Breathing in the Times of Covid 19

By Fiona Ashdown

During my yoga therapy course I did two month-long internships at the KYM and observed many 1-to-1 classes being given by the teachers there. Many clients had breathing difficulties, including asthma due to the air pollution in Chennai. 

I also attended many lectures with Dr N.C, who was head of therapy at KYM at the time, and was very lucky to sit in on many of his 1-to-1 sessions. He talked about the physics of breathing and how, if you restrict one end of the tube – the nostrils, the other end – the bronchioles – would open up. There is a scientific name for this process: the Venturi effect.

V Srinivasan demonstrating alternate nostril breathing

So alternate nostril breathing, particularly nādī śodhana and restricted nostril breathing where you partially close both nostrils, were given to people with asthma, even during an attack if they could manage it. Obviously, the more familiar one is with these techniques, the easier they are to use when you are breathless. I have used both of these several times a day in 12 breath cycles, and find they really help with breathlessness. We were taught that strong Ujjayi should be avoided, as it could aggravate the throat if there was a cough. Also, the use of sound orally can trigger a cough. In this case, mental sound or chanting can be used instead.

Classically, nādī śodhana means to cleanse and purify the energy channels and used with a breath ratio such as (build up to this) is very effective – the ancients knew their stuff! The inhale brings air to the fire, the antar kumbakha (hold after inhale, A.K.) holds it there and makes it burn more brightly. The exhale brings the dirt (covid 19!) to the fire and the bahir kumbakha (hold after exhale, B.K.) burns the dirt by holding it in the fire!

You could also use nādī śodhana with the gāyatrī mantraḥ. Sir taught this, chanting the mantra silently and dividing it up into the portions of the breath. For a more calming effect, keep the inhale free and chant the mantra silently on the exhale.

I find mantra very steadying for the mind. In fact, the word means protection for the mind and I have been using the full version of the Om hram (sūryanamaskāra mantraḥ, click here) chant for disease cleansing!

Thinking of you all and wishing you well… and always breathe through your nose!


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