2020 was supposed to be THE year… the year of change, awakening, newness and lots of other lovely things. However, it seems someone forgot to tell 2020 that!
We started 2020 with so many storms I started to worry that we would run out of alphabet letters by mid-April, followed by floods that closed roads and schools and left people with feet of water in their homes and now as we enter Spring we have COVID-19 (or Coronavirus) taking over the World, confining people to barracks and turning humans into zombies that eat toilet roll rather than brains.
I have to add here that I’m just waiting for the swarms of locusts and I might actually believe the “end is nigh!”
So as yoga classes cancel across the land, and people embrace being sat on the sofa for the foreseeable future – glass of wine in one hand, pet dog in the other and a TV box set playing in the background, we start to think about how we can use this additional, unexpected time more wisely.
One thing we can start to focus on is looking at other ways we can improve our health, to hopefully reduce the impact Coronavirus has on us when and if we get it. These can include;
1 – Taking vitamins and minerals
2 – Exercising regularly
3 – Cooking from scratch
4 – Gardening, tending an allotment or growing our own fruit and vegetables
5 – Relaxation techniques such as meditation or yogic breathing (Pranayama)
So how could yogic breathing, also known as pranayama, help our bodies and improve our health?
There are currently a lot of anxious and stressed out people in the World at the moment. People are very worried and anxious about Coronavirus and the impact it will have on their lives and their loved ones’ lives – this has been dubbed Coronavirus Anxiety.
If you are experiencing Coronavirus Anxiety (or any other type of anxiety), yogic breathing can help to alleviate symptoms.
Most peoples’ normal unconscious breathing pattern when they are suffering from anxiety is short, shallow breaths (sometimes gasping). This breathing pattern activates the sympathetic nervous system, also known as “fight or flight”. When your body is in this state, it’s in a state of emergency. Your heart rate increases, your breathing quickens, blood pressure rises and your muscles tighten. You are under stress!!!
Yogic breathing forces people to focus on their breath, usually fostering a long, smooth, calm exhale. This type of breathing pattern activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as “rest and digest”. When your body is in this state it gives your body chance to heal itself, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, and lowers heart rate.
Improving lung capacity
One of the main symptoms of Coronavirus is difficulty breathing. It has also been suggested by doctors in Hong Kong that people who recover from the Coronavirus may still be left with substantially weakened lung capacity with some patients seeing a 20-30% drop in lung function after full recovery.
Lung capacity can be improved over time using cardiovascular exercise such as; running, walking and swimming, but if people are too unwell to do such exercise, yogic breathing has been proved to help increase lung capacity – and the good news is this can be done from the comfort of your own home, with your glass of wine, pet dog and TV box set in tow.
Yogic breathing techniques to try at home
There are many different yogic breathing techniques that help with anxiety and improve lung capacity. Here are three types to try at home. Have a go at each one, see how it feels and choose the one that resonates with you;
Belly breathing can help reduce the amount of work your body needs to do in order to breathe.
1 – Lie down on your back on the floor or a bed (or sit comfortably in a chair).
2 – Put one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach above your belly button
3 – Inhale through your nose for a count of 4, noticing your stomach rise. Your chest should remain still
4 – Hold your breath at the top of the inhale for a count of 4
5 – Exhale through your nose for a count of 4, noticing your stomach deflate – try and engage your stomach muscles to push out all the remaining air
6 – Continue this twice a day for between two and ten minutes.
Alternate nostril breathing
For alternate nostril breathing you must be sat comfortably in any position. Alternate nostril breathing is very good for anxiety and is very calming.
1 – Rest your left hand in your lap
2 – Bring your right hand to your face, resting the pointer and middle fingers in between your eyebrows (third eye chakra) and close your eyes.
3 – Use your right thumb to close the right nostril and inhale slowly through the left nostril for a count of 4
4 – Once the left nostril is full, hold the breath, release the thumb from the right nostril, and close the left nostril with your ring finger and exhale slowly through the right nostril for a count of 4
5 – Inhale through your right nostril for a count of 4
6 – Once the right nostril us full, hold the breath, release the ring finger from the left nostril, and close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale through the left nostril for a count of 4
7 – Inhale through the left nostril for a count of 4
8 – Continue this cycle, inhaling and exhaling through both nostrils up to 10 times.
Lion’s breath is very good for the throat and chest and involves exhaling forcefully. You may feel silly doing it – but it will make your feel as powerful as a lion.
1 – Sit in a kneeling position. If this is not comfortable you can sit cross legged
2 – Bring your hands on to your knees, stretching out your arms and fingers
3 – Take a deep breath in through the nose for a count of 4
4 – Open your mouth as wide as possible, stick out your tongue, take your chin as far up as it will go to elongate your throat and exhale through your mouth vocalising a “haaaaaaaaaaa” sound for as long as possible completely emptying your lungs
5 – Relax your breath and inhale again
6 – Repeat this breath up to six times, twice a day.
So which one did you prefer? Did you find one harder or easier than the others? Maybe you didn’t like any of them – in which case why not try one of the many guided meditations which are available on YouTube to help keep calm.
If nothing else anything, whilst we’re all stuck at home closely confined with our families, meditation and breathing techniques may just be the thing to try to help keep you calm, stop you losing your temper with each other and also stop you throttling your loved ones.
The last thing you want is to add to your problems right now by developing cabin fever and turning into Jack Nicholson from The Shining… red rum anyone?
Stay sane over the next few weeks yogis – Yogatonic Yorkshire will see you on the other side of the Coronavirus outbreak where we will continue our lovely relaxing yoga classes.
*Please be aware that I am not a doctor and this is not a professional medical opinion. Please ensure you do your own research and stay safe. If your anxiety or breathing persists or gets worse, please consult your doctor.