Five Breathing Exercises For Post-COVID-19 Recovery
COVID-19 can leave one feeling short of breath even post infection. There are some exercises that can help ease this feeling of breathlessness and make your lungs stronger.
Since COVID-19 impacts the lungs and respiratory system directly, many people report a feeling of breathlessness and the disease could cause pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome in severe cases. This could in turn result in long-lasting damage to the lungs and subsequent breathing difficulties. There are some exercises that can help make your lungs more efficient, increasing oxygen levels and getting rid of stale air that accumulates in the lungs.
Along with the benefits for one’s respiratory system, deep breathing exercises can also help ease symptoms of anxiety. Focusing on one’s breath can bring about a sense of relaxation as, when practised properly, it encourages you to slow down and not think about whatever may be distracting you. Whether we’re aware of it or not, most of us are shallow breathers, limiting the amount of oxygen our lungs get. These exercises will also help strengthen your diaphragm so it can do its job better. It’s important to note that the exercises should be in addition to the recovery programme your healthcare practitioner has prescribed and not instead of.
Before starting any of these exercises, there are a few key points to take note of:
- Don’t start any deep breathing work if you are currently unwell or have an intense shortness of breath or chest pain. Contact your healthcare provider and follow their guidance.
- Stop the exercises if you begin to feel dizzy, have chest pain, or any other irregular symptom.
- Understand that it will take time to build up your deep breathing work, so start at a pace that’s slow and that works for you. If at the beginning you can only do one to two minutes of work, stick to that and gradually increase it. Keep a record of your work in a notebook so you can track your progress.
- Since it requires consistent practice, try and do these exercises at the same time every day so that it becomes a routine for you. Doing it at the same place—a spot where you feel relaxed and are less likely to be disturbed—will also help in making this part of your daily routine.
1. Diaphragmatic Breathing
Also known as belly breathing, you can do this exercise while lying down on your back. Start by closing your mouth and keeping one hand on your stomach and the other across your chest. Breathe normally through your nose. After you’ve settled into the position, try and pull your inhalation to your stomach where your hand is—you should feel your stomach moving outward and your chest should remain relatively still. Then, slowly exhale through your nose, allowing your stomach to gently fall. Your exhalation should be around twice as long as your inhalation.
You can also try this exercise while on your stomach. Lie on your stomach on a soft surface, like a bed, and rest your forehead on your hands, ensuring there’s enough space to breathe. As you inhale and draw your breath to your stomach, try and focus on the feeling of your stomach pushing into the mattress. Exhale through your nose.
2. Pursed Lip Breathing
Begin in a comfortable seated position, and breathe in through your nose. Exhale through your mouth for two times longer, but the key is to purse your lips while exhaling—imagine you’re about to blow out a candle.
This exercise can be performed while seated as well. Keep your mouth closed and inhale through your nose, drawing your breath to your stomach. You can place your hands around the sides of your stomach and feel the fingers spread as you inhale. Then, still keeping your mouth closed, exhale and make a humming sound. This is said to help increase nitric oxide production, which is good for the nervous system and can enable a more efficient delivery of oxygen throughout the body.
4. Controlled Breath Holding
This exercise is aimed at helping you feel less breathless through the day by teaching you to hold your breath. Start in a seated position and breathe normally through your nose. Then, as you get into a rhythm, at the end of the exhalation, gently pinch your nose and hold your breath. Do so until you feel a slight urge to breathe in. Then, let go and breathe normally. Do not push yourself—you shouldn’t reach a point when you’re gasping for air. Rest for about a minute at the end of the breath hold.
5. Slow breathing
Breathing slowly teaches you to take fewer breaths per minute. Lie down for this exercise, and start breathing through your nose. Draw your inhalation to your stomach. Now, begin counting with your breathing—inhale for two slow counts and exhale for three. You can add a slight pause after the exhalation (this should be a very small pause, you shouldn’t feel faint).
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