A special communication with Michael Deitrich co-authoring
How can we beat the coronavirus? Does mindful breathing actually improve survival? What can we learn from this global moment of pause?
The first gift we are given when we exit the womb is our breath. From the very first moment until the very last it is our breath that is constant with both the unconscious and conscious awareness that it is there. Our ability to connect with and use our breath to impact our physiology is well studied. When the coronavirus attacks our body, it is our breath, our lungs, that it ultimately invades and impairs.
Mindfulness meditation was first introduced to me by Master Kim through his teaching of Tae Kwon Do. I remember clearly him laying down on a bed of nails and having someone smash blocks on his chest with a sledge hammer. How did he accomplish this? Deep focus and attention to every muscle in his body so that the damage to his body was negligible. Impressive. Especially for me as a 12 year old boy. In class his son, Robert Kim, who represented the United States in the 1988 olympics, used to tie a bandana high above and ask us to scale the wall to get to it. The power of focused energy in action.
The reality of this ephemeral awe is that there is nothing magical about breaking blocks on beds of nails, and that meditation does not necessarily lead to supernatural power. The demonstration is actually easily explained in basic physics principles. In my own life I disappointingly sought the transcendence of meditation. What I learned, years later and through several approaches to mindfulness meditation was this:
- Our breath can be an object of our focus. This focus can be anything at all, but the act of drawing 100% of our attention to anything can be difficult. With practice the exercise can lead to improved focus, and a calming sense over the “noise” our brains constantly produce.
- Breathing is paired with heart rate. When we breathe in there is a physiological increase in heart rate, and when we breathe out (especially in paced, purposeful exhalation of longer duration than inhalation) there is a decrease in heart rate. This kind of breathing has a significant impact on the autonomic nervous system. This system is hard wired to prepare our body for crises as well as the opposite response, rest and recovery. A balance in this system is correlated with improved health and better recuperation when sick or injured.
- Mindfulness meditation improves our awareness of ourselves as a mind-body unit. It helps us “tune-in” to ourselves. The Hawthorne effect that states that shining a light on the problem alters our response to it. Once we are aware of what is happening at command central (our mind), we can adapt and grow. This is true physically and emotionally.
- “Waking-up” has been described through contemplative meditation in all religions and describes the experience that brings our oneness to light. From a scientific point of view we know that the world around us is not actually separate, but exists in a continuum of interactions at a subatomic level that is completely imperceptible. In meditation one can experience the selflessness that can open a person’s perception to the connection of all things.
- From a purely pragmatic standpoint, expanding and contracting our breathing mechanisms improves lung function. Like cardiovascular exercise, lung function exercises should be part of any comprehensive exercise program.
Zen is a word that is commonly used to connote peace or tranquility, but more appropriately it is mushin, or “no mind” which should be taken to mean an awareness of what is, without distraction. Most commonly known for its presence in the Buddhism religion and strong practice in martial arts, it is exactly what we need in the COVID pandemic with its epicenter in New York City and the impact of this disease around the world. As many people struggle with this great pause from the reality of our lives it is becoming increasingly apparent that the day-to-day that we hold onto is fragile. Using that point of focus we can begin to allow the awareness of ourselves with all of our gifts and limitations to rise in our individual and collective minds.
Although not everyone can act on the front lines, it is possible for everyone to do their part mostly by raising awareness of the realities of COVID-19. What are the needs? What are your skills? Limitations in doing something positive? Are there ways to address these obstacles? It seems to me that conspiracy theory serves no one as it confirms suspicious states of mind without actionable information. Whereas a more productive form of communication would be to raise awareness that suspicion at a time like this is inevitable, but our focus can shift to areas within our reach. New York not only has a front lines crisis, it also has the issue of mourning those who have died, supporting families in need that have no income, recognizing and providing an ear to those with mental health concerns.
As we seem to be at the peak of COVID-19 the CDC states that the total number of cases nationwide reached almost 400,000 confirmed cases and more than 12,000 dead. These are our friends, neighbors, family members, teachers, and so on. In New York City, the world’s epicenter at the moment, there are more than 75,000 confirmed cases, and 3,500 people died. We must continue our practice of social distancing to be sure that the numbers will decline. Here are the White House guidelines. Wash your hands, do not touch your face.
Governor Cuomo has created a website where people can give. The link includes forms to fill out and ways to contact the state if you are willing to help. The governor is encouraging people and manufacturing companies to either sell or help manufacture medical equipment needed to fight this war. The state is also searching for people who are willing to help that are medical professionals or people who specialize in technology, operations, analytics, and communication. There is also a place where donations of goods, services, and space is welcome. If you or anyone you know are interested in helping with any of these topics it can be found here.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has common questions and answers.
As we continue to fight this war against COVID-19 we move closer and closer to the apex of this pandemic. The number of patients being discharged from NYC hospitals is increasing. Things are hopefully at the beginning of a decline in the COVID pandemic. The state and nation still needs everyone’s collective effort and help to defeat this pandemic. Whether it is practicing social distancing, providing health care on the front lines or just taking this time to quiet your mind and reset. We will continue to fight.
By: Buddha Groove
An old man mediating by the riverside opened his eyes to see a scorpion flailing helplessly in the water. The water washed the scorpion nearer to a tree growing on the river bank. Supporting his body on one of the long roots stretching into the water, the old man extended his hand out to reach the creature. His fingers barely touched the scorpion when it stung him.
The old man instinctively withdrew his hand. A moment later, he got back his balance and again lay down on the roots to rescue the scorpion. This time the scorpion stung him well and truly. The old man lay there in agony, his hand bloodied and swollen.
A traveler who was passing by saw the whole incident happen. He shouted, “What’s wrong with you? Only a fool or madman would risk his life trying to save that evil, vicious creature! Do you realize you could have died trying to save that scorpion?”
Still lying there, the old man turned his head to look at the traveler calmly. “Dear brother, it is the nature of the scorpion to sting. That does not mean I can change my nature, which is to save.”
The scorpion behaved true to its nature. So did the old man.