6 Yoga Tips for Countering Mass Hysteria (and maybe viruses too)

This morning I jumped into the car to drive my son to school. A radio host was interviewing public health experts about the inevitable spread of the coronavirus and what to do about it. After I dropped off my son, I went to the gym – the TVs were populated by talking heads speculating on the severity, intensity, and timing of a larger outbreak in the states.

And even though I knew I shouldn’t, I took a peek at CVS and Target websites – yes, it’s true, all the facemasks were sold out. This made me think about how social media and the 24/7 news cycle can so easily convince us to hop aboard the mass hysteria train.

People freak out when they feel like they’re not in control – and this virus is nowhere near controlled. A woman on TV from the CDC advised everyone to wash their hands a lot, which will eliminate 50-60% of the risk. But I wish she would have told folks to do some basic yogic/Ayurvedic routines as well.

Even though we don’t have a CDC microphone to get the word out, at least we can share these simple tips with our students.

And BTW, I have no idea what evidence there is behind the effectiveness of these practices for preventing coronavirus, but I do know that they make me feel better – and that in and of itself is a huge step toward prevention.

So here are some practices:

  1. Gargle

When I lived in Tokyo, a crazily densely populated city, I noticed that most of my Japanese friends had a gargling habit. After being out and about, usually on public transportation, as soon as folks got home, they would gargle.

I remember my grandmother being a gargler, but somehow, it’s not as popular now in the states as it once was. So gargle when you get home. Adding a ¼ teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your warm water will certainly enhance your gargling experience.

  1. Wash out your eyes

Honestly, I have no idea if the coronavirus can enter through your eyes but eye ducts drain into your nose so cleaning your eyes can’t hurt. Splashing cool water into your eyes is a very relaxing practice. There is evidence that it activates the vagus nerve – the largest nerve of the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system. It’s still unclear why it works, although some say it may activate the diving reflex which helps mammals turn down physiologic processes in cold water to conserve energy.

Here’s how: At the sink, fill your cupped hands with cool water. Lower your face, and then splash quickly 1,2,3,4,5,6,7. Release the rest of the water, take a breath and then do it again. And then a third time. Then splash a little cool water under you ears. Ah. . .refreshing!

  1. Wash out your nose

This one should be SO obvious to health officials but I feel like public health in the west has no idea that washing out the inside of your nose is a good idea. And while doing the whole neti pot thing (1/4 t. salt to 8 ounces body temp water) is wonderful when you have time, you can also take a shortcut. So, after washing your eyes, stay there at the sink and put a little water in one hand. Gently sniff in up your nose, and then blow it back out your nose. Do it a few times till you clean out whatever’s in there. If you sniff too hard it can really sting so be careful.

After drying off, it’s great to use a little nasya oil. Just a few drops on your finger, oil around the inside of your nose. The oil acts as a protective barrier against viruses and bacteria.

If you don’t have any nasya oil, coconut or pure untoasted sesame will do. They are both antiviral, antimicrobial and antibacterial.

update: Since publishing this blog yesterday I’ve been schooled by a few folks that it’s dangerous to put tap water up your nose. I’ve been doing it for years (which probably says a lot right there) – but will cease, from this day hence, to subject my nose to anything other than purified, distilled, and/or boiled water!

  1. Lube up!

And speaking of oil, it’s not just great for the inside of your nose. It’s also great for the rest of you. Put a few drops of sesame oil on your finger and then rub it around the inside of your ears – and massage the bottoms of your feet. Very helpful for reducing vata.

Winter is a great time for mustard oil which can be helpful massaged onto the chest for coughs and when inhaled (it has a strong aroma) is great for reducing congestion and killing critters.

Using a little oil for self massage after a shower – legs, arms, torso, isn’t a bad idea either.

  1. Trust (Shraddha)

So those are a few of the external practices to help you stay healthy in the face of virus mass hysteria. They are super easy to teach to your students as well (feel free to print this blog for them!)

But there are other important habits to cultivate as well – habits of mind. We can hand wash and gargle and clean our noses out till they’re spotless, but mental hygiene is equally important. Part of that includes, for me, not bombarding myself with the endless news cycle. It’s a sure-fire way to keep my stress response on red alert.

Of course I need to stay informed but I really don’t need to listen incessantly to the talking heads – there’s no sharknado lurking outside.

The yogic concept of shraddha, or trust/faith, has proven really important to me over the years in getting through challenging times.

I trust that the smart scientists at the CDC are going to figure this out, as they have with so many other similar outbreaks in the past. I trust that I’m good at taking care of myself. I’m getting enough sleep, eating well, and making sure to practice daily.

Ultimately I trust that the universe is largely a benevolent place.

Even if I do contract this virus, I trust that I have the physiologic, the mental/emotional, and the external resources to overcome it. And if I do succumb to it, I trust that there is a larger plan and that my life and energy will be recycled in a useful way.

And I also trust that if someone I know who is compromised contracts the virus that I can help in whatever way possible to ease their suffering. And, although I prefer not to think about it, I trust that if they succumb to it, that I can find the inner strength to go on and live my life with meaning and purpose.

  1. Do Yoga

I think one of the most important things is to keep practicing. Don’t let fear paralyze the practice – that creates a negative feedback loop. No practice leads to more fear. More fear prevents practice. You can break that loop by taking 10-15 minutes to move slowly, breathe deeply. The health of the immune system is intimately connected to the health of the fascial matrix. So keep the fascia hydrated and happy with slow, mindful movement. And a few minutes of meditation goes a long, long way.

So until this all dies down, make sure to take some time every day to give yourself a breather from the mass hysteria.


Please check out my online course, “The Science of Slow”

It will help you explain to your students the benefits of slow, mindful practice and help them understand why the time they spend with you is just as important as any other fitness or self-care activity they regularly engage in.


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