As a disease that attacks the respiratory system, often causing long-lasting damage and leading to issues such as acute respiratory distress syndrome and pneumonia, a lot of people who experience chronic COVID-19 symptoms, also known as long COVID, can have difficulty breathing for quite some time.
As such, an important part of long-term COVID recovery is regular practice of breathing exercises. These exercises as described here are playing a key role in the treatments being used across the board for patients recovering from COVID.
Are Breathing Exercises Effective?
Typically, you might associate breathing exercises with methods of treatment designed to fight things like anxiety, stress, and depression. There is a lot of evidence to show that they can help affect the parasympathetic nervous system which plays a key role in our “fight or flight” response which, when out of control, can lead to panic attacks.
However, more recently, emphasis has been put on the ability of breath work to improve lung capacity (your lung’s ability to hold air) and diaphragm function (the mechanics that actually push the breath out and draw it back in.) A lot of people experiencing chronic COVID symptoms might feel okay when they are at rest, but they can have trouble with breathing when they are active.
Furthermore, slow functional breathing can aid in getting oxygen deep into the lungs, which can help get rid of the mucus and fluids that can build up as a result of COVID. The ability to help people feel calmer can also be a serious benefit when it comes to managing the stress that comes with chronic illness.
Examples of Breathing Techniques That Can Help
If you are experiencing some of the symptoms of long COVID such as shortness of breath, trouble breathing, a regular cough, brain fog, and so on, then there may be some breathing exercises that can help. However, you should stop any breathing exercises if you begin to feel dizziness, increased shortness of breath, chest pain, cool or clammy skin, extreme fatigue, or an irregular heartbeat. If these symptoms persist, then you should call 999. Here are some of the exercises to consider:
Yawn to a smile
- Sit upright and straighten your back
- Stretch your arms up to shoulder height until you feel the muscles stretching in your back
- Open your mouth wide as if you were yawning
- Slowly lower your arms to rest on your thighs as you yawn into a smile
Humming while exhaling
This technique focuses on breathing co-ordination. It improves breathing efficiency by fully engaging the diaphragm. Practice this exercise gently, never force.
- Sit upright and straighten your back
- Set your hands on the sides of your lower abdomen
- Rest with your lips closed and your tongue against the roof of your mouth
- Inhale slowly through the nose
- Let your fingers spread as your stomach expands and keep your shoulders relaxed
- When your lungs are full, hum as you exhale
- Exhale fully, keep the action going even after you’ve run out of sound
- Take another long slow inhale and repeat
- Try humming in a low pitch then a high pitch a notice the difference
Alternate Nostril Breathing
The yogic practice of pranayama (breathing regulation) is thousands of years old. In Sanskrit, alternate nostril breathing is known as nadi shodhana pranayama which literally translates as ” subtle energy clearing breathing technique”. Great for improving lung function, lowering heart rate, blood pressure and stress.
- Place the thumb of your right hand over your right nostril
- Place a finger of the same hand on the left nostril
- Close the right nostril with your thumb
- Inhale slowly through your left nostril
- At the top of the breath hold both nostrils closed and pause
- Lift the thumb to exhale slowly through your right nostril
- At the end of the exhale hold both nostrils closed for a moment
- Now inhale through the right nostril
- Exhale through the left nostril
- Repeat for 10 cycles
Bow Back Stretch
This Yoga exercise helps stretch the spine and improves breathing by releasing built up tension in the breathing muscles. Focus on breathing throughout this exercise to better increase lung capacity.
- Stand tall, spread your fingers as wide as possible and place them on your glutes fingers pointing down towards the floor
- Relax your shoulders and allow your shoulder blades to glide down over your ribs
- Externally rotate your shoulders until your elbows point behind you
- Whilst maintaining a neutral head, press your hips forward and you soften/slightly bend your knees and lean your torso backwards
- Keep your glutes active to support your back and increase hip extension
- Inhale slowly drawing your breath down into your pelvis
- Exhale slowly, aiming for an exhale that is twice as long as your inhale
- Pause at the end of the exhale, waiting for a sensation of air hunger, before inhaling again
- Hold the stretch for 6 breath cycles if you can
Breath work could play a huge role in helping many people recover from the symptoms of long COVID. If your doctor recommends it, you might want to consider the exercises mentioned above in addition to other treatments. At our studio, we can help you learn proper breathing techniques to help diminish the symptoms of long COVID.