Note: this article was originally published on March 6, 2020.
The new coronavirus (COVID-19) is all over the news. The word “pandemic” is being tossed around by the media and even a few experts. Toilet paper is in short supply. People are freaking out.
What can you, as a practitioner (or wannabe practitioner) of qigong, do to defend yourself against this deadly virus?
In this article, I’ll give you the most level-headed advice that you’ll find anywhere on the internet. No really. It’s pretty crazy out there. Be careful who you take advice from, including (ahem!) certain politicians!
Speaking of being careful, I’m not a doctor, an epidemiologist, nor an immunologist. I claim no expertise except in the self-healing art of qigong.
I do, however, have a robust immune system (thanks to qigong) and I have studied Chinese Medicine for nearly 2 decades. I also owned a wellness center during the H1N1 (Swine Flu) pandemic of 2009. Oh, and I traveled to Asia to learn qigong right in the middle of the SARS pandemic! (Crazy, right?)
Still reading? Interested in my opinion (plus some cold hard facts)? Let’s dive in…
If it Bleeds, it Leads
In high school, I worked for the school newspaper. Even back in the late 1980s, I was well aware of a phrase that sums up the news business:
“If it bleeds, it leads”.
This phrase reminds us that the news industry love articles with blood, danger, death, and fear — because those articles sell. Those articles ALWAYS lead, meaning that they go on the front page.
Unfortunately, good news just doesn’t sell. That’s not how the human brain is wired. We’re wired to notice threats and that’s why the news is always full of bad stuff.
I’m not saying that there’s nothing to worry about or that you shouldn’t take steps to protect yourself from this coronavirus.
My point is simply this: It’s all-too-easy to get overwhelmed by the news.
And vice versa — many people are so desensitized to the constant stream of negativity from the media that they’re just ignoring the coronavirus news entirely. That’s not a good idea either!
Shoot for the goldilocks zone in the middle — where you acknowledge that the media loves stories about fear, but you also acknowledge the essential facts of the current situation.
Here’s a quote that I love:
“I honestly don’t believe that man was meant to know everything going on in the world all at the same time. A man turns on the TV and all those commentators bombard him with the local, the national, and the international news. The newspapers do the same thing and the poor guy with all the immediate problems of his own life is burdened with all those of the whole world.” – Richard Proenneke, from “One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaskan Odyssey”, first published in 1973.
Cold Hard Facts about COVID-19
Instead of listening to the media (or politicians), where can you get advice?
I recommend Johns Hopkins rather than the Center for Disease Control (CDC). So far, the CDC has proven to be bogged down by red tape and politics. If you want the latest, science-backed information about COVID-19 then look no further than this link:
On that page, you’ll even find a global map of the coronavirus cases, recoveries, and deaths.
And they even have an infographic with some of the basic facts about COVID-19.
The Flu and Your Immune System
Many people (including certain politicians, ahem) don’t realize that the regular flu is deadly. For perspective, here are the leading causes of death in the US for 2017:
- Heart disease: 647,457
- Cancer: 599,108
- Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
- Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
- Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
- Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
- Diabetes: 83,564
- Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
- Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633
- Suicide: 47,173
The regular flu is a top-10 killer. Every year, 30-80k Americans die from it. So that’s not good news.
But there’s good news too: The regular flu DOESN’T kill millions of people.
For example, last winter, 42.8 million DID NOT die from the flu despite contracting the virus. How cool is that!!
How to Fight the Coronavirus
What if I told you that your immune system is the ONLY way to overcome this coronavirus?
Since there’s no vaccine available yet (and there won’t be one for 12-18 months), this is a no-brainer. It’s the obvious truth.
But what if I told you the same thing is true of the regular flu?
“The flu shot!” you might argue. And you’d be partially right. But only partially.
Many people mistakenly think that the flu shot works like antibiotics, that it just kills the virus somehow. But it doesn’t.
The flu shot works by stimulating your immune system and tricking it into fighting the virus. It is basically a chemical signaling mechanism.
Your immune system does all of the heavy lifting by creating antibodies (also called immunoglobulins) which then go to fight the virus.
Your Mighty Immune System
Remember the 42.8 million people I mentioned earlier who got the flu but didn’t die? How did they do it?
Quite simply, their immune system kicked the flu’s tiny little ass.
Let’s look at some numbers:
- Of those 42.8 million people, only 37% got the flu shot, or roughly 15 million people.
- The flu shot is only effective 67% of the time. (In other words, even if you get the flu shot, you have a 1 in 3 chance of it not working.)
- This means that, of the 15 million people who got the flu shot, 5 million survived without the help of the vaccine.
I’ll do the math for you and sum up: roughly 32 million (out of 42.8 million) people beat the flu without the help of the flu shot.
And it’s likely that the number is much, much higher because some people, like yours truly, have such strong immune systems that they only get sick for a day or two and thus don’t bother seeing a doctor.
This is NOT The Flu
Let me be absolutely clear: COVID-19 is not the regular flu. Current estimates suggest that COVID19 is 10-30 times more deadly than the normal flu. You should take the coronavirus seriously, especially if you are elderly.
But there’s a dilemma here, and it’s an important one.
Taking this situation seriously is one thing, but succumbing to fear is another matter entirely.
If you’re in a constant state of panic over the coronavirus (or the stock market, or anything else) then you’re actually wreaking havoc on your best defense mechanism!
How To Suppress Your Immune System
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. Someone smart said that.
Here’s how this relates to COVID-19: Fear suppresses your immune system.
Remember what I said about newspapers selling fear? If you constantly read the newspaper, then you are constantly suppressing your immune system.
Look, I’m not suggesting that you be irresponsible. There are practical steps you can take to protect yourself (see below).
But if you TRULY want to protect yourself, then you must ALSO take steps to protect your immune system.
Of course, there are some important things you can do to increase your odds, most notably — wash your hands. More on this later. But my point is that if you are running around in fear, then you are compromising your immune system.
The big takeaway here: there are many ways to support your immune system (see below), but panicking and running around thinking that the sky is falling is NOT one of them.
Fear and your Gallbladder
There’s another problem with fear. In Chinese Medicine, the Gallbladder Meridian is responsible for making decisions. But when you’re constantly afraid, the Gallbladder Meridian’s ability to make decisions is compromised. (Water not nourishing Wood, for the Five Element geeks out there.)
Modern science is saying the same thing. When you’re afraid, you make bad decisions, forget things, and generally walk around as if you have blinders on.
Remember what that smart person said about the only thing we have to fear?
It’s bad enough that fear suppresses your immune system, but it also makes you dumber! Yikes!
Staying sharp is critical for protecting yourself against the coronavirus. For example, if you’re trapped in fear mode then you might forget to wash your hands — which is basically the #1 thing you can do to protect yourself (and others).
11 Practical Tips for Protecting Yourself
Okay, now that we are no longer freaking out, now that your mind is a little clearer, here are some tips, both Eastern and Western, to protect yourself:
1. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap. Here’s how to do it right: Sing “Happy Birthday” to yourself as you wash. Then sing the “How old are you now” part. When both parts of the song are finished, you’re done, but not before. This should take about 25-30 seconds. Don’t forget to wash all parts of your hands, including between your fingers and under your nails.
2. Practice qigong every morning to engage your immune system. (If you don’t know any, you can learn some qigong for free right here). The ancient Chinese masters said that qigong activates our “wei qi”, which translates to “guardian energy”. In other words, practicing qigong activates our immune system, which is precisely what modern research is discovering about qigong. The best news here is that you only need about 2 minutes of qigong to activate your wei qi. Do something that I call the 2-Minute Drill several times per day to keep your wei qi flowing smoothly.
3. Don’t touch your eyes or nose when out in public. Seriously. You have to break this habit, but it won’t be easy. If the virus gets on your hands it’s no big deal — unless you touch a mucous membrane like your nose or your eyes. The average person touches their face over 10 times PER HOUR! It’s going to require a good amount of mindfulness to stop touching your face. Speaking of mindfulness…
4. Use Square Breathing when out in public (see the video below). The Navy SEALs use this ancient method to stay calm and focused during their missions. You can use it too. I’ve experimented with this while going grocery shopping, and it definitely helps me stay more mindful, which means that I don’t touch my face as often.
5. Take supplements. Take anything that you feel boosts your immune system. Personally, I like to take high doses (1000mg 3x per day) of vitamin C because I’ve had experience with it working, and also because of promising ongoing research in this area (link, link, and link). But take whatever you like. Even if that supplement turns out to be a placebo, it can still help to protect you! Placebos can work even when you know that they are placebos! (link)
6. Get plenty of sleep. The research is clear — people who don’t get quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. You’ll need better sleep hygiene for this, which is a hot topic on the internet. If you want to get started, I recommend Dave Asprey’s blog post on the subject.
7. Don’t panic. Be responsible and take action, but don’t panic or else you will shatter your immune response.
8. Don’t shake hands with other people. This is an outdated habit and we should all stop. You are literally saving lives if you stop shaking hands with other people. Use prayer palms, a fist bump, or Spock’s Vulcan salute. Doing this will not only protect you from the coronavirus but the regular flu as well. (Note: people in China are greeting each other by touching their feet in order to protect from the coronavirus. Cool!)
9. Take Vitamin D3 supplements (with K2). There is some evidence to show that Vitamin D3 (with K2) protects against acute respiratory tract infection, which is the real danger of COVID-19. Supplementing with Vitamin D is safe as long as you take it with K2. So you’re looking for Vitamin D3 with K2. If you do get COVID-19 and start to get the respiratory infection, take your Vitamin D3!
10. Carry hand sanitizer. They make wipes and gels and sprays. Use whatever you like. I bring sanitizing wipes with me to the supermarket, but many groceries now have them as well. Use them. Wipe down the shopping cart handle, wipe your hands after you pay the cashier, and maybe wipe the cart one more time to pay it forward. (Note: if you can’t find any in your area, you can make your own hand sanitizer using this recipe.)
11. Practice One Finger Zen all day long. If you know some qigong and you can feel qi, then this is a great option for while you’re out and about. I wrote an entire blog post and shot a video on the subject. Check it out here.
So there you go. Those are my thoughts on COVID-19. Now I’d love to hear from you. What other ways do you support your immune system? Let us know in the comments below.
And if you found this article helpful, please share it with friends and family. Knowledge is power! Best regards, Sifu Anthony I’m Anthony Korahais, and I used qigong to heal from clinical depression, low back pain, anxiety, and chronic fatigue. I’ve already taught thousands of people from all over the world how to use qigong for their own stubborn health challenges. As the director of Flowing Zen, I'm fully committed to helping people with these arts. In addition to my blog, I also teach online courses and offer in-person retreats and workshops.