Staying Centered Amidst Coronavirus
Notes, by Puran Bair, co-founder of iamHeart.org
If you already know about COVID-19 and you want a meditation that will definitely help you, you can just skip to the end of this message.
The Good News
Let’s remind ourselves that the body has co-existed with viri for millions of years. We’ve learned how to get along, and even for a novel virus, the human body has some powerful antidotes.
Humans are so familiar with viri that people write poetry about them:
I caught the happy virus last night
When I was out singing beneath the stars.
It is remarkably contagious –
So kiss me. — Hafez
Here are some of the teachings of Hazrat Inayat Khan, the sage of our era, in my opinion, on the topic of “germs,” which includes bacteria and viri.
Vol. 4, Healing And The Mind World, Part 1, Health, 5. Element Breaths
There are germs, but there are also elements to purify them. The five Elements, earth, water, fire, air, and ether, as spoken of by the mystics, do not only compose germs, but the Elements can also destroy them, if one would make use of those five Elements to purify one’s body with them and also one’s mind. As there is need of sun and water for plants to grow, so there is need of the five Elements for a person to keep in perfect health.
Vol. 4, Healing And The Mind World, Part 1, Health, 5. Element Breaths
One can be too sensitive to germs, one can exaggerate the idea of germs, making the idea more than the reality. One person will be susceptible to those germs and tend to be their victim; while another person assimilates those germs and thus destroys them. In other words, the one is destroyed by germs and the other destroys them.
Vol. 8a, Sufi Teachings, The Tuning of the Heart (2)
People who come with pessimistic remarks, I tell them, “One person comes into a country with a little cold or influenza and it spreads. If such a bad thing can spread, could not then the elevated thought of love and kindness and goodwill towards all people also spread? Thus we should see to it that there are finer germs of goodwill going from one to the other, of love and kindness, of the feeling of brotherhood, of the desire for spiritual evolution; they will have greater results than the other ones.”
Githas, Healing, 2b, Purification
It is necessary for a healer to observe the laws of hygienic life and to keep from partaking the germs of disease from the patients (s)he heals. Besides this, all thoughts of bitterness, ill will, wrath, anger, jealousy, healers should avoid, purifying their mind from every spite or malice, and bathing, so to speak, in devotion, that their heart may become saturated with mercy and compassion. It is not only the power of mind that heals, but the purity of mind. The mind free from all crookedness, deceit, treachery, is alone capable of emitting power, strong and pure in its nature, which can give to a patient a new life, relieved from all pain.
The Benefits of Heart Rhythm Meditation
As meditators, we have experience with the most powerful anti-viral antidote: the breath of spirit. The ancient mystics identified four components of spirit, the four subtle energies, and called them the Elements: Earth, Water, Fire and Air. Together, they constitute the fifth Element, Ether, which is pure Spirit.
Heart Rhythm Meditation uses four different ways of breathing to specifically energize the four Elements. I will describe this meditation below.
In line with the quotations from Hazrat Inayat Khan, above, our first response to this crisis should be to maintain our hope, compassion, goodwill and optimism. We should avoid fear and selfishness because it’s not our nature to be like that, and because it weakens our immune system. By now you’ve probably received many emails with that same message. If everyone could just do it we would have a better world, but it can’t be done by will-power. You need a practice that calls on your inner and cosmic resources. Nature has resources for protecting life, and we can plug into those resources by using our Six Basic Powers.
There are seven ways that Heart Rhythm Meditation affects your physical body to give you an advantage in fighting COVID-19 and other infections, and maintaining your centered optimism.
- We consciously use a full breath, not a shallow breath. These videos show how.With a normal, unconscious breath, you might move half-a-liter of the five-liters of an adult lung capacity. With a full breath, you will move perhaps two and a half liters. Breath is life, so a full breath gives us a full life. A shallow breath gives one a shallow life. Breathing deeply, fully, exercises and expands your lungs to increase your lung capacity, and also ensures a high level of oxygenation of the tissues.
- We breathe slowly, starting at five breaths per minute and even slower. The benefit of this is increased energy, due to the healthy build-up of carbon-dioxide, CO2. The level of CO2 in the blood plasma determines the pH of the plasma, which must be maintained in a narrow range, from 7.35 to 7.45. When you are anxious, you breathe too fast, called hyperventilation, which lowers the CO2 in your lungs and then in your blood stream, lowers the pH of your blood, and inhibits the uptake of oxygen from your red blood cells. Over-breathing actually produces oxygenation starvation! You can see this in the extreme during a panic attack, which causes confusion, paralysis, and eventually unconsciousness.We have more details on the need for slow, deep breathing to prevent hypocapnia. Only by breathing slowly and deeply can you counter your fear and anxiety.
- Breathing slowly will also reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. Details on reducing hypertension are on our website.In these stressful times, you need to be calm, for your own wellbeing and for those around you.
- Breathing through your nostrils creates nitric oxide, a vasodilator and a cardiovascular signaling molecule. This will relax your nasal passages, and also the small muscles surrounding your arteries, resulting in a lower blood pressure and less stress on your heart.
- We place our attention on our heart. Wherever you focus yourself, you effect physical changes in that area of your body. Blood flow can be increased by your attention. (You can verify this by holding a thermometer bulb and concentrating on your fingers. You can watch the temperature rise, indicating an increased flow of warm blood through your fingers.) Concentrating on your heart will increase the efficiency of your heart muscle, reducing heart stress.Laying right on top of your heart is your thymus gland; when you think of your heart, your thymus gland gets attention too. This has been shown to improve immune response by something called the “Mother Teresa Effect”.B cells and T cells are the major types of cells of the adaptive immune system. B-cells fight bacteria and T-cells fight viri. The T-cells are programmed to identify cells as “self” or “not-self” by the thymus gland. Give your thymus some attention to help it in this difficult task when it encounters COVID-19, that it’s never seen before.
- We focus on the heart so intently that we can feel the heart beat. Feeling the sensation of your heart beating is actual proof that you’ve placed your full attention on your heart. Until you get this subtle sensation, look for your pulse, anywhere in your body.Now count heart beats, or pulses, and breathe in for six heart beats and out for six heart beats. This creates a high value of Heart Rate Variability (HRV), which is the definition of high “vagal tone”, the measure of how well your parasympathetic nervous system can calm your internal organs, like the heart, stomach, and intestines. With low HRV, your heart becomes unstable and your digestion is upset.You can see the condition of stress and depression in these graphs of HRV.
- While focusing our attention on the heart, we imagine that our breath is being inhaled into the heart and exhaled out of the heart. The flow of breath, which is spirit, through your heart is tremendously energizing. (See our book, Energize Your Heart, for more on the power of the energetic heart.) The effect of this is that the heart re-magnetizes the red blood cells as they flow through, which cancels the anemia that comes from stress. Under stress, the red blood cells clump together, called Hemagglutination, which prevents them from releasing their oxygen load.
The physical effects above and their benefits will serve you as allies to increase your immunity and keep you healthy. But the most important and most powerful effect of Heart Rhythm Meditation is from the rhythmic flow of spirit through your heart, and the distribution of spirit to every cell through your arteries and nerves.
Think of spirit as a kind of electricity that will activate every cell, or a gentle light that will inform and illuminate your cells as they encounter the virus.
Practical Steps for Fighting a Virus
In preparation for the meditation, let’s remember a few practical things. You will need more vitamin D.
“Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have discovered that Vitamin D is crucial to activating our immune defenses and that without sufficient intake of the vitamin, the killer cells of the immune system — T cells — will not be able to react to and fight off serious infections in the body.” From Science News. More details from Scientific American Magazine.
And you will need more vitamin C, a powerful anti-oxidant and virus-killer. Dr. Linus Pauling, Nobel Laureate, recommended 2000 mg per day. If you have symptoms, increase to 1000 mg per hour. Vitamin C has been proven to reduce the incidence and severity of the common cold at lower dosages, but for a viral infection, gram-level dosages are necessary, as reported by this NIH research.
Sleep and rest are essential. Fresh air and sunlight are healing, as they were in the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. See Covid-19 & The Sun.
Since there may be no symptoms of COVID-19 for up to two weeks, while the virus is all the while attacking the cells of your lungs, it would be helpful to have a way to observe any decreased lung function. You might not notice the slight, accumulating reduction. A simple instrument for measuring your lung capacity is to blow into a plastic bag. Take a deep inhalation, then exhale completely into the bag and clamp it shut. Make a mark where you’ve clamped it. Repeat daily and if your exhaled volume decreases, you can suspect a respiratory virus like COVID-19.
Heart Rhythm Meditation for Virus Protection
The words used in the meditations that follow are from a prayer for healing from Hazrat Inayat Khan, an Indian mystic and sage who taught in the West. (d. 1927) These words, shown in red, can be spoken out loud or silently. Each of the four sections of this meditation should be repeated for 11 or more breaths.
Begin by sitting up straight, not leaning back, with your chair high enough that your thighs are level or sloping downward, not upward. In this position, you can breathe fully.
Breathe in and out of your nose. Let your belly expand as you breathe in, then expand your chest at the top of your inhalation. Breathing out, relax your chest, then contract your abdominal muscles in the last seconds of exhalation.
Find your pulse, perhaps by grasping your wrist, or just tuning into your body, and count six pulses breathing in and the same number breathing out. When that becomes too short a breath for you, increase to 8 counts.
When you’ve settled into your breath and pulse, think of your heart and imagine that your breath is moving into and out of your heart.
Now consider the great earth beneath you. The powerful magnetic field of the earth is interacting with the magnetic field produced by your beating heart. The earth has the effect of restoring the magnetism of your energetic heart. As you breathe, speak to Mother Earth using these words:
Beloved Earth, Almighty Healer, hold me and protect me.
Using the same posture as for Earth, above, open your mouth slightly as you breathe out. Close your mouth again to breathe in through your nose.
This creates a downward flow of energy that descends upon you and flows through you. It is a life-giving energy, called prana in yoga that nurtures every living thing. Speak to the stream of blessing using these words:
Beloved Water, through the all-pervading Life in space, revivify me.
Continuing with the posture and full, slow, balanced, counted breath, change the direction of breath. Breathe in through your mouth, slightly open, and breathe out through your nose. alone.
This creates an upward flow of energy that rises from within you, (like Kundalini). While the airflow is in the mouth and out the nose, the flow of spirit starts at the solar plexus as you breathe in and rises as light as you breathe out, to fill your whole body. Your heart feels like a sun, and the rays of that sun spread out to your shoulders and down to your hands, shoot down your legs to your feet, and rise into your head at the end of the exhalation.
Speak to the Fire component of spirit with these words:
Beloved Fire, through the rays of the sun, purify me.
Continue now with the last form of spirit, the sacred air. This breath is in and out through the mouth, slightly open. You are sipping breath as you breathe in, and scattering breath as you breathe out. The effect is to expand your self so that spirit can move freely between your cells and even blow through the space in your atoms. Every cell is touched and tickled by the breath of pure spirit.
Speak to the Air component of spirit with these words:
Beloved Waves of the Air, heal my body, heart and soul.