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To Vaccinate or Not Vaccinate

We’re all facing the same decision these days, whether to get a vaccine or not. Health officials are quite frustrated with the number of people stating they will not do so and there is a lot of judgment going around against those people. Before we create yet another great divide, let’s consider that there are many legitimate reasons some people may be hesitant to get vaccinated. The new technology that most of us don’t really understand, underlying health conditions where studies have not yet been conducted to prove efficacy or safety, mistrust by groups of people where there has been a long history of unethical experiments conducted without consent, politically motivated misinformation, and I’m sure, many more.

I admit that I was hesitant myself. I tend to follow a more natural or holistic approach regarding my health and have been quite successful over the past 20 plus years, until very recently. I haven’t been vaccinated for anything in decades. I stopped back in the 90s after several years of catching the flu right after getting a flu shot and decided to skip it one year to see if I still caught the flu. By the way, the current flu vaccines do not cause the flu. But the point is, I did not get the flu that year or any year since. I am not advocating that anyone not get the flu shot nor am I an “anti-vaxxer.” I just realized that for me, my immune system seemed to work just fine in preventing me from getting sick and so there didn’t seem to be a compelling reason to get a vaccine. I also have what I consider a healthy skepticism when it comes to pharmaceuticals.

I think it’s amazing what we’ve done scientifically and that there are so many treatments available for people suffering. At the same time, I believe that pharmaceutical companies have an inherent conflict of interest. They have to make a profit, so I think there are a lot of drugs available now that may do more harm than good but boost the companies’ bottom lines. That’s capitalism, so not judging it, but also feeling no compunction to jump on the drug bandwagon. For those suffering various ailments, prescription drugs can make an enormous improvement in their quality of life, so I’m certainly not judging that, either. Like vaccines, I hadn’t had a prescription in about 20 years until I was preparing for a 3-hour dental procedure including gum surgery and they offered Halcion to relax me. I said yes, thank you very much and what a miracle in a tiny pill. So I’m not anti-vaccine or prescriptions; I’m simply not pro those things as a first line of response.

As my regular listeners know, last fall, I was diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica, or PMR, which is basically severe inflammation causing intense pain in the shoulders and hips. The inflammation from the PMR is due to an over-active immune system which mistakenly attacks healthy parts of the body. Corticosteroids suppress the immune system to slow down or stop the internal attack. Not ideal in the midst of a pandemic, to be sure, but the only option available, so I said yes to a prescription again. But like millions of people with suppressed immune systems due to health conditions or drug treatments, totally confusing when it comes to vaccinations because during the vaccination trials, they didn’t have enough immunosuppressed people volunteer in order to study the effects.

Another excluded group in the trials were pregnant women or women who were trying to get pregnant, for ethical reasons to be sure, but which still leaves an enormous population confused about what is best for their health and safety. Information is now being released stating that it is safe to be vaccinated if pregnant, but there is still no new information regarding immunosuppressed folks, like cancer patients, those with HIV, a variety of other chronic illnesses and the millions of people on corticosteroids and other drugs that impair the immune system.

I bring up my personal situation as an example of why we should not jump to conclusions - judge others - who are hesitant to get the shot. We don’t know other people’s stories. We don’t know their underlying health conditions, their personal histories with the healthcare system, or their ancestral stories. Even those who are avoiding the vaccination due to political affiliations are doing so based on their belief systems, and if someone strongly believes something, it doesn’t matter if it’s not actually true because it’s true to them.

The solution is accurate information. I’ll confess, my initial attempts at researching the issue were frustrating. The pharmaceutical websites all stated the same thing, that due to a lack of information during the trials, they cannot guarantee efficacy or safety. Not very reassuring. I was fortunate enough to speak with the CEO of one of the biotech companies involved in developing and testing the mRNA delivery system, which is the model used by both Pfizer and Moderna. He graciously gave me his time to explain how they work, why they should have no impact at all on my health even though I’m immunosuppressed, and strongly encouraged me to get the vaccine specifically because of my condition. I’m at higher risk of catching the virus because my immune system isn’t working properly due to the corticosteroids. He also assured me that unlike many vaccines, these products contain no live virus and therefore cannot give me Covid-19.

This information helped me make up my mind, which is to get vaccinated once I’m eligible. But many, many people aren’t getting this kind of information so they are basing their decisions on pre-existing beliefs, which may or may not be accurate. The best thing we can do is to remain mindful, and to make decisions based on what we feel is right for us considering the facts we have at hand, as well as to consider the consequences for ourselves and others if we choose not to be vaccinated. We may be able to support others in making mindful decisions by sharing information or resources to those who aren’t sure, which is much more effective than blaming, shaming, scolding or any other type of judgmental behaviors.

What we cannot do is to decide that we are right and they are wrong and then try to prove our point. That just leads to confrontation, which isn’t an effective conflict strategy. And as I mentioned last week, none of us knows for sure. I’m not an epidemiologist nor do I have any type of medical degree. I am a person trying to make the best decision I can for my own health and for the well-being of others. I strongly encourage others to do their own research, to make sure you’re not making a decision based on someone else’s personal agenda, misinformation, or past historical events that may not apply now, and to talk to your healthcare provider about any concerns you have. If you research online, do so cautiously. Pay attention to who is providing the information. Mark’s blog or twitter account is not a reliable source unless Mark is a scientist, doctor or other type of health expert. Don’t discard your common sense. I included the pharmaceutical company sites in my research because my common sense tells me they won’t post something on their website that could get them sued, which in a backwards way, makes it conservatively reliable.

Someone recently asked me if I believed it was possible that the vaccination roll-out was a plot to insert some sort of microchip into us for nefarious reasons. I’m not anti-conspiracy theorist either – I’m sure there are real conspiracies in existence, but I find that most do not provide any benefit to me, so I again turn to common sense. My response was that we probably have the technology to do that, but there are easier ways to do it if that was a goal, without bringing the economy to a screeching halt - which is quite contrary to big business and big pharma aims - so I’m not concerned about it. The person that asked then said she felt better about it because that made sense.

Beliefs are not truths and we get to choose what we believe. I choose not to believe the conspiracy theories running rampant around the globe regarding the vaccines. That doesn’t mean I’m right. It means that with mindful thought and reflection, it doesn’t make sense to me, so I can adjust my beliefs and make decisions based on the available facts and not on stories with no factual foundation. I do know that conspiracy theories run rampant any time something happens that we don’t understand, where information is inconsistent or where fear is involved. Considering the events of the past couple of years, I can fully understand why stories are abounding.

A mindful approach to this very hot topic is simple. Accepting that none of us knows with absolute certainty what is best for us in this situation, and that we certainly don’t know what is best for someone else, removes the emotional charge we have created and which doesn’t serve us. We have a lot of scientific data that indicates vaccinations can help prevent us from getting sick, or at least as sick, and may allow us to reach herd immunity and get back to living more normal lives. For those with certain health conditions, extra care and research are required to make an informed decision either way. There are those who believe strongly that vaccinations are not the best option for them, which is their right. And there are those that have gotten caught up in political rhetoric or conspiracy theories who may change their minds with accurate information which is becoming more readily available. I hope that they check it out before making a final decision, again, either way.

While it’s easy to say that vaccinations or anything health-related are not political issues, that simply isn’t our current reality. Healthcare is a top political issue, big pharma is most definitely a political issue, and frankly, anything can be made to be a political issue. The point here is, politics can actually make us ill now, so it is in our best interest to make our decisions based on facts and our own intuition, regardless of our political beliefs otherwise.

We can tap into our internal guidance systems to help determine our choice. By stilling the swirling thoughts in our minds and really feeling into our bodies, we can ask ourselves if a vaccine is the best choice for our own health and well-being. Remember, we cannot think clearly when stressed, so if you’re struggling with making a decision, take some time to sit quietly, focusing on the breath until you feel calm, and then allow your questions to come to the surface. Just observe your thoughts, without judgment, and while doing so, notice how your body feels. Is it contracting anywhere? When you think of getting a vaccine, does your stomach clench or do you feel relaxed? If clenched, focus on that area of the body and observe what thoughts come up. What are your beliefs and where did they come from? Be curious and simply explore. Deep down, we know what is best for us. If we remove the clutter of talking heads and scary stories and just listen to our minds and bodies, we can make the best decision for our own unique circumstances.

One way to strengthen the mind-body connection, and resulting self-awareness, is yoga. Continuing our exploration into various types of meditation, yoga is an ancient form of what is now a moving meditation. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root Yuj, meaning to join, yoke, or to unite. The purpose of yoga is to unite mind and body - bringing together individual consciousness and universal consciousness. This union creates the perfect harmony between the mind, the body, and the universe.

The history of yoga is several thousand years old and stems from ancient tradition, with a complex history of spirituality, philosophy, science, and creativity. Through the various ancient texts, yogic lineages, symbols, dances, and songs, we know that it arose out of the many different cultures of India. This includes Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and many other religions. Today, we don’t necessarily look at yoga as a religious practice, but the earliest known writings on yoga came from the Vedas, meaning knowledge, which are ancient Hindu spiritual texts, much like the Christian religion would refer to the scriptures. The earliest Veda, known as the Rig Veda, is anywhere from 3100-3700 years old.

In its earliest form, yoga was simply meditation, the unity of mind and body to form a pure state of consciousness, in which the awareness of the “I” part of the self evolves into a pure sense of the divine. The tool practitioners used to attain this state was by using mantras, the repetitive singing or chanting of certain sounds that align with the divine. Later in the Vedic period, the Upanishads were written, as part of a spiritual movement to bring yoga out of ritualistic external practices and move it to a more internal exploration. The Upanishads are where we first begin to see a resemblance of what yoga has transformed into today.

One of the most prolific figures in yoga was Patanjali, a sage from ancient India. He wrote the Yoga Sutras, which is a classical yoga text that most teachers, gurus, or devoted yogis have studied. He simplified yoga as a practice “to calm the fluctuations of the mind.” There are different schools of thought on yoga, its purpose, and its origins, but all agree that the goal is to achieve “oneness.”

Modern Western yoga looks very little like yoga did in Patanjali’s era. Asana, or posture in Sanskrit, is part of the Hatha yoga practice, which is most closely related to the types of yoga you see in studios today. There are many different styles of yoga to choose from, so it is important to try different types to see what resonates with you.

Vinyasa is a faster-paced yoga that requires a smooth transition between asanas or poses, and a focus on the breath. It is commonly referred to as “flow” yoga, as you allow the breath and the movement to flow seamlessly. This type of practice is very common and likely found in most local studios. Vinyasa yoga is suitable for all levels and could appeal to anyone who wants more movement and less stillness from their yoga practice.

Bikram, named after its founder, is a hot yoga sequence of 26 postures, practiced in a room heated to roughly 105 degrees, with 40% humidity, intended to replicate the climate of India. In this style, each pose is held for 10 to 60 seconds, depending on skill level. It is a very strict regimen, with repetitive movement and definitely for those who don’t mind sweating.

Yin yoga is usually done as a restorative practice. It is a slower style of yoga, where each pose is held anywhere from a minute to more than five. It is rooted in a mixture of martial arts and yoga, and is designed to increase circulation in the joints and improve flexibility. Yin focuses on the hips, lower back, and thighs and uses props like bolsters, blankets, and blocks. This allows gravity to work for you, helping you to relax. This practice is ideal for those who need to restore connective tissue or for those interested in a slower-paced practice.

Iyengar Yoga is a classical, alignment-based practice, developed by BKS Iyengar. It requires a high level of training, and almost always uses props, including chairs, walls, and benches, in addition to more common ones like straps, blocks, and bolsters. It is a more static form of yoga and focuses on detailed alignment along with longer holds of positions. Iyengar is usually less intense than other types of yoga, and is generally suitable for people of all ages and skill levels. This practice is well-suited to those with physical limitations or those in search of a more classical form of yoga.

There are many other types of yoga, such as Power Yoga, Sivananda Yoga, and Restorative Yoga. We’ll be covering Kundalini Yoga in more detail in a next couple of weeks, as we’re interviewing author Madhur-Naim Webster about her new book, The Stressless Brain, The Power of Meditation and Psychology to Create a Stress-free Life.

Remember to stay curious and that it’s best to allow yourself time to explore your options and see what fits your mind and body the best. And of course, if you have any medical conditions or concerns, check with your health care provider before starting any yoga practice.

Until next time. Have a wonderful week.

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