Breathing for Long Covid
Common symptoms of Long Covid are:
∗ chest pain and
Whilst it's normal for our Sympathetic Nervous Systems (SNS) to be stimulated whilst fighting infections, we need to be able to move between sympathetic and parasympathetic for optimal health.
In Long Covid, we may get stuck in SNS, which upsets the balance of our autonomic nervous system and reduces our ability to move back into parasympathetic.
When the sympathetic nervous system is dominant, this increases our breathing rate. We end up breathing into the upper chest which is inefficient, causing unnecessary muscle tension and tightness in the upper chest, ultimately leading to exhaustion and long term fatigue.
When we’re fit and healthy our SNS is predominant during the day, enabling us to carry out our normal daily activities. At night, our PNS is stimulated, to help us rest and recover ready for the next day ahead.
Individuals with long covid, however, don’t move easily between the two states. Typically, they remain in SNS throughout the night, so their sleep is disturbed and the body’s healing systems don’t get a chance to kick in, reducing the body’s ability to restore and recuperate.
A study (Russo, Santarelli, O’Rourke Breathe 2017) explores the physiological effects of slow breathing and particularly the relationship between breathing patterns and the ANS.
One of the most important tools available when working with Long Covid is to work with slowing down our breathing and returning to a more efficient resting breathing pattern.
What does optimal resting breathing look like?
When we’re sitting comfortably and at rest:
∗ Breathe through the nose rather than the mouth. The nose warms, moistens and cleans the air
∗ The diaphragm drives 80% of the action – the abdomen responds whilst the upper chest remains quiet
∗ Usually between 8-12 breaths per minute
∗ Breathing is soundless – there’s no rasping sound, no tension around the breath, abdominal muscles are soft and responsive
∗ Normal tidal volume is around 500ml – no need for large, deep breaths. Too much deep breathing causes hyperventilation, which reduces amount of oxygen to brain
∗ Restful breathing is usually smooth and regular rather than erratic or stutter
The great news here is that we can directly, positively affect our ANS by changing our breathing pattern. If we slow it down and support our bodies by instilling good regular relaxation into our day, we can return our bodies to homeostasis and begin to recover from the effects of Long Covid.
These techniques are helpful for anyone working with post viral fatigue syndrome, Long Covid, anxiety and stress.
*Citation: Russo MA, Santarelli DM, O’Rourke D. The physiological effects of slow breathing in the healthy human. Breathe 2017; 13: 298–309.
This exploration of current issues and science based approach to yoga is why we started Intelligent Yoga Teacher Training.
Find out more here:
Join Our Newsletter
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.