COVID & My Yoga Retreat Fantasy (Blog)
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | March 5, 2021
As we round the corner to a full year of COVID mayhem I notice I’m having more and more yoga retreat fantasies.
I think about long days of practice and learning and how much fun it would be to be with yoga people again for an extended period – either as a teacher or a student.
Sometimes my fantasy ends there, other times it gets more elaborate.
I get to be a student and I get to handpick my teachers. We all get tested and/or vaccinated first and then we escape somewhere for a week with no internet and no interruptions.
In real life, I don’t personally know any of these folks, but since I’m the one fantasizing, here goes: I’m the only student and these are all my old friends and teachers: Drs. Catherine Bushnell, Helene Langevin, and Holger Kramer – three researchers who’ve published extensively about the use of yoga for mental health and chronic illnesses.
So, I get to hang out with them for a week and ask them whatever I want.
Catherine works for the NIH and mostly studies pain – and she has been the principal investigator in many yoga studies and a super producer of pain and aging studies (and she looks like a fun person who would be totally up for my retreat!)
Helene is the director of NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health and has published many articles on fascia and the role of stretching in reducing inflammation. She’s brilliant (and also adorable). In this video (starts around 13:40) she talks about how she did a study about fascia by stretching rats (which also involved petting them). Spoiler alert: the rats loved it.
And then there’s Holger, a young German researcher who cranks out meta-analysis about yoga like he’s making photo copies.
It’s summer and we go glamping on a lake somewhere. We practice silently in the morning, then we swim, take walks, eat delicious food, and chat.
We spend the evenings sitting around a campfire, drinking tea and making s’mores, and I get to hear all their stories about how they got into yoga research and listen to them gossip about conferences and the nutty people they’ve had to put up with in academia. They talk about what the latest studies are showing, where the research is going, and how they think yoga can be integrated into the health care conversation.
At the end of the week we’ve had so much fun that we make plans to do it all again next year.
I realize this is a geek-on-acid fantasy. But, until my fantasy karmically ripens into reality (never say never) I can always hang out with their writing.
Catherine recently published an exciting article. She looked at the effect of yoga as a potential complementary treatment for COVID-19.
Because inflammation is a huge factor in the disease and because we know that asanas, pranayama and meditation can mediate the inflammatory response, it makes sense to look at yoga as a possible adjunctive treatment.
Catherine’s study argues that inflammation can be modulated by various yoga practices. Yoga can also have a general, systemic regulating effect on cytokines (important in immunity and inflammation), can improve vagal tone (very important in mediating the stress response), and enhance melatonin activity (related to sleep, mood, affect, emotion and mental health functioning.)
High stress over time (allostatic overload) is problematic in just about any illness – so getting stress under control should be a top priority for health care (and of course for the health care workers who are under an inordinate amount at the moment). Catherine’s research shows why yoga should be part of the treatment plan.
I have been somewhat hesitant to make assertions about the benefits of yoga during COVID because there’s a huge, virtual, screaming juggernaut that warns us all to stay in our lanes and leave it to the experts.
But, after reading Catherine’s study, it’s patently clear that I, that we, ARE the experts when it comes to helping folks learn to regulate their nervous systems and mediate the stress response. Frankly, unless they’ve been trained in nervous system focused yoga, most health care professionals don’t have the skill set that a well-trained, experienced yoga professional has to help people learn to endogenously shift their nervous system.
Feel free to step up here. If you are a yoga professional, what you do is important at this moment in history, much more important than the health care system can see yet. Cite this research. And, during these trying times, help the world build greater resilience.
Reference: Bushell, W., Castle, R., Williams, M., Brouwer, K., Tanzi, R., Chopra,D., & Mills, P. (2020).The Meditation and Yoga Practices as Potential Adjunctive Treatment of SARS-CoV-2 Infection and COVID-19: A Brief Overview of Key Subjects. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 26 (7), 547-556. http://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2020.0177