April 5, 2020

keep calm and namaset
April 5, 2020

Namaste Friends,

For the April 1st session we considered Hindu wisdom and practices meant to handle stress, anxiety, worry and fear and instead promote a sense of calm.

We considered the role of the peripheral nervous system in regulating emotional responses to external stimuli including stress. The Parasympathetic nervous system is our safety net and supposed to reset us back to normal after the catastrophe is over. We know that stress has measurable long and short term effects on our minds and bodies so there are very good reasons to try to reduce the stress and minimize the sympathetic nervous system stress response. There is a growing body of evidence that pranayama – yogic breathing –disrupts the sympathetic nervous system activity, activates the parasympathetic nervous system so that recovery can begin.

We discussed a very simple breathing exercise in which the breath is moved through the nostrils, into the back of the mouth, down the trachea and into the lungs. We discussed the movement of the abdominal and chest cavity and diaphragm to facilitate deep inhalations and exhalations.     

The goal with this breathing exercise, which can be done whenever the mind feels strained, is to provide calm in the face of the hyperstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system during this especially nerve-wracking time.

We discussed the power of mantra, particularly chanting OM. These web links provide a soothing repetition of OM:



Another resource is a short (16:42) Mastering uncertainty meditation by Davidji:


Davidji suggests finding a way to encapsulate the anxiety of uncertainty into measurable moments. He says: “Uncertainty is a fact of life and yet in those moments, when it suddenly sweeps into us, we feel anxious, stressed, overwhelmed and lost. But we can easily transcend uncertainty through a few basic techniques that will allow clarity to unfold so we can make better decisions, breath more easily and move through the day with greater grace.” 

We also considered chapter 2 of the Bhagavad Gita, verses 47 & 48:

Your right is to action alone;

Never to its fruits at any time.

Never should the fruits of action be your motive;

Never let there be attachment to inaction in you.


Be steadfast in the performance of your duty, O Arjuna,

abandoning attachment to success and failure.

Such equanimity is called Yoga.

We are all practicing social distancing…these verses specifically encourage a form of emotional distancing which distances ourselves in a healthy way from the outcomes of our actions. This is particularly helpful during these very uncertain times. We don’t know how things will pan out. But if everything we do is in the name of the Divine or for the benefit of others (like social distancing) then it reduces the ego. It means that you are invited to do everything whole-heartedly. The second part has to do with focus. Just do one thing and the next thing will come.

Swami Vivekananda advises fixing the mind on a goal and working as hard as possible to accomplish it. Davidji approaches the same idea by suggesting we make what feels infinite … finite. He is inviting us to fix our minds on a goal so we can focus AND know that it will have an end point. The Gita invites us to pour our hearts and minds into the doing of this goal for the sake of the Divine and for each other. Thus, maintaining our equanimity, practicing social distancing, wearing a simple mask when out in public, and washing our hands thoroughly become acts of compassion.

This mentality helps us accept what comes our way and our new obligations  whether or not we understand or like them. It gives us resilience, patience, compassion and a larger perspective to cope with what is happening around us and within us.

Next Zoom meeting Wednesday April 8, 6 PM EDT. Please email asha.shipman@yale.edu for a zoom link.