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Can ancient wisdom help us cope with COVID stress?

We asked Erin Casperson, lead faculty member of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda, to spill the chai on her best strategies for dealing with the daily onslaught

Can ancient Ayurvedic wisdom help us cope with pandemic stresses? Erin Casperson says yes; “It’s actually very practical.”Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health

STOCKBRIDGE — September is National Yoga Month, the perfect time to connect with the folks at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, a nonprofit educational organization dedicated to yoga as transformation. Can this ancient practice help us cope with the roller coaster of emotions that COVID has wrought, and enable us to reconnect with folks on the opposite side of the virus-induced political divide?

Absolutely, says Erin Casperson, lead faculty member of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. Kripalu, by the way, installed a new CEO, Robert Mulhall, in June, and reopened for in-person classes and retreats in August.

A visit to their bucolic lakefront campus is an ideal way to escape from the woes of the pandemic. Think yoga classes and mindfulness workshops, offered amid a calming space dedicated to reflection and renewal, plus guided hiking, kayaking, and paddle boarding in the beautiful Berkshires. In addition, Kripalu now offers online classes featuring yoga, meditation, Ayurveda, healthful cooking, and more. We asked Casperson to spill the chai on her best coping strategies — drawing on the wisdom of the ages — to help us deal with the daily onslaught.

Our first thought: Yoga? Really? Who has time for that now?


At Kripalu, we live by the phrase, “It’s all yoga,” meaning that you don’t have to be on your mat to practice. Yoga can be going for a peaceful walk, or even nourishing your body with a healthy meal.

What is Ayurveda, and how can it help promote balance and health in times like these?

Ayurveda is directly translated as the science of life or the science of longevity. Ayu means life, veda means truth. It can also be defined as “the truth of you.” Developed around 5,000 years ago in India, Ayurveda teaches us that as a human, we are an interconnection of body, mind, senses, and soul. What affects one, impacts the other.


Ayurveda recognizes that each individual needs something different to achieve balance and health.

It’s actually very practical. If you’re new to Ayurveda, start with getting to bed early, eating foods that are in season and grown locally when possible, and finding some time for rest and fun. One aspect of Ayurveda is that every substance we consume — food, social media, and so on — is either nourishing or depleting. Think of everything as food: sleep is food for the body and mind, movies can be nourishing or disturbing, for example.

Basically, it means staying relaxed, taking breaks from the news, taking action where you can, eating supportive foods, and keeping good company. All of this can be nourishing.

With so much uncertainty, it’s hard to find the joy in life. We’re just emotionally depleted.

I think we need to redefine what joy is. Can we find it in something as simple as going outside and noticing, “Those are the most beautiful flowers I’ve ever seen”? Ayurveda teaches us that we can get quiet, and get under the noise — anxiety, depression, fear — and connect to the true, unchanging spirit we were born with. The aim of Ayurveda is to get to that place. It takes quiet and stillness to integrate body and mind and connect with our spirit. It’s not sexy, but it works!

And if you have a friend or someone you can share these feelings with, talk about it. We need each other.


We’re so polarized right now. How can we address this?

For many, the pandemic has caused an incredible amount of social isolation leading to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. Others have not stopped working and are exhausted. Folks have lost loved ones. Some have been thriving. Ayurveda teaches us that we are the microcosm of the macrocosm. What exists in the entire universe also exists within each person. It is like we have all gone through a similar macrocosmic experience and at the same time our own microcosmic experience.

At Kripalu, each yoga class, workshop, and program is rooted in the philosophy of compassionate inquiry, focused on offering kindness to ourselves and others — which we need now more than ever.

We hear the term “self-care” a lot lately. What does that really mean?

To many of us, it feels like the world is on fire. Ayurveda provides a daily and seasonal toolbox of self-care practices, from tongue scraping to meditation, to sleep hygiene. What works for one person may not work for another. Look at what is available and experiment to see what is supportive to you. At the bare minimum, get to bed before 10 p.m., eat home-cooked food as much as possible, and move your body.

One of the most helpful things I did was frame a little handwritten note for my bedside table. It reads “Thank you for this new day; I am grateful for the opportunity to begin again.” In the middle of the pandemic, when it felt like one long Groundhog Day, this small thing turned out to be the best antidote to monotony, loneliness, and uncertainty.


But then it’s 2 p.m., when things get crazy and start to fall apart.

I would ask each reader to look at their day and find the time where they struggle the most. I find that it is the later afternoon where I get restless and agitated. Then look at what you do to alleviate that restlessness? Eat something? Drink? Check social media? Go for a walk? Meditate? I found guided meditation in the afternoons to be just the right medicine. We all struggle. Pause to acknowledge the struggle and then look for the best way to find ease, not just for that moment but for the long run.

With a new season arriving, how can we make a fresh start?

Yoga and Ayurveda teach us that a seasonal approach to life is really important. Your mind and body need different things in the summer versus the winter and so on. That’s why autumn is a great time to visit Kripalu. Besides the stunning fall foliage, we teach you how to transition between seasons and what your body needs to stay calm and nourished as we head into winter.

For example?

In the winter, nature gives us more nourishing foods. This includes wheat, meat, dairy, and root cellar vegetables. Wheat isn’t bad or wrong in Ayurveda. It is heavy, sticky, and warming, the perfect antidote for cold, dry winter.


That includes holiday cookies and babka, yes?

Life is to be celebrated. Ayurveda is not about making anyone feel bad for eating gingerbread cookies or babka during the holidays!

Use the U-turn theory. Eat the babka and then make a U-turn. If you are still eating it in March, maybe you’ve waited too long. Winter is the time of year that is nourishing, in direct opposition to summer, which is depleting. In the summer, eating seasonal means eating lots of garden fruits and vegetables. In the winter, eating seasonal means eating nourishing foods. When you are done with the holidays, go back to eating seasonal soups, stews, and tea.

For information: Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health, 57 Interlaken Road, Stockbridge; 866-200-5203; www.kripalu.org. In-person guests must show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test that produced negative results within 72 hours of arrival. Rates for onsite Retreat and Renewal experience start at $85/day plus accommodations; includes three meals, yoga classes and workshops, and full use of Kripalu’s grounds. Room rates from $110. Day pass: $125. Online programs, from $15 to $99; sliding scale tuition is available for online programs to promote accessibility for those facing financial or other hardships.

Diane Bair and Pamela Wright can be reached at bairwright@gmail.com