Members Talk: Work and yoga in times of Corona

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a big impact on the work I do as one of the secretaries to an independent accredited Medical Research Ethics Committee (MREC) in the Netherlands. The Dutch Medical Research Involving Human Subjects Act states that medical research involving humans must be reviewed and approved by an accredited MREC before it can be carried out. There are similarities with the system in the UK and if you’re interested, you can visit this website (in English) to learn more about the Dutch system 

Quick to respond

Our MREC is based at the Leiden University Medical Centre (LUMC) and reviews research proposals from the LUMC as well as from other hospitals and health care institutions in the area. A secretary is not a member of the committee, but acts as a link between the researchers and sponsors (for example pharmaceutical companies) and the committee. Tasks include taking the minutes of the meetings, informing the researcher of the outcomes of the meeting with the committee’s questions and comments on the research proposal, and at the end of the review process, informing the researcher of the committee’s decision to approve or dismiss the proposal.  

Working in a University Hospital where a virologist is chair of the Executive Board, meant that already at an early stage, the outbreak of Coronavirus was taken very seriously, and measures were enacted. So, when on 12 March the Dutch Government advised people to work from home as much as possible, it didn’t come as a surprise. All nine MREC secretariat staff members have been working from home for two months now, and we keep in touch by e-mail and phone. All meetings are held using Microsoft Teams Meeting.  

As if this was not enough challenge, we have, understandably, been inundated with research proposals on COVID-19. And all must, of course, be reviewed as quickly as possible.

Skill in action

The well-known verse from the Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2.50, ‘Yogaḥ karmasu kaushalam’ (Yoga is skill in action) sprung to my mind last week. Well, I definitely need a lot of skill! For example, I must be flexible mentally, accepting that often something with high priority sweeps all my work plans for a day away, and I must try to stay focused and calm, even if I cannot hear some of the committee members very clearly at an online meeting. Challenges galore.

But it feels good to know that, indirectly in my very modest supporting role of secretary, I’m helping to increase our understanding of Coronavirus and finding possible ways to treat it. It is very interesting and insightful to listen to committee members discussing and finally reaching consensus on a research proposal, taking into account all sorts of medical, ethical, pharmaceutical and methodological aspects and, last but not least, the point of view of the patient. It is nice that we managed to finish all the administration within hours after the committee’s approval, so that high-profile studies in pathogenesis and treatment of COVID-19 could start quickly. 

Yoga makes all the difference!

Yoga is a great support for me in coping with the demands and long working hours. Besides my daily morning practice, I make sure to ‘attend’ Ranju Roy’s online evening classes at least once a week. It leaves me, as Desikachar mentions in the Heart of Yoga, both physically and mentally in a different, far better place, even though I’m still on my yoga mat in my own home. There is a better balance on all levels between sthira and sukha, and there is more atha, being in the Now. Also, joining a virtual group class feels like a real sangha, which I very much enjoy.  So, I’m now trying to find time to join the online chanting sessions that are organised by TSYP, feeling grateful for the efforts that are being made to support us. 

I remember Paul Harvey once said: ‘A yogi is never surprised’. Although I’m sure he meant something different, I can say that I’m surprised, pleasantly surprised, at how yoga as offered in our tradition helps me cope in these very challenging times we now find ourselves in.   


I would like to finish with this quote by TKV Desikachar: ‘The success of yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures, but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships.’ 

Paula Visser

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