Beset with chronic pain, I discovered the benefits of pranayama (breathwork) as a teen. Today, pain-free, I practice six different breathwork techniques daily. Furthermore, as a yoga therapist, I routinely prescribe breathwork tailored to my clients’ needs. Because of the current pandemic, almost everyone should incorporate Covid 19 breathwork techniques. Here’s why, and what Covid 19 breathwork techniques you can do.
A doctor in a Bergamo, Italy hospital referred to his Covid 19 intakes as “bilateral interstitial pneumonia.” My understanding is that interstitial pneumonia and fibrosis equate to a loss of elasticity in the lungs. Hence, the necessity of respirators and ventilators.
Healthy lungs have elasticity and should be exercised. However, we rarely stretch our lungs as we may stretch our hamstrings. Furthermore, the diaphragm IS a muscle. While we don’t feel the diaphragm working as we may feel our quads, it still needs a workout.
Following are Covid 19 breathwork techniques to exercise the lungs and diaphragm. I recommend at least five to ten minutes, twice a day. For all the Covid 19 breathwork techniques described below, inhale and exhale through the nose. Check out the links below for more details. Or, contact me to sign up for private or small group 30-minute “Practice During a Pandemic” donation-based sessions that incorporate Covid 19 breathwork techniques.
Traditionally, I try to engage Ujjayi, throughout my Hatha or Vinyasa practice. However, when focusing solely on Ujjayi, I sit cross-legged. Or in a child’s pose to feel the expansion and compression of the three parts (belly, upper abdomen, and lungs).
That said, as part of my Covid 19 breathwork techniques, I recommend lying on your back. A supine position provides more space for the diaphragm to descend and retract with each breath. Following are several supine options.
Visualize the torso as an old ceramic decanter. With each inhalation, the vessel fills from the bottom up with water. With each exhalation, the liquid is “poured out,” top to bottom. In other words, deflate the chest, then the upper abdomen, and low belly.
While this is the most basic of yoga breathing techniques, it’s also the most important to get right.
Along with ujjayi, I often practice triangle breathing before bedtime. I find it calming. And calmness is a must, now. More importantly, Sama Vritti helps expand and contract the lungs beyond the norm. That’s why it’s one of my recommended Covid 19 breathwork techniques
I call this triangle breathing. Visualize an equilateral triangle. (Sama = equal). Each of the three components (inhale, retention, and exhale) is of equal length or time. While ujjayi is good for everyone, neither retention nor suspension of breath is recommended for those with uncontrolled high blood pressure, glaucoma, or pregnant women. Adding the suspension is what creates Box or Square breathing.
Dr. Loren Fishman is a physician and yoga therapist with decades of experience. I recently attended a 90-minute Zoom session he led on Yoga and COVID-19: Possibilities and Problems.
Of the two Covid 19 breathwork techniques he reviewed, one was Sama Vritti. He recommended each of the three parts (inhale, retention, and exhale) to last ten seconds. If that’s difficult, work your way up.
Dr. Fishman notes multiple reasons to practice this. He says Sama Vritti helps considerably to generate peace and boost Prana (life energy). It strengthens the diaphragm and the muscles of respiration. Plus, it gives you more control.
“The point is to get control… Breath is sort of voluntary… you can control it. If you don’t, (i.e. when you fall asleep) you breathe anyway. It’s where the voluntary and involuntary nervous systems meet. In a sense, the mind and the body.”
Particularly good for people with respiratory issues, this is more frequently seen only in Kundalini classes.
I refer to this as the 25 percent breath. Because you inhale just 25 percent of your lung capacity, four times. First 25 percent: inhale and feel the chest expand a bit. Second 25 percent: repeat, filling the lungs more. Third 25 percent: fill almost to capacity. Fourth 25 percent: expand your breath beyond normal lung capacity. Next, release the breath with one long exhalation.
I find Segmented Breath helps us to better gauge our lung capacity. And, recognize that we can always add a bit more. Like a balloon. Furthermore, there’s very slight retention after each inhalation. When I practice it, I feel as if I’m giving my lungs a workout.
Plus, to Dr. Fishman’s point, this breathing technique requires control. In fact, it’s said to help control emotions as well. Another reason it’s part of my recommended Covid 19 breathwork techniques.
Note: Similar to the contraindications for Sama Vritti, only practice if your blood pressure is normal, you’re not pregnant, haven’t had recent internal surgeries, or have glaucoma. Additionally, since this boosts metabolism and digestion, don’t practice after eating.
If this is new to you, or if you have asthma or COPD, be sure to start this slowly, and take a deep breath whenever you need a rest. When I first began practicing this regularly, 15 years ago, I felt it was tough on my lungs. Now, it’s a cinch.
Normally done in easy pose, with hands at the knees, I often prefer Ego Eradicator. This is basically a more challenging version of Breath of Fire by holding arms up, elbows straight, in a V.
Visuals of both, with complete descriptions, are on my Yoga Rx page.
But basically, you force the air out of your lungs and belly with rapid exhalations through the nose. The inhalation should be an automatic reflex. You may want to imagine you’re being punched in the belly, with all the air being kicked out of you…through the nose. You may also want to imagine the beat of a drum. Consistent. Almost like a heartbeat. And time your exhalations to those imaginary beats.
Finally, don’t forget that singing or chanting is all about breathwork. Moreover, your feel-good response kicks in when you chant. What’s undeniable is that it’s a practice that cuts across all geographies, all religions, and all eras.
Beyond the joyous sensation that arises when you chant, studies confirm that singing is good for the lungs, especially vital lung capacity.
One study was among former smokers with Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (COPD) in Brazil. “We have concluded that singing classes are a well-tolerated activity for selected subjects with COPD. Regular practice of singing may improve QoL, and preserve the maximal expiratory pressure of these patients.
A 2016 review noted, “Qualitative data from studies of Singing for Lung Health (SLH) have been strongly positive…There has been a rapid spread of singing groups across the United Kingdom. SLH has the potential to have a positive impact on the lives of people with lung disease, improving health status and social participation.”
While you can sing or chant by yourself, the benefits are boosted when you’re with others. Following are a few of the virtual chant sessions I tune into as part of my Covid 19 breathwork techniques and chill time.
Bhakti House Band meets every day at 9 a.m. CT via Facebook Live.
Snatum Kaur is at 10 a.m. CT, via Facebook Live. As she notes, it’s a “community gathering for a livestream healing meditation with me, and whoever in my family joins me, currently broadcasting from our kitchen.”
Finally, for a breath of virtual fresh air from Costa Rica, tune in to Deva Premal and Miten. Via Facebook Live, their gathering is at 4 p.m. CT and you can hear the songs of the monkeys and lots of birds.