Yoga and Your Covid Recovery

Nobody wants to get Covid and we are all doing our best to avoid it.  It is however a sneaky thing and despite our best efforts to keep it out, somehow it finds a way in.

Covid-19 seems to be affecting the full spectrum of ages from pre-schoolers to our oldest and wisest in society. The effects appear to be on a spectrum ranging from; no symptoms, to mild, to severe, and sadly the worst case scenario is death.  Thankfully we have had very few deaths comparatively.  That said every death is one too many.

Many people will recover well and not notice much difference day to day.  Others unfortunately, may have more severe symptoms.

Dr Robert Newton, Professor of exercise medicine at Edith Cowan University of Australia says that for some people after Covid 19, “The cardiorespiratory system can’t deliver oxygen to the working muscles efficiently. So what was a light to moderate intensity activity previously feels quite vigorous now.”

This is likely a scary thought for many of us. I personally find this quite terrifying, as I am active pretty much daily. I struggle to comprehend my world where doing simple tasks could be a struggle.

Then there is long covid.  Long covid to me seems like the left over stubborn virus that just won’t go away.  This may not be technically correct, I’m not a scientist.  Anyhow, we know from research that it is not a good idea to jump straight back in and go hard as the body needs time to slowly build up strength. As we are starting to understand more about long covid there is strong evidence to suggest that jumping straight back in to your usual physical routine may trigger long covid symptoms. From what I have heard and read is to start with some gentle exercise as soon as you have recovered from your major symptoms, typically within seven days (give or take). Always listen to your body as everyone’s recovery pattern will be different due a number of factors we don’t need to go into here.

The great news is that there are things we can proactively do to help ourselves. Good sleep and rest help the immune system to fight disease and infection. We also know that it is very important to get moving again to reduce and prevent further weakening of the body. It’s like any illness or injury, getting mobile again sooner than later is typically beneficial in many ways. Firstly, we feel better because we are up and about, so there are immediate mental health benefits. Secondly, we are using our body again, so that improves the body’s strength and tone and circulation over time.  Thirdly, it gives us hope.  We know we are on the road to strength, it may be a long road but we are on the road. Time is a wonderful healer. Never a truer word.  Taking the time we need to heal is very important.

After covid there are some excellent gentle exercises and activities that you can engage in that can help you to get moving again and help you to gradually increase your strength and boost your immunity.  Exercise increases the capacity of our muscles, heart and lungs, as well as the amount of mitochondria (energy factories within the cells of the muscle and they can hinder the effects of a covid infection).

These gentle exercises include; yoga, Pilates, meditation, walking and more. Given I teach yoga, meditation and Pilates, I was delighted to see yoga and meditation got a mention from  Dr Robert Newton, professor of exercise medicine at Edith Cowan University who says,

“Controlling stress and anxiety is critical for recovery. It’s very important to look at strategies such as meditation, mindfulness and yoga to help the body to recover from the coronavirus infection.”

Yoga and Pilates are excellent forms of gentle exercise. At NowYoga we offer yin yoga, a very restful form of yoga where the body moves slowly and is supported by props so there is no strain and the body fully relaxes.  Yin is a wonderful way to access the fascia (the massive network of tissue that surrounds all the organs and muscles) and keep the energy flowing well around the body.  Yin promotes stillness and softness and this makes it a wonderful recovery exercise.  In yin we also focus on the breath; taking generous inhales and exhales switches on our parasympathetic system, the ‘rest and digest system’ so the body naturally relaxes even more and the more generous the breaths the stronger and greater the lung capacity can become.

In many of our classes we also practice pranayama or breath work.  Anulom Vilom (alternate nose breathing) can be a wonderful way to focus on the breath and lengthen the inhales and exhales while also strengthening and expanding lung capacity and calming the mind.  A very useful breathing technique to reduce stress and anxiety.  I personally practice this breathing technique frequently.  I tend to breathe in for 7 breaths through the left nostril, hold for 7 and exhale for 7 from the right nostril, and then do the same but through the right nostril.  You can however change this to 5:7:8 (thank you @Kerene_Strochnetter for this one) or something else altogether.  The key is to find your rhythm and stick to it. I always find I sleep well after Anulom Vilom breathing.

We also offer slow flow and hatha yoga classes, again these are gentle and perfect if you are recovering from covid.  You can increase the challenge in these classes any time as the teacher always provides options so you set your pace.  We are very much into listening to your body and showing up and doing what feels right for you on the day, not doing what your brain says you should do.  The body knows what it needs and if it’s softness, listen and go with it.

Yoga Nidra and restorative yoga have made their way onto the timetable now too.  Yoga Nidra is a very beautiful form of meditation.  It is guided so if you struggle to not fall asleep, this could be a great one to try. And if you do fall asleep, well that’s what the body needs!

Pilates is also an excellent form of gentle controlled exercise.  It is a wonderful mindful movement that connects the body and the breath. There are many options in our classes and we encourage you to listen to your body.

What is really exciting is we know that immunity is boosted when we are active, even when that activity is gentle.  Using our body weight as resistance for example when we do a chatturanga dandasna (low plank) or a balancing asana like ardha chandrasana (half moon) this light resistance kicks off the production of hormones and cytokines (small proteins that are crucial in regulating the body's response to disease and infection and they help the body's immune and inflammation responses). Wow!

paper published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, researchers stated that “certain meditation, yoga asana (postures), and pranayama (breathing) practices may possibly be effective adjunctive means of […] helping to reduce severity of Covid-19 disease, including its collateral effects and sequelae”.  This article will hopefully result in more research into the amazing benefits of yoga, meditation and pranayama.  Watch this space!

So in a nutshell yoga and Pilates are both great ways to gently get moving again and start strengthening the body, the immune system and your overall wellness. Gentle exercises are a great way to help you get back to strength after Covid-19 or any other illness/injury.  We have you covered at NowYoga offering yoga, Pilates and gentle resistance classes. 

Check out our timetable.

Stay safe everyone, take the rest you need and start out slowly when your body is ready.