We’re living through one of the most transformative moments in human history. The COVID-19 virus spread around the world in less than six months, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands ill in its wake. Not only is this disease showing the cracks in the American system, but it’s also acting as a backlight to the fractures in the global system. It’s hard not to feel stressed, anxious, confused, and even sick now that we are facing a global sickness and being forced into isolation. It’s as if we’ve been put in a collective timeout. Despite the uncertainty, everything is actually going to be OK at the end of this. We just have to hone in on skills that will help us stay grounded and sane through this vexing time.
Before diving in, here’s a bit about who I am. My name is Dee Dussault, and I pioneered Ganja Yoga. We are a global community of modern-day cannabis yogis who tap into the ancient practice of blending cannabis and yoga. This practice isn’t the average series of asanas (postures) that people are typically guided through in yoga class. Our cannabis-enhanced practice is designed to help people of all ages, body sizes, and fitness levels find deep relaxation through conscious, easy movements. So, when MERRY JANE asked me to write a little piece to help people cultivate more calm during this very stressful period, I was honored.
Without further ado, here are a mindful yogi’s top five tips for health and wellness during the coronavirus outbreak — and after.
Be Active Every Day
We’ve all been asked to practice social distancing and stay at home. Given the way our society functions, most people only stay at home to sleep. We depend on the outside world to fill in the details of our lives — work, school, eating, entertainment, and exercise. So, now that we’re living in isolation, we might find ourselves becoming stagnant and bored.
But, it’s important to keep up our immune systems. While releasing the gas pedal is important to keep from getting sick, we’re at our peak health when we move a lot throughout the day. Most people don’t realize our muscles and other tissue cells need movement for the circulation of nutrition and the removal of waste. Plus, our bodies will kill off muscle (or form sticky sore spots) if you stay in the same position day after day. So, if you’re taking this period of social distancing to catch up on Netflix shows, be sure to schedule some time for stretching, dancing, walking, strength-training, or, really, any and all movement, every day.
One of my favorite poses that helps tap into a feel-good physical state before bed is Happy Baby. You lay on your back, bend your knees, and then slowly bring one foot and then the other up into the air — soles towards the ceiling, knees dropping towards your armpits. If you can, hold the outside edges of your feet, or use a yoga strap or bathrobe tie. Breathe here with relaxed shoulders, opening the lower spine.
Reach Out and Touch Someone — Virtually
Health is so much more than what we eat and how much we work out. Good health also comes from our connections to others. How much love we give and allow into our lives heightens feel-good serotonin levels in the brain, making us more emotionally and physically resilient in the face of stress — and stress is related to nearly every disease and illness. So, managing it and doing things that make you feel good, like talking to people you love, is key right now.
Serotonin is also released when we do thoughtful things for others. Even though we can’t physically help others at the moment, we can make an effort to check in on those living in total isolation. Call or text to see if they have everything they need. It’s cliche, but it’s the little things that really matter in times of crisis.
And while you’re at it, call and check up on your parents, too. Family dynamics can be complicated, but in times of stress, connecting with your family unit can be just the comfort we need. Whether your friends are your family or you have a tightly woven group of relatives, arrange a virtual game night (stoned charades is my current favorite, and highly recommended), cooking class, book club (your local library’s digital book selection is likely still accessible, or use audiobooks), or organize an old-fashioned smoke sesh with people you care about.
Lastly, don’t be afraid to feel and express your emotions. If you feel like crying, cry. If you have a more cerebral method of expression, start writing down how you feel. Or, maybe you can express how you feel via Instagram to let others know they’re not alone in their experience. Whatever you’re feeling right now is okay.
Watch What You Consume
Right now it’s impossible not to be hyper-aware of what’s happening on the internet and social media — it’s a smorgasbord of chaos. Unless you’re avoiding all your feeds, it’s hard not to be exposed to fear-stirring news. We all want to be informed, but at some point, too much information — especially, conflicting information — becomes an energy-suck and takes a toll on our mental health.
See if you can find less startling sources, like John Hopkins Corona Resource Center. It’s also best to limit your news consumption to a certain time of day — and not before bed, so you can lull off into a peaceful dream-state, instead of having your subconscious mind digesting problems that are out of your control.
Speaking of sleep hygiene, right now is the perfect time to catch up on sleep. It’s equally important as what you eat and how much you exercise. It’s also imperative to reduce our consumption of inflammatory foods like alcohol, coffee, refined sugar, and things we’re allergic to, since they also leave us more inflamed.
Vegetables are your friends more than ever right now. Nutrition is life, and colorful produce are the most life-giving foods. Probiotic foods strengthen our immune system, as does vitamin C. If you’re into cooking, you can make fermented veggies with brine. The benefit of preparing veggies this way is that they’re more nutritious than raw or cooked veggies and contain much-needed probiotics. Studies show that when nutrients come from food, vitamins have more of an “entourage effect” just like cannabis, and are more bioavailable than a processed pill form of vitamin.
One last note about food: I’m using this time to notice how impulsively I used to turn to food when bored or as a reward, and am now thinking of it as fuel only. What is the most affordable, nutrient-dense food I can eat, and the least-amount possible so there’s no waste? I’m going to be continuing this relationship to food after the apocalypse is over, too. Try to focus on the way you’re consuming right now. It may bring on a major perspective shift. But it could also bring awareness around habits that are no longer serving us.
And, on the topic of consumption — and sorry to be the bearer of bad news — but smoking cannabis might not be a wise choice for lung-health right now. Instead, try avoiding combustion by low-temperature vaping of pure cannabis oil or flower. If you can avoid inhaling altogether, you should. Instead, try using tinctures or edibles.
Notice Negative Self-Talk
This tumultuous time is the perfect opportunity to release habits and thoughts that no longer serve us. Being in isolation can help bring these patterns to our awareness. Critical inner-judgment is something most of us developed as children because our brains were still forming, and our parents didn’t realize how impressionable we were to even their slightest negative cues.
The time has come for us to re-parent and learn to truly, deeply love ourselves, and to forgive, understand, and be patient with every flaw we have. For instance, when you spill your coffee, notice your instinct to say, “I’m such an idiot.” Just being aware of it will help you break that subconscious pattern. Once you start seeing it, try to reframe it as, “Everyone does this, no big deal.” These seemingly small changes will make an enormous impact on our self-esteem and self-advocacy over time.
Also, notice your thoughts about health and wellness. See if you can focus on positive thoughts and gratitude instead of fear-based thoughts. Instead of, “I haven’t been living a very healthy lifestyle, I’m likely to get sick,” try reframing to: “I am newly committed to my health, and with each small step, I improve my resiliency.”
Finding an accountability buddy can be really helpful here. That way you both can agree to observe and (lovingly) change your own judgmental inner thoughts for a week. This deeper practice (and having someone make you stick to the practice), will shift your perception entirely. Your awareness will grow. The next time you check in with your friend to see how it’s going, you will likely have a lot to talk about.
Photo of Dee Dussault
Last But Not Least: Do Yoga
I save the best tip for last, because, well, patience is a virtue!
Seriously, though, yoga and martial arts are ancient practices that were designed to help us be healthy, balanced, and relaxed. There are thousands of approaches to yoga, tens-of-thousands of movements and poses, so there is definitely something for everyone.
Many people are surprised when they hear that yoga is much more than physical shapes and movements. It’s also about the awareness or mindfulness we bring to the postures, and the practice of deepening the breath.
Want to do a few rounds of deeper breath with me? We’ll begin by sitting up straight, though the practice can be done in any position. Counting how long the inhale lasts, notice if you can extend it to at least four seconds. (One one-thousand… two one-thousand… three one-thousand… four one-thousand.)
Good. Now, exhale, one… two… three… four. Inhale for a count of four, exhale for a count of four. And, if you can go to five or even six seconds, do it — as long as there’s no strain in doing so. Even ten of these can significantly decrease anxiety, stress, and body pain.
My book, Ganja Yoga is for sale on Amazon, if you’re looking for a light read while sheltering in place. In it, you’ll learn the history and medicine behind cannabis-enhanced yoga, poses, breathing practices, meditations, and a recipe for an ancient ganja yoga milkshake. There are some other amazing yoga teachers who can help you dive deeper into wellness during the quarantine: Jassamyn at Under Belly Yoga, a practice designed for full-figured folks; YouTube superstar Yoga with Adriene; or any of my thirty certified Ganja Yoga Teachers across the continent are aces at helping other maintain mental and physical wellness.
There you have it, friends: These are the mental, physical, and social ways we can stay healthy and relaxed, now and always. Stay well, stay inside, don’t share joints, and keep washing those hands!