Breathing in COVID19

The efficiency of lung functioning cannot be overlooked in COVID19. As per Ayurveda, the ‘life-force’ or ‘Prana’ or ‘Oxygen’ must flow effortlessly into every cell of the body. This happens via breath. Breath ventilates the lungs. Along with other precautions, it’s essential to take care of the way we breathe in and the quality of air in COVID19. Exercise is one of the essential routines of the lockdown schedule. It stimulates the blood circulation and oxygenates the system. Exercise can either induce anxiety or eliminate it, depending on the breathing technique. Incorrect breathing leads to inefficient ventilation of lungs, leading to stress on mind and body. Correct breathing technique during exercise harmonizes the mind and body and brings calmness and rejuvenation into each workout.

Focused breathing and focused workouts increase the efficiency of lungs. The best way to consistently breathe into the lower lobes of the lungs is through nasal breathing.

Nasal Breathing –

Nose is refined breathing equipment that is designed to work like a piston. It also makes the air less dense. Nasal breathing filters and moistens the air before it reaches our lungs. The swirling action of nasal breathing creates a whirlpool, which propels the air into the small and distal alveoli of lungs. This allows the oxygen to reach the lower lobes of lungs.

Lobes of Lungs –

The upper lobes of lungs are governed by sympathetic nervous system, and the lower lobes are governed by the parasympathetic. Both these systems work in synergy for efficient functioning of the body. The function of sympathetic nervous system is to get active when exposed to stress. It moves into a ‘fight-or flight’ mode to protect the body and mind from stress. It’s a war like situation where sympathetic system triggers the endocrine system to secrete anti-stress hormones.

On the other hand, the function of parasympathetic system is to reverse the effects of sympathetic nerves by calming down the system, balancing the hormones and bringing back the mind and body in a normal state. Majority of blood supply is in the lower lobes of lungs. Along with this, the nerves that calm, rejuvenate, regenerate the body are also in the lower lobes of the lungs. But the irony is that most people never breathe into these lower parasympathetic dominant lobes.

What is ‘fight-or-flight’ response?

An emergency or a ‘fight-or-flight’ situation can range from hearing bad news or coming face-to-face with an animal. An emergency stimulates the nervous system and forces it to maximize its activity. This triggers a fight-or-flight response in it. Body’s first essential requirement to survive in an emergency is air. Thus to increase the oxygen flow and hyperventilation of the lungs mouth breathing is initiated as the first response to imposed stress. Suddenly the mouth opens for quick upper chest breathing (gasping). The upper lobes of the lungs, dominated by sympathetic nerves, become hyperactive. Human body is not designed to face emergencies on regular basis.

Exercise Aversion –

Now days, our body responds to exercise as an emergency. The nervous system gets maxed out even during moderate exercise. This emergency response during each workout not only produces anti-stress degenerative hormones but also creates a negative emotion towards exercise. Gasping or mouth breathing is a common breathing pattern for most people during exercise, thus triggering a constant fight-or-flight response. This constantly hyperventilates the upper lobe and stimulates its sympathetic nerve activity. In contrast, the parasympathetic nerves in the lower lobes that calm, rejuvenate and regenerate the body remain inactive. To make exercise fun again it is essential to replace the degenerative emergency response with a rejuvenating calming one.

Rib Cage –

The rib cage is meant to function as ‘elastic recoil’. This means a constant contraction and squeeze on the heart and lungs throughout the day. Ideally, it must be like twelve rib-like cleavers that massage heart and lungs up to 28,000 times a day. When this happens, a natural calming influence stays throughout the day while dealing with stress. But due to incorrect breathing over long periods, the rib cage has actually become a cage, making it very difficult to breath into lower lobes; thus forcing us to breath through the mouth into the upper lungs and triggering a minor but constant emergency.

Because of the years of lower rib cage constriction nasal breathing is likely to be difficult at first. Nasal breathing during workout may not be possible the very first day but it becomes easier within two or three weeks. Eventually the rib cage can be converted from a cage to twelve rib-like cleavers that massage the heart and lungs.

Ayurveda Workout – The correct breathing –

For nasal breathing, exercising the lungs and increasing the flexibility of rib cage, it is essential to breathe comfortably. As mentioned earlier, Ayurveda says that the ‘life-force’ or ‘Prana’ or ‘oxygen’ must flow effortlessly into every cell of the body. For this, each breath has to be deeper, longer and slower than the prior one. The aim is to take this experience of comfort to higher levels of exertion.

Begin the daily walk with a slow pace and deep nasal breathing for the first ten minutes. Then gradually increase the pace making sure to maintain the flow of breath. There comes a point when nasal breathing becomes difficult. There is an urge to take a mouth breath. When this happens, it means that the body is being forced into an emergency response to maintain that pace. Slowing down at this point is essential. Without thrusting any further pressure on the body, concentrate to recapture the deep and long flow of nasal breath. Once re-established, gradually increase the walking pace keeping the focus on increasing the resilience of the body. When the breathing again gets labored and there’s an urge for mouth breathing, slow down again on the cue, constantly re-affirming the focus on increasing stamina and not on creating an emergency. Soon the body gets accustomed to a higher level of a natural and more permanent fitness.

The same breathing pattern applies to all other workouts.

Regular exercise is essential for overall health, but too much of exercise affects the immune system negatively. Working out as per the requirement of body helps. The requirement of the body varies according to the ‘Mind-Body Constitution’ of each individual. Everyone needs to choose the exercises according to their respective mind-body constitution.

Source: John Douillard – Founder & director of ‘The Life Spa Ayurveda Retreat Centre’, Colorado. For more information visit his website

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