How Aid Work & Kundalini Yoga Prepared Me For COVID-19

photo credit George Becker

I wake up every morning next to my son and husband. I cherish the moments we have together before watching the news and global updates on this awful pandemic. Family life is still fairly new to me. Having eloped less than two years ago and having our son quickly after, I never dreamed that I’d be responsible for holding a house, or raising a new soul.

Against the backdrop of the constant bombardment of news, change, and uncertainty, I am grateful for all the training I’ve undertaken throughout my professional career — as social worker, an aid worker, a diplomat, and more recently as a Kundalini Yoga teacher. My career has been diverse, but all the paths I’ve followed have taken me on wonderful adventures… From military bases in Afghanistan, to ashrams in India. I’ve had training on how to stay safe in the face of violent attacks; I’ve learnt how to lead meditation classes. These may seem drastically different endeavors. But in essence they are the same. They taught me how to find my inner strength, how to preserve myself, and how to serve others in a time of need.

Here’s a few of the fundamental things that I’ve learnt along the way which I hope you will find supportive in these extraordinary times:

1. Listen with more than your ears

Listen to authorities, but also listen to yourself. Usually the authorities are making decisions based upon much more information than you have. I’ve been in evacuations and in conflict zones and know that most of the time there’s a chain of a command for reason. You are being called right now to listen to them.

But also, learn to listen to your own intuition. You’re being called, like never before, to go within. Let go for a moment of the outside noise and learn to tune in. Tune into yourself — your intuition. Listening to your small but unique and authentic voice inside, learn to trust it. Go with your “gut feeling” — it most often ends up being right. Intuition is your guide and guardian. It’s the voice of the soul. It’s your own inner teacher. If you are in a situation and it does not feel right, listen.

2. Patience pays

When I was an aid worker I got used to “wasting time”. When on assignment, we’d often joke, “that you rush to wait.” I once waited two hours for a bus on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere when I was working in Kenya. The minute I thought about calling it a day and going home, a private car with important local political representatives drew up and offered to give me a ride. That one-hour ride became the highlight of my trip and I met some people who helped me professionally and personally.

Having patience for others is so important. But equally it is important to have patience for yourself. In yoga, we learn to meditate, consolidate and concentrate. We learn to be patient. We learn to trust that whatever is destined to our souls will come to us naturally. So instead of hustling around, we create peace and patience in our hearts. We learn to trust that the universe will deliver. If God created you, so too will he/she create an environment for you. Use this time to build patience. Trust and patience will serve you in so many ways.

3. Stay strong

I’ve always been known for achieving a lot and always relied on physical exercises to keep my body strong and healthy. It always feels good to move my body and sweat before the daily stresses. It also allowed me to respond faster if there was attack, especially when I was wearing heavy PPE and needed to run to a bunker for protection. I was known in Kandahar for doing squats in the communal bathroom because our rooms were too small, and it was my “leg day!”

Right now, we need a different kind of strength. Instead of strong thighs, we need strong immune systems. Uncertainty and fear can trigger a response in our physical bodies, which creates a prolonged “fight or flight” response. This natural response, however, can morph into hyperarousal which puts extra pressure on both the nervous and endocrine systems, as well as adverse effects on immune function. Ancient yogis knew that asana (postures), meditation and mantras care not only for our physical bodies, but also creates balance in the body, mind and soul. This allows our body to maintain a state of homeostasis and restore rhythmic balance. As we become more aligned, so too does our auras or energic body grow, giving us protection from people, disease, and other things that don’t serve us.

4. Make rituals

If you’ve ever spent a day as an aid worker in a remote post, you’d find a cultural all unto itself! Aid workers have a unique way of creating rituals, memories and fun even in the most desperate, challenging and isolating of situations. For example, once I did 22 pushups every day for 22 days with a colleague to support the 22 Pushup Challenge. Three years and 50,000 pushups later, we still keep each other posted every day with our progress. I also created a unique tea collection in Kandahar and would make cupcakes to share in Kabul. These rituals helped created a bond and a sense of normalcy when we were away from our home and families and living in situations of emergency, uncertainty, crisis and even war.

Yogis also believe that rituals can add depth and meaning to our lives. As your yoga and meditation practice deepens, so our awareness expands which in turns brings consciousness to habits and daily lives. Things like brushing your hair can even have meaning — we believe it clears the aura before sleep. You can make any tasks a ritual by infusing it with music, candles and extra love. Take this time at home to create new rituals, to do things consciously to infuse your day with purpose and love.

5. Draw upon community

Aid workers are a community without a zip code, just like Kundalini Yogis. I’ve been a member of such diverse communities, yet the common element remains — we need each other for existential and spiritual support. Even when you’re confined to your home you can find community. Believe me it will feed your soul.

Take the time to find your tribe in this madness. People that make you feel good, but who you also make feel good. It’s important to create a network of people — even remotely or virtually. Use this time to rebuild connections and share recipes, children activities, meditations, books or movies through group chats, Facebook messages, emails and calls. Don’t mistake being alone with being lonely. If you do feel lonely ask for help and reach out to family or friends.

Interested in learning more about Kundalini Yoga or starting a home practice? Check out Healthy, Happy, Holy Organization for immune booster yoga and medictations. Click here.