Yoga Wellness Educator. Certified to teach Hatha Yoga, Meditation, Pilates, Reiki. Yoga Therapist-in-training. I love to write.
I recently listened to an interview with Olympic medallist bobsledder Alex Kopacz where he described his bout with COVID-19. Alex contracted COVID-19 after coming back home from a business trip.
He said that even though he was released from the hospital, he still needs non-stop nasal prong oxygen. “Believe me when I say the scariest thing is when you realize there’s nothing you can do conservatively to lessen the symptoms before you get any kind of relief.”[i]
The first thing that came to my mind when I listened to the interview was how can yoga help people who suffer long-term consequences of the virus? My yoga studies and readings, and my observations, make me believe that in most cases yoga and meditation are useful when dealing with long-term negative effects.
According to the Cleveland clinic website, experts say some people can have symptoms of the illness weeks and even months after contracting the virus.
COVID-19 provokes an inflammatory response in the body that can trigger a few occurrences with various symptoms and consequences.
Persistent symptoms include coughing, tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, headaches, muscle aches and diarrhea. The most significant symptom in coronavirus long-haulers is fatigue. ... Chronic fatigue can be unbearable. Experts also talk of feeling confused, disorganized, finding it difficult to concentrate, or not as sharp used to be.
Role of Yoga and Meditation
Hatha Yoga, yoga therapy, and meditation practices are meant to help prevent diseases by strengthening our immune system and overall health, and to help us recover faster if we fall sick. Considered accessory treatments, yoga and meditation enhance the performance of the primary treatment that is medical care.
Yoga is intended for healing, not cure. This means that medical experts play their role first, after which yoga instructors and yoga therapists can help people on the way to recovery.
The upper respiratory tract —which includes the nose or nostrils, nasal cavity, mouth, throat, and the voice box— is the point of entry for the SARS-CoV-2 virus infection. The health of the breathing system is essential in preventing death. Several reports of clinical trials indicate that a regular and safe yoga practice help to improve the function of the lungs and ease breathing in patients who have a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease[ii].
Studies done in the early twenty-first century found that we can manage inflammation by energizing the vagus nerve complex, a main part of the central and peripheral nervous system that controls responses to stress. Stimulating the vagus nerve can help replace the ‘fight or flight’ response with a ‘relaxation response’.
The Vagus Nerve
The vagus nerve is the largest nerve in the body. It begins in the brain stem and travels down the body by way of the cardiovascular, the digestive, the reproductive systems, and the internal organs. It takes readings from each and transmits messages from the brain.
Certain yogic techniques can feed psychological information to the brain through the vagus nerve[iii]. When a yogini or yogi read the yoga sutras (an ancient and well-known yoga text attributed to the sage Patanjali), they are endeavoring to reframe the way they view and understand the world so they can boost their well-being.
The vagus nerve can be stimulated by calming and centering yourself in meditation. There are many meditative techniques. Choosing the right one is at times a matter of trying different methods and choosing and sticking to the one that works for you. If you consistently practise your preferred meditation technique it would improve your vagal tone.
Practising a self-caring meditative technique is a successful way to improve your vagal tone. Self-care is the way you maintain your health and well-being while being of service to others.
One way to stimulate the vagus nerve entails auditory vibration. Humming and rhythmic chanting are proven methods of stimulating the vagus nerve. Gently expressed sounds trigger a parasympathetic vagus nerve response.
Collective singing, being part of a choir or a prayer group are known to be beneficial.
Combine humming with yogic and meditative breathing.
Inhale slowly and deeply through the nose, and hum as you slowly exhale. Let your attention be on the vibrations of humming in your ribs, your throat, your mouth, and your head.
Repeat until you feel relaxed.
[i] "Canadian Olympic bobsleigh champion Alex Kopacz in hospital battling COVID-19". Donna Spencer. The Canadian Press. Published April 24, 2021.
[ii] "Yoga for COVD-19". International Journal of Yoga. HR Nagendra. 2020 May-Aug; 13(2): 87–88.
[iii] "How The Vagus Nerve Positively Boosts Your Well-Being." Stefan Chmelik. April 30, 2019. [https://www.getsensate.com/blogs/news/everything-vagus-nerve]
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.