PLATTSBURGH — Dr. Harvey Hurwitz stepped out of his physician's shoes and into those of “Papa” to help his family mentally cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What prompted me to write my letter to my grandchildren obviously would be what is going on with the coronavirus,” Harvey, a physician at the SUNY Plattsburgh Student Health and Counseling Center, said.
“There has been tremendous disruptions in their lives. My grandchildren, their ages range from 18, two are in high school and they'll be going on to college, and the oldest is 26 in graduate school in creative writing. They have to adjust now to online school.”
His son, Craig Hurwitz, MD, a Plattsburgh-based nephrologist, is on the frontlines of critical care at area hospitals.
Harvey was a U.S. Air Force Captain and practiced as an internist in private practice for 38 years in Ossining.
“I've seen many crisis in my life, but this is really something,” he said.
In his letter to his family, Harvey shared his thoughts on “Mindfulness and the Coronavirus.” (SEE BOX).
Harvey's interest in meditation and mindfulness has evolved over time but gelled when he relocated to the North Country.
Here, he and mental-health counselor, Portia Allie-Turco, lectured on the topic locally.
“I became very aware of the great value of mindful breathing and mindful meditation would have to my patients at the clinic,” he said.
“All of them, especially those who were under a lot of stress. I also had referrals from the psychology department for treatments for medication for depression and anxiety.”
Harvey wrote up a mindful-breathing sheet for the clinic.
“Mindful breathing is really the basis for many of our forms of meditation,” he said.
“It's a major tool to stop and quiet the mind and to calm the body. It can help you to observe your thoughts rather than be overwhelmed by them.
“You don't have to become a prisoner of your thoughts. But you have to observe, kind of without of judgment, what is going on within you and what is going on without you.”
Harvey utilized mindful breathing with patients who had severe stress reactions.
“I was very impressed with the positive effect in many of my patients,” he said.
“I myself started to practice mindful breathing including taking periodic pauses during the day, as I said in my letter, to focus on my breath, my body, my mind.”
Harvey said it can be combined with exercises on the bicycle, treadmill, walking, stretching and yoga.
“I do it when I wash my hands,” he said.
“Although I've talked to my grandchildren a lot about this over the years, I thought it would be of great value to write something out on this and send it to them.”
Email Robin Caudell:
Dear Grandchildren and Family,
Mindfulness and the Corona Virus
I have been working in the clinic this past year, teaching patients about the value of mindfulness and periodic pauses during the day. I know it can be very helpful in coping with the present pandemic, so I want to pass on what I have learned.
You know that I love Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, who has put in an extensive effort to bring the ancient wisdom of Buddhist psychology and mindfulness to the West. He suffered greatly during the Vietnam War. Over the years, I have loved his following words in his book Being Peace.
“Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us, and all around us, everywhere, any time.”
Mindfulness is to be aware of what is going on within us, our mind and thoughts, our body, our feelings and our world. Thich Nhat Hanh says that “life is both dreadful and wonderful” and mindfulness is to be “in touch with both aspects."
I recommend that all of us take periodic pauses during the day and practice mindful breathing. It can even be a minute while you are washing and drying your hands.
The breath is a wonderful anchor to keep us in the present moment. The key to mindful breathing is simply be aware of the breath (see ways to become aware of your breath below).
Not only does this quiet our mind and our body, but even more important it trains us to be more mindful. If our minds wander to the past or the future as they frequently do, it is mindfulness that shows us our mind is wandering and to come back to our anchor, the breath.
Mindfulness can also be combined with exercise on an indoor bicycle or treadmill, walking, yoga, and in fact with any activity.
There are several ways to become aware of the breath. Choose one that works best for you.
These methods are listed below:
● In, Out. Breathing in you say “In” and breathing out you say “Out.”
● Or you can fill the space with “Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.”
● You can become aware of the air coming in and leaving the nostrils.
● You can become aware of your belly pushing out when you breathe in, and flatten when you breathe out.
● You can also pick a focus word or short phrase that you say silently when you breathe. It can be religious, poetic, or just a simple word or phrase that may have meaning for you. Gathas are short verses that help us dwell in mindfulness. We can make up our own.
With all my love,