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    Something to Think About: Bless the sneeze

a woman getting ready to sneeze and covering her nose with a tissue
Dr. Amit Sood says, "Sprinkle deeper values in routine daily activities."

Dear friend,

The sneeze is a useful reflex to rid your nose of irritants. Coordinated by a sneezing center in the lower part of the brain (also called the brainstem), sneezing involves elevation of the tongue and lowering of the palate, thus causing partial closure of the mouth, along with rapid expulsion of air from the nose and the mouth. The expelled air can reach speeds of thirty to forty miles per hour (or more).

Unlike coughs, sneezes have a lot of associated myths. In India, sneezing is considered inauspicious if it occurs when one is starting a new venture or when someone is leaving the house. I also grew up learning that you sneeze when you are in someone’s thoughts—the louder the sneeze, the more intense the remembrance. In ancient Greece, a sneeze was considered a prophetic sign from the Gods, of something good materializing.

Another myth associated with sneezing prompts us to say, “Bless you.” This practice originated from the belief that during a sneeze one is vulnerable to evil spirits entering, or that blessing the person might prevent him or her from developing the flu, the plague, or sudden death. No matter the beliefs, I like the idea of connecting a routine occurrence with a nice thought or saying.

So, like most of you, I bless when people sneeze. I was thinking the other day, “Why don’t I bless when people yawn or cough?” Perhaps I have picked a social norm and haven’t creatively expanded it. If I could bless people on yawns and coughs, I might double my bless yous every day and start seeing others’ yawns as motivators to send good wishes rather than signals that I am boring.

Expanding further, I need to connect my daily life with thoughtful practices that remind me of our sacredness. When washing hands, I could see a blessing in flowing water. Anywhere I sit, I could imagine I am within a sacred abode.

I can choose to see people with the same grace. I can imagine a two-year-old behind a sixty-year-old face. One of the children in my neighborhood will grow up to be a police officer, a nurse, a plumber, an electrical engineer, or a mail carrier. They all serve an important purpose, and I should look at each child and remember his or her phenomenal potential. I can carry this thought to the inanimate—I can choose to be awed by the uniqueness of each orange, see a sage in a tree, a selfless gift of nature in an apple, and the purity in each drop of water.

Once I start the habit of looking deeper, I might start seeing a taxi as a source of livelihood for a family of four and a telemarketer as someone who has to endure countless slurs. Thinking deeper might also help change my language. How about feeding two birds with a single grain rather than killing two birds with a stone, or calling a deadline an opportunity line?

Commit to connecting an ordinary event in your life with something profound.

May the ordinary daily events of life remind you of the profound truths you came here to learn.

Take care.

Dr. Sood 2

Read previous blog posts and follow @AmitSoodMD on Twitter.

Dr. Sood is director of research in the Complementary and Integrative Medicine Program on Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus in Minnesota. He also chairs the Mind-Body Medicine Initiative at Mayo Clinic.