by Eric Leskowitz, MD, David Meggyesy, Greg Warburton, Barry Robbins and Scott Ford

Humanity in lockdown faces the disease challenge of the century. Medical experts the world over are attempting to manage the Covid crisis by using the tools they know best. From public health measures like masking and social distancing, to the pharmaceutical quest for a preventive vaccine, the emphasis from the medical establishment has been on the external “enemy” – the virus. They work with a model that sees symptoms and external forces as adversaries, the same model that has led to the so-far-unsuccessful wars on cancer, on drugs, on etc.

But what about the internal focus? Louis Pasteur, founder of the germ theory of disease, admitted on his deathbed that the “terrain”, the body that hosts the germs and viruses, was even more important causally than the external bug itself: “The microbe is nothing. The terrain is everything.” (Hume, 2011)

So what happens when we look at Covid from the terrain point of view? If the infection is seen as an opportunist, a sign of imbalance, we learn that virus susceptibility depends on many factors: demographic ones like old age and pre-existing medical conditions (Verity, 2020), as well as biologic factors like obesity, a fast-food diet (Hyman, 2020), lungs burdened by air pollution (Conticini, 2020), malnutrition, poverty, and stress.

In this article, we’ll be focusing on the last factor – stress – but from a novel angle: using exercise to transform Covid-induced stress into empowerment and resilience.

Internal Factors Related to Covid and How to Deal with Them

There’s certainly been much recent attention to the stress of dealing with lockdown. We know that stress directly impairs immune function by activating the Fight-or-Flight reflex and releasing cortisol, which directly suppresses lymphocyte function. The lockdown is a Catch-22: it’s designed to protect us from Covid but is so stressful in and of itself – the loneliness, the isolation, the lack of social support - that it can impair our immune resistance to viruses. Fortunately, many tools are being made available to respond to Covid stress, from meditation apps to YouTube videos to aerobics classes and more.

We know that exercise is a key tool in overcoming stress, but the decreased access to usual forms of physical exercise caused by social distancing has increased the challenge for many. So how can we deal with this enforced, if temporary, sedentary lifestyle when we can’t just go to the gym and work out?

These techniques focus on the role of energy and consciousness in sports, and Michael Murphy’s seminal observation that “Sport is the yoga of the West”. He said this because the experience of performing sports in the Zone is a transcendent experience that parallels spiritual illumination (Murphy, 1995). But these practices can also help us deal with the physical constraints of lockdown (while gyms and playing fields are closed, access to hiking trails restricted, etc.), with relevant emotional issues (social isolation, lack of emotional and physical contact with other humans, fear of the unknown, etc.), and with the spiritual needs of a world looking death in the eye.

So this conversation about exercise and Covid is not just about aerobic capacity, strength training and immune resilience. It is also about aligning body, mind and spirit in the quest for wholeness and Self-Actualization.

 PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3 | PART 4 | PART 5 | PART 6

* This article was originally published in The International Journal of Healing and Caring, Volume 20, No. 3


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