How Yoga Can Help People Recovering from COVID-19

Hi Everybody, Heidi here!  I’m writing to you today with my home health occupational therapist and yoga instructor hats on.  Before I went on maternity leave, I was starting to see more and more patients in their homes after discharging from a hospitalization due to COVID-19.  These patients were mostly middle-aged and had been generally healthy before they got sick.  The one thing they all had in common when I saw them?  Taking a deep breath was really, really hard.  They were also experiencing decreased stamina and energy needed to get through their day.

I immediately thought of my yoga background and the most effective yoga techniques I use every day, all day long.  Breathing practices (or pranayama).  Yogic breathing practices are tremendously beneficial for helping to regulate the nervous system, lower blood pressure, reduce anxiety, and so much more (10 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Pranayama (Yoga Breathing)).  

I began introducing yoga breathing and simple interventions (like a warrior series) into my sessions and my patients reported (anecdotally of course) that it was helping them!  I made it simple and provided written handouts so they could continue the practice everyday.   

Three yoga breathing practices I taught

Simple Warrior Series

  • Usually standing at the kitchen counter (for extra stability if needed), I taught Warrior I -> Warrior II -> Reverse Warrior
    • I made sure to focus on cueing the breath and creating visualizations for breathing into the extra space created in the ribs especially with the Reverse Warrior posture.
    • I followed the clients stamina level and introduced everything very slowly.  We were able to build on the practice each session.

Here are some considerations when introducing yoga-based interventions into rehabilitation.  Consider whether or not yoga will be a meaningful intervention for your client?  

Find out if they…

  • are currently practicing yoga
  • have expressed an interest in learning yoga
  • are receptive to a few introductory techniques you show them

This last point is important.  Most of the time, I will initially instruct a client in an introductory yoga intervention and not even call it yoga because I want them to experience the technique without being biased by it being called “yoga”.  I will typically teach diaphragmatic breathing or a counted breath (like box breathing) technique and then ask them how they felt after.  For people who have never done yoga, I find that it is really important for them to experience some components of it first hand to help them understand that yoga doesn’t have to mean sweating on a mat for 60 minutes twisted like a pretzel.  I find this to be even more important and effective for people who are really having challenges with their health and who have just come home from the hospital.  Many times they are so weak and so discombobulated that doing and explaining after is so much more effective.

In case you want to dig deeper in the research, here is an article published earlier this year in the International Journal of Yoga: Yoga for COVID-19

Have you been teaching yoga to people recovering from COVID-19? Please share in the comments below, we would love to hear from you!

*The instructions in this article are for educational purposes and are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen.

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