4 Breathing exercises to strengthen lungs during COVID 19

It is essential that we take care of ourselves during times like these. Ms. Namita Piparaiya, Yoga, and Ayurveda Lifestyle Specialist, and founder of Yoganama shared with us some breathing exercises that will help you to strengthen the lungs.
Health & Fitness,covid 19,breathing exercises,yoga for lungs4 Breathing exercises to strengthen lungs during COVID 19
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Our lungs are very sensitive and despite being internal organs, they are continuously exposed to our external environment with every breath that we take. This makes them vulnerable to dust, pollution as well as respiratory infections and we need to protect them by practicing good hygiene. And even in a yogic sense, the lungs are the primary organs that help us control and enhance "Prana" or universal life-giving energy. That is why breathing exercises in Yoga are called Pranayama. These methods improve overall health, giving us greater vitality, managing stress and enhancing our immunity. In today's times, Pranayama practices have become especially relevant as COVID-19 is a respiratory infection that attacks our lungs. Therefore, along with diligently practicing preventive measures like washing our hands, wearing a mask, and social distancing, we also need to work on interventions that can keep the lungs healthy and strong.

Here are a few ways to strengthen your lungs: 

Practice Surya Namasakra (Sun Salutations)

Surya Namaskara is a sequence of 12 yoga poses that you practice in coordination with the breath. Therefore, it is a dynamic combination of Pranayama and Asanas and gives us the benefits of both. More importantly, in Sun Salutations, you alternate forward and backward bending movements, with designated breathing patterns that give an excellent stretch to the spine and the chest, improving overall oxygenation levels and strengthening the respiratory muscles. Across medical research, Surya Namaskar has shown improvement in breathing capacity and respiratory endurance because it improves our inhalation and exhalation capacity.

It would be best if you aim to practice 6-12 rounds of Surya Namaskara a day at a moderate pace, which doesn't leave you completely breathless. One round includes both the right and left sides.

Adham Pranayama (Deep Belly Breathing or Diaphragmatic Breathing)

This is a foundational breathing practice that helps us correct our breathing pattern. To do this practice, you lie down on your back with the knees bent and place one hand on the belly, above the navel. Then you breathe in through the nose to draw the air into the deepest parts of the lungs. As the lungs expand with air, they push the diaphragm, which pushes the abdomen out. You will sense that as the hand on your belly will rise when you inhale. And then you can exhale normally.

Variations

1) Pursed Lip Breathing: Instead of exhaling through the nose, you can exhale through the mouth by pursing your lips together. This is called Pursed lip Breathing and is also very useful for improving lung capacity and is suitable for senior citizens.

2) Prone Breathing: You can practice deep breathing while lying down in a prone position (face down) and resting your head on the back of your palms, like in Makarasana (Crocodile pose). There's anecdotal news of COVID-19 patients benefitting from Prone position, especially those on ventilators as it reduces the pressure in the lungs. In Hatha Yoga, this is considered a good position for training the lungs for Pranayama. 

These methods help us activate the diaphragm and dormant areas of the lungs, remove the stale air that may be trapped in the lungs, and increase our overall breathing capacity.

You can practice this for 5-10 mins daily on an empty stomach.

Kapalabhati (Skull Shining Breath)

This is a vigorous breathing practice with short but intense strokes of exhalation, done in rapid succession. Inhalation is passive in Kapalbhati and happens effortlessly. This practice helps us train the diaphragm muscle, forcing out the stale air from the lungs, thereby creating more space for more fresh air and clearing out the nasal passages. This is a heating practice and should not be done by people with blood pressure, dizziness, or heart issues without consulting their physician.

You can practice three rounds of Kapalabhati and can build up to a hundred breaths per round. This should be done on an empty stomach and is best done before starting your yoga asana practice.

Nadi Shuddhi (Alternate Nostril Breathing)

This is a calming and balancing pranayama practice in which you breathe in and out from alternate nostril at a time, very slowly. It is also one of the oldest breathing techniques which are found in many yogic texts as it helps you cleanse your energy channels, making you light and clear-headed for meditation practice. Medically it has been found very useful in managing stress and anxiety and improving breathing capacity due to the slow nature of inhalation and exhalation. This also gives the lungs more time for gaseous exchange, increasing the breathing process's overall efficiency. We should also note that reducing stress and anxiety is also a significant positive effect of this practice. Lungs are very sensitive to stress, and anxiety, in particular, can make you breathless, leaving you gasping for breath or feeling tightness in the chest. It doesn't help that this resembles one of the symptoms of COVID-19, further adding to our mental stress.

Nadi Shuddhi can be practiced for 5-10 mins, on an empty stomach. It is best done after Yoga Asana practice as after some physical movement; both nostrils will be open, allowing you to breathe comfortably and evenly on both sides. 

Lastly, none of these exercises should be done in crowded, polluted, or unhygienic spaces as when you take deep breaths; you also carry the risk of drawing pathogens deep into your lungs. The fresh, early morning air, in a private space, is ideal.

Regularly doing these practices will help you maintain good health and vitality as yoga practices work on both our bodies and minds. So not only do we develop good immunity, but we also develop the mental resilience we need to deal with this pandemic. And that's a win-win. 

By Ms. Namita Piparaiya, Yoga, and Ayurveda Lifestyle Specialist, Founder - Yoganama

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