How to meditate your coronavirus fears away during lockdown, from breathing techniques to looking at nature

First published in South China Morning Post
  • Meditation enables a shift from reactive to responsive living, in which we choose what we dwell on, including our thoughts, experiences, and healing
  • Keeping calm isn’t just about traditional meditating – we can also experiment with plant-based diets, breathing techniques, gardening and painting

Before the coronavirus pandemic forced me into home confinement in central Singapore, I had a morning meditation ritual – spending up to 40 minutes in silence on my balcony and looking onto a dazzling yellow flame tree.

Now, I sit again in the evening, too. This nourishes my feelings of gratitude and compassion during these challenging times as I await the birth of my second child.

Mindfulness and meditation have interested me since my early teens, but I only began practising it daily a year ago, after a healing session with meditation and spiritual teacher Danielle Van de Velde.

Meditation enables a shift from reactive to responsive living, in which we can choose what we dwell on, including our thoughts, experiences, and healing.

“This is critical in this current situation when so much of our life experience is curbed with containment measures and we are under constant bombardment of Covid-related content,” Van de Velde, an Australian living in Singapore with 30 years of experience, says.
Danielle Van de Velde
Danielle Van de Velde is a spiritual healer and meditation teacher ©Danielle Van de Velde

The practice of drawing ourselves into present awareness, meditation creates a new state of presence and the ability to draw back to present awareness at will.

Like me, Van de Velde credits meditation for her good health, illness prevention and the ability to live intuitively. “Meditation is a lifestyle for me and a state of being, rather than an activity I engage with. It has enabled a complete shift in how I live,” she says.

Van de Velde grew up in a spiritual home and has been meditating since her childhood. “I had a hunger for understanding life and self from a very young age,” she says. This, along with her slightly rebellious nature, has led her on a journey of exploration and discoveries.

When she was in her 20s and 30s, she worked in the financial and property sectors in Australia, Europe and the United States. In her personal life, she explored healing practices and meditation techniques, and held informal meditation sessions for many groups before she became a qualified meditation teacher. Fifteen years ago, she left the corporate world to teach and support others on their inner explorations.

Most of Van de Velde’s students are experiencing high levels of stress because of their feelings of “disempowerment and uncertainty” during the pandemic. “These feelings make it easy to generate alternate reality tunnels of doom and gloom, and disconnect us from our current reality,” she says.

Sutha Atiin, a social worker in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, is one of her students. She has been feeling anxious, even experiencing bouts of dizziness, as the number of Covid-19 cases, the disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to rise.

“I have children and grandchildren in Britain and Singapore, and extended family in Australia, not to mention all my family in Java,” Atiin, 62, says. “As a mother and grandmother, I worry that they will catch the virus.”

To destress, Atiin has been practising meditation in the form of pranayama, a yogic term that translates to energy or life force (prana) and breath (yama). She favours nadi sodhana, or alternate nostril breathing.

Nodhi sadhana breathing ©Angela Jelita
Sutha Atiin practices alternate nostril breathing or nadi sodhana to help alleviate her Coronavirus anxieties. ©Angela Jelita

“The other night, I was feeling very worried,” Atiin recalls. “I practised nadi sodhana, closing the left nostril and taking a slow, deep breath from the right nostril, then closing the right nostril and breathing out slowly, releasing all the air through the left nostril.” After 20 minutes, she had returned to a relaxed state of mind.

“I also send love and compassion to others during this time, a practice that always leaves me feeling at peace,” she adds.

Meditation is good not only for the mind, but for the body, as it triggers the release of immune-boosting chemicals into the system. Gratitude, awe, wonder, loving kindness and an altruistic outlook – thinking of others before self – have all been shown to have this effect.

A review of 20 studies on meditation and the immune system published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences in 2016 suggests the practice may help dampen inflammation, boost immunity and slow biological ageing.

Meditation is key as I prepare mentally and spiritually for my home birth without medication. When I can, I meditate outside or with a view of nature. Gazing upon an old tree is comforting and elicits peaceful feelings. Sitting cross-legged on a meditation cushion, I close my eyes and focus on my in and out breaths, through my nostrils. I take in long, healing breaths and release them in a slow, steady stream.

After meditating, I feel calm and completely in the present. This helps me to let emotions come and go throughout the day without holding onto them.

After a few minutes of focused breathing, I arrive at an altered state of awareness and return to my natural breath, now slower and more at ease. I observe any thoughts or sounds that enter my mind. When a thought comes in, I visualise it going into a balloon and floating off into the sky.

After meditating, I feel calm and completely in the present. This helps me to let emotions come and go throughout the day without holding onto them.

On Mondays during the lockdown, my husband and his work colleagues have a morning conference call in which I lead them through a simple, guided meditation to help them to relax and manage stress.

With practice, it becomes easier to be able to enter a meditative state throughout the day, not only in a formal sitting. “Thankfully, the process is a quick one, as the system starts to recognise the movement inward and neural pathways form to create ‘the habit’ of meditation,” Van de Velde says. “A dedicated minimum of 10 minutes a day will yield these shifts in a relatively short amount of time.”

To maintain our sense of calm in these uncertain times, Van de Velde suggests experimenting with lighter, more plant-based diets. She also advises maintaining a meaningful connection with both nature and loved ones.

Atiin has taken up other meditative forms, including spending time gardening. “I find connecting with and looking after my garden extremely soothing,” she says. She has also picked up a paintbrush for the first time in a long time. “This form of creative expression is very healing and helps me process my emotions.”

Van de Velde believes having to stay inside during lockdowns is a golden opportunity for people to deepen their understanding of the mind-body-energy system and its capacity to heal and self-regulate. “This is perhaps the grandest invitation the world has been given to raise its game, and it only can happen one person at a time.”

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