“If you want to feel better, you just have to beat yourself up,” I heard myself think earlier this week. I was chilling out, laid back in the recliner, listening to music on earbuds, and pounding my thighs with my fists. It’s true. I first discovered the power of percussing my body accidentally. I was pacing the floor, round and round the room, distracting myself from the pain of long COVID, when I noticed I was absent-mindedly pounding my chest like a gorilla. I’d never done that, never felt any compulsion to pound my chest, and mildly aghast that I would do it.
But, here’s the thing: It felt great!
What the hell is that about? I wondered. And was I imagining that it made me feel better, or did it really make me feel better? I tried it several more times to figure out if it might be a legitimate mitigation strategy for pain. Turns out, it does help. Bizarre, right? I couldn’t make sense of it, but I started using it regularly as a tool for mitigating not only my long COVID pain but also my emotions when they start getting out of hand. I can’t figure out the ”why” of it; I only know it seems to regenerate energy and lessen my pain. If you have long COVID, I suggest trying it. Add some sound while doing it — humming, chanting, groaning, whatever feels right to you. I hope it feels as good to you as it does to me.
It gets better though.
Several months later, while reading about cytokine storms and T-cells, new questions arose, presenting a new rabbit hole: Is it possible to stimulate T-cell production? What are they? Where do they come from? Why don’t our bodies simply produce more T-cells when we’re confronted with diseases like COVID, HIV, or any other autoimmune disorder that mucks them up? “T-cells start in your bone marrow, mature in your thymus and eventually relocate to your lymph tissue or bloodstream,” according to Cleveland Clinic. My understanding is that we basically produce and train up all our T-cells before puberty. After we have that army ready to protect us from any threats, our thymus begins to atrophy and shrink. This is true of all animals: Once the immune system has fully adapted to the environment, the thymus becomes a seemingly useless organ.
But we humans never stopped creating new threats that our T-cells never learned to defend us against. In the animal kingdom, their environment has remained largely unchanged, at least until climate disaster started threatening all Earthly beings. We humans, conversely, have added all manner of unnatural stressors to our environment over the course of our tenure here: cities and their inherent chaos; air and water pollutants; food pollutants and poisons; untenable if not impossible living and working conditions. The list goes on. And on.
Are our T-cells still training for a hunter-gatherer environment? Cave living? Or has our immune system evolved at the same pace as our interference with our natural habitat? I don’t know, but I’m tenacious when it comes to resolving my own curiosity.
What have Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), ayurvedic medicine, and other Eastern disciplines to say about T-cells, the immune system, the lymphatic system, the thymus, the spleen? A lot. There are thousands of years invested in those traditions, after all. For some reason, my thoughts kept returning to the spleen and the thymus. I usually pay attention when my mind wanders back to the same topic again and again. My diet had already changed dramatically, so I determined that my spleen was as well-supported as I’m capable of supporting. What about the thymus? Is it even possible to “support” thymus health?
Every source on thymus health that I could find recommends tapping and little else. Ironically, a friend introduced me to tapping several years ago, and I thought it was pure nonsense. This is something I would’ve dismissed immediately if I hadn’t come at long COVID with an open mind, undoubtedly fueled by sheer desperation.
What’s tapping? Exactly what it says: tapping on your body, usually with your fingertips, in different places and different ways. In the case of the thymus, it’s recommended to tap the chest near the top of the sternum to a waltz tempo. I practiced tapping to a waltz tempo daily for several weeks before moving on to different styles of music. If instrumental music doesn’t appeal to you, I recommend starting with either a metronome (there are mobile metronome apps available), to the tempo of nature, or in silence, until you’ve determined if it’s helpful or not. In my own case, I happen to love classical music and love to dance a waltz, so it’s perfect for me. I use all sorts of music now. I just skip either the first or last beat of each measure if it’s in 4/4 time. If you’d like to try it, the thymus is located just below the base of the neck and has two lobes, one on either side of the sternum. I use three fingers and tap with relatively light pressure. Experiment to see what feels good or doesn’t. Do it with different types of music. Back hurting while stirring food? Tap with one hand and stir with the other to see if it helps.
I’ve since discovered other parts of my body that respond well to tapping: the zygomatic/cheekbone; the angle of the mandible/jawbone; the clavicle/collarbone; the patella/kneecap; the calcaneus/heel. The points that respond to tapping seem to correlate to both the lymphatic system and the meridians of the body, neither of which is within my realm of understanding, especially with this COVID-addled brain. I strongly suspect that both acupuncture and acupressure would provide enormous relief for long COVID symptoms. If you can access it, I say give it a try.
I was more than two years into long COVID before discovering this strategy. Every time I discover some new way of making life with COVID more livable, I wish I’d known it since Day One. Will it help you? I don’t know. I hope so, and I hope you discovered this early in your long COVID journey. I include tapping in every morning meditation practice to get my day off to a great start. Other mitigation strategies I use regularly are listed in Navigating Long COVID. I’ll expound on those more in the days and weeks that follow.
If you try this and it helps, please let others know in comments. I honestly have no idea if it’s therapeutic or if I’m experiencing a placebo effect in my own experiments. The mind has powerful influences over our bodies, COVID has convinced me. My hope is that we will someday have a databank of all the effective mitigation strategies people have discovered.