It’s Time to Talk About Inner PPE

The virus can beat us biologically. It need not beat us mentally.

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Personal protective equipment can stop the spread of coronavirus, but masks and gloves are no match for the anxiety, depression, and hopelessness that have driven some of our healthcare heroes to take their own lives

We must equip our essential workers — and ourselves — with inner PPE to get through this crisis.

The ancient yogic sciences offer many tools for buffering the physical and psychological impact of COVID-19, and the recent explosion of mindfulness research and practice just scratches the surface of what’s possible. 

The most common form of mindfulness meditation is awareness of breathing. Recent neurophysiological studies show that thinking about — and controlling — your breathing activates distinct parts of the brain. It turns out, how you breathe affects how you think and feel. 

One simple but powerful yogic technique teaches you to balance your breathing to achieve greater mental clarity and emotional stability. Another integrates your breath, thoughts, and awareness. 

Our thoughts and emotions often trigger knee-jerk reactions. These yogic practices teach us to keep them at a millimeter distance, so that we can consciously decide how to respond. This is critically important when it comes to thoughts of self-harm.

Research is now underway to examine how these ancient techniques are helping people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At Harvard Medical School, Dr. Balachundhar Subramaniam is studying how resilience-building tools enable healthcare professionals to better cope with stress and remain engaged in their work. These specific tools are available online, free to all healthcare workers (and some are free to the general public as well).

On a separate research project, I’m studying how simple yoga can help undergraduate college students improve their mental and physical well-being this summer so that they may return to school with a healthier body and calmer mind in the fall.

We are recruiting volunteers for both studies.

These are challenging times that come with opportunities. Behind the masks and gloves are human beings with cognition and emotion that require special protection. Inner PPE can make all the difference. It’s time to turn inward and experience this phenomenal breath that keeps us alive.

Click here for information about how Thrive Global, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Johnson & Johnson is supporting our healthcare workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Photo Credit: Ian Stauffer | Unsplash

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