranam and Hanuman Chalisa bring enormous inner strength.
The Art of Living (AOL) has been providing succour to millions who go through trauma around the world. How is AOL supporting people in India and abroad during the pandemic?
A: Our volunteers have been working tirelessly to provide relief material in all corners of the country. They have provided ration for ten days for a million families across the country. The film and TV fraternity has also joined this initiative. So far, 500 tonnes of total relief material has been sent to various parts of the country. This includes food, medicines and sanitisers. We have opened a helpline, where our teachers are counselling people suffering from anxiety and stress due to the lockdown.
The Art of Living teachers are also conducting yoga and meditation sessions for people. Our ayurvedic doctors are helping people sail through the current times by providing dietary and lifestyle advice to boost overall immunity and stay healthy.
The children and the elderly, particularly those staying alone as their children are abroad, are finding it tough to sail through. What would be your advice to them?
A: Today, thankfully we have phones and internet through which you can at least keep in touch with your family members staying far away. Imagine if this lockdown had happened a few decades ago when there were no phones, how much harder it would have been without any means to communicate with your family. The elderly can give solace and advice to others who may be anxious and restless. Mothers can involve their children and husbands in creating and experimenting with food! Tell them a lot of stories, play Antakshari, teach them skills, ask them to learn music or languages.
There have been cases where infected persons or their families are facing a boycott from neighbours and relatives. How can we avoid such situations?
A: Of course, people need to cut off contact with those who are infected, but it should not be at the emotional level. Those who are not infected need to be careful but be mindful that those who are infected are going through a hard time too. This is the time they might need more moral support from us. We need to take care that they don’t feel abandoned.
What kind of diet and yoga asanas are useful in such circumstances?
A: Very spicy food should be avoided at this time. You can include giloy or gudichi, amla, turmeric, tulsi, panchagavya and black pepper in your food. Avoid white sugar completely. It is known to reduce immunity by half. You can use jaggery or honey instead, depending on your constitution. Have a lot of alkaline water. You can cut a cucumber into smaller pieces and add a piece of lemon, put it in water overnight. You can have it the following day an hour before meals or two hours after. It will reduce the acidity in our system. Learning pranayamas like bhastrika, nadi shodhana, ujjai breathing along with meditation can be very helpful in dealing with the mind at this time. Sudarshan Kriya has elements of pranayama, yoga, and meditation incorporated in it and works on every level of our body.
What would you like to say to the police, government officials, civic workers and medical personnel and others, who are working round the clock to check COVID-19?
A: We cannot express our gratitude enough to the doctors, medical workers, media and police who are out on the streets serving humankind when the world is in a shutdown. Those taking care of our country at this time - I appeal to them to take care of their health. You need to take a good rest from time to time. You must do some meditation that will give you a lot of strength and boost your immune system. The Art of Living teachers are ready to help you anytime.
They can take you through a short meditation, and they can help lessen your stress. Simple breathing practices can help too. A simple practice like taking long deep breathes (up to four counts), holding the breaths (up to four counts) and releasing them slowly (up to eight counts) you will feel the difference when you do it for even five minutes.
What are the lessons we should learn from such pandemics?
A: Last year, the world saw so much unrest, first in Chile, then Argentina, Colombia, and there were protests in Iran, Hong Kong, India. There were so much unrest and agitation for 8-9 months. Now with coronavirus, it has united the people of the world in some way. Nature has taken a stick and said, ‘Don’t forget your Human Values’ through this epidemic. At this time, we need not panic. This is the time given by nature for cleansing of the mind, heart and soul of society. Help people who are suffering like daily wage workers.
We should give importance to life, but we’re giving importance to accessories of life. Nature has given us time to sit back and reflect. Nature is telling you to value the life you have been given. Now is the time to look into your creative side.