A couple of months ago I didn’t even know what coronavirus referred to. Apart from the ominous ‘virus’ at the end of the sentence, I might have thought it was a new type of ice-cream.

It’s almost unbelievable how quickly and devastatingly it has swept the world and launched us into a situation that is unprecedented in my lifetime. There have been financial crashes, terrorist atrocities and natural disasters over my 60 years alive; but never has the foe been so invisible and determined in its march through our species. 

I remember listening to a disaster management expert on the radio some years ago. When asked what kept him awake at night he said it wasn’t terrorism or nuclear armageddon, it was as the emergence of a new virus. I’ve never forgotten his comments as I knew on a logical level that this was probable if we look at the plagues that have visited humans over the centuries; but it was so far out of my direct experience that it was hard to relate to in a personally immediate way. 

Fast forward and here we are. His fears have come true and the tidal wave is upon us. We even have a new emoticon added to our keyboards of a spikey green blob that can, quite literally, put the fear of death into us. 

I’ve noticed so many responses and reactions in myself: a weird kind of fascination with the drama of it all (I worry I am a strange having this response, but when I question others I discover it is common.) I also experience the evolutionarily programmed responses to threatening situations that are hard wired into our nervous systems - “flight, fight or freeze”. Sometimes I want to run away in the vain hope of escape; sometimes I notice I’m more irritable and cranky than usual - revved up for a fight. At other times I freeze in the vain hope that inertia will hide me from the enemy’s hungry gaze.  If you too are experiencing these responses, know you are normal. We are a species whose number one concern is survival, and these responses evolved millennia ago to help us survive in a dangerous world.

But there’s another aspect that led to the survival and thriving of our species: our ability to co-operate and band together. Our distant ancestors roaming the tundra learned that a lone human being didn’t stand much chance of defeating predators with bigger muscle mass, fangs and strength. But by learning to co-operate and pool our resources (physically, emotionally and strategically) we have risen to be the dominant species on the planet. Of course there are numerous instances we can all think of where co-operation seems to be sorely lacking, but think about how you’d instinctively respond if someone tripped on the pavement beside you. For most of us our arm would shoot out to steady their balance and prevent them falling before we’ve even had time to think. We are much more than threat creatures, we are also creatures who are wired to be kind, to love and connect. 

Lack of connection is very painful for most of us and research from the Health Resources and Services Administration shows that feeling isolated and lonely is more damaging to our health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness triggers the fight/flight response I mentioned earlier because an isolated human being is so much more fragile than the strength that comes through being part of a tribe. 

And so we come to the crux of the extraordinary times we are in: suddenly we are being asked to observe “social distancing”, even isolation and quarantine which goes against our DNA, programmed as it is for connection. And it is the most vulnerable amongst us - the elderly or those already living with the burdens of chronic health conditions who are particularly needing to isolate. Just at the time we most need support from others - a hug, a cuddle and company to share our fears, we find ourselves even more physically alone.

It was in the face of this paradox that some of us at Breathworks banded together to write an online mindfulness course, especially designed to help cope with the stresses and strains of Covid-19. We wanted to provide practical tips on how to keep your body mobile and your mind calm by providing tried and tested mindfulness approaches to incorporate into this dramatically new world we find ourselves in. 

We wanted to create an online place you could drop in to each day. Do a guided meditation in the knowledge that the course creators and others are also meditating each day; do some guided gentle exercises using a video led by Sona Fricker that we recorded just weeks ago on retreat. (Amazing to think this was only February when life as we knew it was still the old life where we could physically gather and do movement together in an actual physical room!)

The video isn’t slick or high tech but that is part of its charm. It was recorded live and this in itself will foster a sense of shared endeavour. 

The course includes a range of tips to help all of us work with the mental and emotional reactions to so much uncertainty, as well as suggestions for how to cope practically with this new reality. We’ve also tried to keep it a little light-hearted as surely we can all do with a bit of that these days. 

Most of all we made the course because we wanted to help. It really is that simple. We wanted to be part of the kindness tribe already strengthening around the globe, meeting these extraordinary times in kinship and solidarity.

Do you want to join us?

Find out about the course and take part for free here