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By Gayatri Bhaumik | May 5th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has overhauled our lives and created a warped reality for most people. Amidst all that, it’s easy to fall back on unhealthy habits and become stressed and overwhelmed by this unprecedented global emergency. That’s why, now more than ever, it’s so important to focus on our mental and physical health at this time. So, we spoke to Miya Dunets, an experienced wellness practitioner and musician, to learn about how to look after ourselves right now.

As part of the team at Kita Yoga, Miya’s keen on helping people stay active and connecting with their bodies, and stay on top of their mental health with useful mindfulness practices. For her, music’s a big part of that. She recently released “Birds of a Feather,” a song and illustrated book for children through The Kokoro Collective.

A little Background

Miya has been teaching yoga and meditation for years now, and she’s also a sound practitioner and singer-songwriter, incorporating musical meditations into her yoga classes. If you’re looking for a little zen, you can find her folk-inspired music (including a newly-released collection of mantra arrangements)  on Spotify and iTunes.

5 Things You Should Know About Staying Happy and Healthy While Social Distancing

1. Staying Active is Important

Movement is – and should be – a vital part of every single day of our lives, and it’s especially important in periods of transition and ambiguity (i.e. right now). Regular exercise helps prevent serious conditions like heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes; increases energy levels; improves mood; and enhances sleep. Studies have demonstrated that exercising even 15 minutes a day can extend your lifespan by 3 years!

The current social distancing guidelines have disrupted people’s lives and routines in so many ways, and it can feel hard to recreate or create a workout regimen when you feel like options are more limited. However, there are still so many great ways to break a sweat.

If you frequented a gym or studio before it closed, check out its online offerings. Livestream classes are a great way to move and connect with friends and the teachers you love while physically distancing. It’s also important to keep supporting businesses (both here in Hong Kong and elsewhere) you care about so that they can weather the closure of their physical spaces and welcome you back at some point.

Kita is live-streaming 2-3 classes a day and we’d love to see you on the mat! Hiking, walking, and running outside (wearing a mask, if you’re around others), during this time (and always), are also really great ways to stay active, gain perspective, and stay steady as we all navigate this new reality.

2. You Need to Look After Your Mental Health

This is a big one. Maintaining a healthy mind is just as important as – if not more important than – maintaining a healthy body. It can be hard for us to reach out for help when we’re struggling and difficult to find practices and qualified professionals that are truly supportive. Here are some tips that apply now and always:

  • Acknowledge the feelings that may be coming up. You might feel lonely, sad, anxious, angry. You might already have suffered from a more serious condition like depression that is being exacerbated by this time of upheaval. Emotions – including negative emotions – are a normal part of the human experience. It’s so important that we all work to normalize the experience and expression of our full gamut of emotions. Whatever you are feeling, it’s okay to feel that way.
  • Seek out professional help if you need it. The truth is, everyone in the world could and can benefit from therapy. Organizations like Mind HK can help you to navigate the landscape and determine what kind of practitioner might best support you. It’s worth it to find someone who can be a trusted sounding board for you, as you navigate the ebbs and flows of life.
  • Develop a regular meditation practice. Meditation is an incredible tool to support mental health. Studies have shown that, with a regular meditation practice, you can actually change the shape of your brain, growing the areas of the brain responsible for higher cognitive processing (planning, rational thinking, decision-making, etc.) and shrinking the part responsible for our primal stress response. Meditation practices teach us to focus the mind and be present in the moment, helping us more easily ride the waves of life. There are so many styles of meditation, so as first step try out guided practices online and see what resonates with you. When you find something you enjoy, you can more easily make it a habit.
  • Get outside. If you can, get natural light and get into a green space (park, yard, or even sitting near indoor plants) each and every day. Studies have shown that just looking at a picture of a natural landscape can lower stress levels and enhance feelings of wellbeing!

    3. Yoga Can Be Useful

I could talk about why yoga is a vital tool for modern life all day, every day. It’s a system of ancient, time-tested tools that help us to weather the inevitable storms and really deeply experience the rich beauty and joy that this life has to offer. Its teachings provide a guide for mindful, conscientious, purposeful living. However, even if we’re just practicing asana [poses], the benefits are enormous.

With regular practice, at a physical level, you can build strength and flexibility, develop better balance, improve circulation, enhance lung capacity, boost immune function, support healthy endocrine function, and balance your nervous system. It’s also a form of mindful movement, so you can enhance that mind-body connection, increase overall levels of focus and concentration, and boost your mood by practicing as well.

Yoga teaches you to stay. Stay with your breath. Stay in your body. Stay when things feel hard or uncomfortable. This helps you to trust that when challenging circumstances arise, as they will, you have the mental resilience to move through whatever comes without becoming completely overwhelmed or stuck.

4. Don’t Forget to Eat Right

It can be easy to fall into self-medicating with food, caffeine, alcohol, and other substances and behaviors during times of stress. And, this is undoubtedly a stressful time in Hong Kong and around the world. But what we put in our bodies impacts every part of our lives – how much energy we have, how well we’re able to concentrate, how well we regulate our emotions, how well we sleep at night, and so on.

In order to feel and do our best – always, but especially in times of stress – it’s important to load up on nutrient-dense, fiber-rich, vibrant plant foods (mostly veggies, some fruit); limit sugar, alcohol, caffeine, and highly processed foods; take in adequate amounts of high-quality protein; and make sure we’re drinking enough water throughout the day.

5. Social Distancing is About Physical Distance, Not Social

We’re a social species and social connection is vital to our health and wellbeing. This pandemic is challenging on so many levels. The level of suffering and grief on a global scale is so enormous. We feel and are out of control, but know that we can protect our loved ones and our local and global communities by staying physically apart. But that in itself is very hard for us. We crave and need close connection.

We can’t “solve” this issue but we can make do with what we have, and luckily we have a lot of great tools at our disposal. Even though it’s not the same as seeing them in person and getting a hug, it’s vitally important to stay in touch with friends and family. Write that long letter or email to a cousin that you’ve been putting off. FaceTime your mom. Call your grandpa. Have a Zoom happy hour with your friends. We need to support each other and foster connection now more than ever in this very difficult time.

Looking towards the future?

After many years in New York and Hong Kong, I’ve decided to move back to California later this year to be closer to family. There, I plan to continue doing what I do – I’ll keep teaching yoga and meditation in group, private, and corporate settings; run my business; and make music.


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