“Even in the hardest moments of life, there is beauty,” said Ana del Rosal, yoga teacher and acupuncturist at Mountain Rose Integrated Wellness in Waitsfield. “It’s in a smile, a laugh. It’s in hearing the geese fly north. It’s that flower that grows out of the concrete. Sometimes you don’t recognize it right away. Being present can help you realize it. Being present can help you see, without sweeping anything under the rug, that you’re okay.”
The spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, has put residents of the Mad River Valley into collective crisis mode. For those feeling extra anxiety in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, del Rosal has 10 tips for staying calm and mindful instead of spiraling into a hysterical wine-guzzling panic.
Del Rosal has been practicing yoga for 20 years and teaching for 17. In her classes, she teaches yogis to stay present by connecting breath with movement, using yoga as a way to access the breath and, ultimately, to settle the mind.
A casual yogi at first, del Rosal was drawn closer to the practice during a time of personal crisis. “My grandfather was passing away, and I was like: I just have to get to yoga on Saturday. I never verbalized it at that time but I knew I needed it. The sense of stillness and calm that I felt, it just made me feel good and centered. And the more I got into it the more I realized, wow, I’m feeling really strong from within. It gave me the ability just to be able to handle life a little better, to feel more at ease,” she said.
“The purpose of yoga is not just the asana,” she continued. “It’s not just the physical practice. It really is about the union of the body, mind and soul. We use the physical practice to connect to the breath and the breath helps us to pacify the mind,” del Rosal said, explaining the therapeutic nature of yoga. However, despite its effectiveness in wrangling in that illusive state of “inner peace,” yoga isn’t the only thing on Ana’s list of COVID-19 panic-busters.
First, breathe. “Take time out to breathe. It could be two minutes,” said del Rosal. “Put your hands on your stomach. Feel your belly. Breathe deeply, feel your lower abdomen expand and contract. And if you can, slow the breath down. That longer breath helps the mind to calm down. Inhale for four counts, exhale for six. You can do that anywhere.”
She explained why there is a huge emphasis on deep breathing in yoga. “With belly breathing and abdominal breathing, the diaphragm is being engaged. It stimulates the vagus nerve, which helps activate the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the rest and digest system.” In other words, deep breathing activates relaxation mode, as opposed to the “fight or flight” response, which involves the sympathetic nervous system.
“Often times in a moment of stress we’re just shallow breathing and we’re not using the full capacity of our lungs. When we slow down and start to focus on the breath, we slow our thoughts down and gain a better perspective on what’s happening. It helps us to reflect and be present,” she said.
Second, get outside. “Go for a walk. Go to your favorite place. Since we are in Vermont, I think everybody has a favorite place that they like to go to outside. It also helps to calm your mind because you’re moving, you’re not staying stagnant.”
Third, create a schedule. “Create your day. What time are you going to wake up? What time are you going to exercise? I tell myself, okay, I have to get up at 6. As much as I want to sleep in, I know I’m better off if I keep to my routine. This is especially important for kids,” del Rosal said.
Fourth, eat healthy. “Sugar actually weakens the immune system. As much as everybody’s baking now, its important to eat healthy and drink water,” she added.
Fifth, participate in online exercise classes. “There are lots of yoga classes online that you can drop into. Mountain Rose is offering free online classes on our Facebook page. I go live at 10 a.m. And there’s so many more going on right now. You can easily find an exercise class online,” del Rosal said.
Sixth, meditate. “I know yoga’s not for everyone. There’s lots of meditation apps. Even starting with just one minute a day. Take time to pause and be present.” She explained how meditation helps people realize that being present is a choice. “When we’re really present, we aren’t worrying about the past or stressing about the future. Being present is a choice. I can choose to be freaking out, or I can choose to focus on the present and be content that I’m with my family, that I have this opportunity to slow down and really take care of myself.”
Del Rosal explained how meditation helps one steer clear of anxiety-laden all-or-nothing thinking and instead acknowledge the simultaneous good and bad aspects of a situation. “It’s not all fear,” said del Rosal. “There are opportunities being provided as well. We are not alone in this. Everyone is hunkering down and going through all of this at the same time. Taking time to recognize that can give you that sense of community, knowing that we are in this together. We will get through it.”
Seventh, get off the internet and finish projects. “It’s a great time to spring clean,” she said. She praised personal projects as a way to prevent getting lost in the ever-changing media vortex surrounding coronavirus. Still, she believes it’s important to stay informed. “If you’re reading or watching the news, check in and see what’s happening, but minimize your time on the internet. You don’t have to avoid the situation, just check in and say, ‘I’m gonna listen to half an hour of news, and then that’s it.’”
Eighth, practice gratitude. According to del Rosal, establishing a gratitude practice is another great way to mentally clock-in to the truly positive parts of daily life, even in a time of crisis. “Petting your pet. Spending quality time with your family. These are things you might be grateful for.”
Ninth, call friends. “Call people you haven’t spoken to in a while. Everybody’s home!”
Finally, practice self-care in whatever form brings pleasure. “Take a bath. Read the book you’ve been wanting to read. Join an online knitting group,” she urged.
The various items on del Rosal’s list have one thing in common: They snatch people from the threatening world of what-ifs and propel them into the present, where people can find a healthy distance from the emotional turmoil of uncertainty. “There’s so much fear of the unknown right now,” said del Rosal. “Being present, I can recognize that I have this stress, this worry, this fear, but I don’t have to get involved in it. I don’t have to get swept up into the emotion of it.”