'How Do We Want To Come Out Of This?' Milwaukee Ayurveda Practitioner Contemplates The Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives, including how we connect with others.
Recommendations to physically distance have caused many of us to socialize less or even turn inward.
So, we asked people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise to share their experience — or advice for getting through it all — in a series called 'Pandemic Reflections.'
Rima Shah is a local practitioner and teacher of Ayurveda, an ancient holistic medicine practice that originated in India. For decades, Shah has been helping people find balance in the body and mind through dietary changes, herbal remedies, meditation, and yoga.
During the pandemic, she's seen an increased need among many clients to maintain that balance. As a result, they've been spending more time at home or alone, without some of the distractions that used to keep fear and anxiety at bay.
“And so you can't ignore [these negative emotions], you had to sit with it,” said Shah.
She said some people have been contemplating more deeply and asking themselves: “How do we want to come out of this collectively and individually? Are we going to live in the fear side, or are we going to cultivate faith alongside of it?”
Shah said people need to catch themselves in it. “Because if we really stay in that place of fear and hopelessness and despair, we're not going to get out of it, even if the medical profession starts to tell you, ‘Hey, it's getting safer,’” she said.
It's been hard to know just what is safe. There's the vaccine, but not everyone is vaccinated. And there's the delta variant. So to get out of the funk, Shah recommends focusing on the present.
“When we think too much about the future, we have anxiety; when we think about the past, we have depression. So really cultivating present moment awareness,” Shah advised. “Thich Nhat Hanh is an amazing Buddhist monk. And he talked a lot about mindfulness, you know, and he used to say things like, ‘Walk, walk, and be mindful.'”
Shah added: “Instead of thinking about the big picture all the time, like waiting for the big picture of, you know, life to return to normal, it's the little things that we do. It's the choices we make in every moment.”
Shah notes that times of darkness and times of light ebb and flow.
“Never in history has it shown that something's just gonna continue to go on and on and on. We know this. It's cyclical cycles. So, we've gone through one of darkness, but there's light ahead,” Shah said. “And I think that's been really good for me, just knowing that this is how we are now, and this is not how it's going to be in the future.”
In searching for comfort and wisdom, Shah immersed herself in ancient texts of her roots.
“The Bhagavad Gita is considered like the Hindu people's Bible,” she said. “And it's an epic tale, 18 verses, that you can spend your entire lifetime studying. About dharma – what is your divine purpose on the planet, karma – the law of cause and effect, how we show up in the world is going to come back to us. I really delved into that. And it's an epic tale of a battle between consciousness.”
It's something that has held Shah, sustained her, and connected her to her culture – another element Shah thinks is important during these times.
“I think a lot of us are needing to see what's rooting us, what has always rooted us,” she said. “And I think a lot of people are going back to maybe their roots, their cultures, some of their familial ties that they've always loved.”
Shah has also been rooted by the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda, which she said has insights for this time we’re in.
“There's three pillars of life according to Ayurveda, good digestion, good sleep, good use of your senses,” she said. “We are an overstimulated society that basically is more comfortable with staring at our phones and using technology than face-to-face communication.”
Shah said we need to realize this about ourselves and try to change this, especially as much of life has gone virtual.
“Even though we've miraculously turned things online, including myself, I've turned my schooling online, teaching my students online, it's very clear, we need human connection.”
Shah said as people seek connection and balance to nurture themselves, it's important to think of others, have patience and empathy, and realize the impact of your actions.
“There's a beautiful saying that I've been saying for a long time. My students love it,” she said. “And the saying is, ‘Are you going to leave behind ojas?’ Which is a Sanskrit word that means vigor or vitality, ‘Or are you going to leave behind ama?’ Which is toxins.”
She said people will forget what you said over time, but they won't forget how you made them feel.