Seek medical assistance if you have or may have Covid / Long Covid.
What is Transformational Breath®?
Transformational Breath® is a therapeutic breathwork system, awarded Best Complementary Medicine Organisation by the Institute of Complementary & Natural Medicine. Facilitators like me work on increasing the depth and flow of your breath, which unlocks a whole host of physical and emotional benefits. Discover more about how it works here, but for now let's dive into four practices that can help you and your loved-ones through Covid / Long Covid. Please share this with anyone you know who may also be suffering and in need of relief.
1. 'Ssssss' like a snake:
Nurses and breath therapists alike recommend this one. Start in child's pose, then lift your hips towards the sky so that your chest and head are pointing down to the ground. This angle will help drain the mucus from your lungs.
Take a long, deep breath. On your exhale blow out your cheeks and make a long 'sssssss' sound, like a snake. Or a long 'ffffffffff' sound, like very slowly letting the air out of a balloon. Feel how these two sounds prevent air from coming out freely. That's a good thing. A bit of resistance from your teeth/lips puts gentle pressure on your lungs, which helps:
Open up alveoli (the smallest of our airways) that are blocked with mucus.
Restoring the exchange of the oxygen and the waste gas we exhale (CO2).
Dislodging mucus so it can make its way out of the respiratory system.
Without causing pain, firmly tap on your chest whilst in this position, or ask someone to tap your back. This is another effective way to help dislodge mucus.
2. Hum your favourite tunes
Sound benefits your respiratory system, body and mind:
Vibrations created from sound help to disperse mucus in the sinuses and lungs.
The body's natural production of nitric acid is enhanced, reducing inflammation.
The lymphatic system is stimulated, more effectively removing waste and toxins from the body.
Humming also helps alleviate the anxiety that can accompany a diagnosis of Covid:
The slower breathing rate that occurs when we hum calms the heart rate.
Specifically, the longer exhales that occur when we hum activate the parasympathetic system.
The parasympathetic system is the opposite system to the one that causes 'fight or flight'. Para = relaxation.
Hum for several minutes and feel the benefits for yourself. Sit or lay down, and try to focus inwards. Think of it like a humming meditation.
3. Connected breathing through the nose
Those of you who have tried Transformational Breath® with me, will know it is an open-mouth breathing technique. However breathing with an open mouth can feel uncomfortable in the throes of Covid, and so an adapted technique may be preferable. Find a peaceful spot to sit or lay down and breathe through your nose. Connect each breath. In other words, try not to pause between your inhale and exhale. Visualise your breath as a flowing wave. A tide that never stops, it simply flows in and flows out. This exercise is primarily aimed at reducing stress and anxiety, which it's natural to feel when faced with the unknown.
Slowly breathe through your nose - minimum of 5mins.
Scan your body from head to toe to see if any of your muscles could relax a little more. Do this at the start, middle and end of your practice.
When newborn babies breathe, their bellies rise and fall. This is our natural, optimal breath pattern. With age many of us develop the habit of breathing shallowly - inhaling only into the chest. Place a hand on your belly. Does it rise as you inhale? If this is difficult for you place a belly bag (you can make your own) or a bag of rice below your navel. Focus on raising it up, little by little with each inhale.
Don't overlook the power of the mind. Imagine breathing in healing light to nourish and support your recovery.
4. Affirmations & acupressure
Stress and fear compromise immunity. That's proven. To rebalance these lower vibrations - feelings are energy in motion, everything is - affirm that you 'trust' in the experience of life you are having right now:
Say out loud: 'It is safe to trust'
'It is safe to surrender'
'It is safe to let go'
For the best results, do this during your connected breathing practice (tip number 3 above). Connected breathing helps us access the unconscious mind, and affirmations are our tool to reprogram unconscious fears and beliefs.
Supercharge this practice by pairing these affirmations with the acupressure point directly below the sternum (sternum = the vertical bone in the centre of your ribcage). This acupressure point, in front of the solar plexus, is positioned along what Transformational Breath® facilitators call the 'fear belt'. This belt refers to the muscles below our ribcage that are the first to clench when we are frightened. Even when we're no longer conscious of our fear, these muscles remain contracted, which perpetuates a cycle of anxiety. 'Issues are in our tissues', the saying is true. Try this to allow fear to surface and be integrated aka released:
As you say the affirmations, press firmly on the muscle below the sternum with your fingertips. Be sure to press muscle - never bone.
Return to connected breathing through your nose.
Hold the acupressure point for as long as you can. Release it when your fingers start to tire - no need to make things harder for yourself!
A footnote on fear...and why I'm telling clients to turn off the news
If you really don't feel like trusting and letting go right now, I do understand. It can feel counterintuitive, even dangerous, at a time when we're being told by government and the media to be more on guard than ever before. But rest assured, the practice of letting go of fear is not irresponsible. Far from it. If you grasp the core logic, that relaxation serves our immune system more effectively than fear, then getting out of the fear state is a healthy and socially responsible action.
Try adding the word 'intention' to the affirmations to make them feel more authentic
'It is my intention to trust'
This way, even if you don't truly feel like letting go, you're still acknowledging the fact that it is better for your body to relax - which will prime your unconscious mind to do exactly that. That one little word, 'intention', makes all the difference.
Many healthcare professionals, myself included, believe that the fear tactics adopted by government Covid advertising and the media, were ill-conceived. They may have been well intentioned, but their impact on mental health may actually have compromised the nation's immunity (not to mention sanity). What's more, when it comes to risk-taking - e.g. socialising during a pandemic - this is largely influenced by personality. External messaging plays less of a role in curbing risk-taking behaviour than the creators of the more frightening advertising executions might like to believe. All of that to say, scaring people may not have been the most effective way to go.
I'm in a unique position to comment on this topic. Alongside my work as a breath therapist, I'm an advertising strategist. This includes acting as a consultant for the UK government on 'behaviour change' campaigns, which is how I know about other psychological models that can be applied to promote safer choices. The advert below is one of the better ones. It provides information that empowers individuals to assess and come to appreciate the risks of Covid for themselves. For less risk-averse personalities it is educating them; showing them why rules are in place, rather than simply reinforcing there is a rule - which rarely drives re-appraisal of one's actions. For more risk-averse people, it's preaching to the converted, but there's no harm in that.
When it comes to fear tactics, less risk-averse people have deaf ears. There's a wealth of evidence to prove it, including the results of early (ineffective) stop smoking campaigns. My intention here is not to pass blame. Faced with an unprecedented event like a pandemic, I imagine many of the people involved in the advertising fell into states of fear themselves. I certainly had my moments in that first lockdown. The point I want to make is that it's important to remember the science. Fear lowers immunity. Joy and relaxation boost it. In addition to the breathing techniques above, turn off the news, change the topic of conversation with your loved-ones and stop looking at the daily statistics. Engage in uplifting activities, anything that makes you laugh.
No-one is at fault for feeling frightened, but know that you have the power to change your emotions. Hold the intention and remember, practice makes perfect. Good luck, get well & sending you love.
I hope this month's column aids your recovery and brings you comfort in the face of Covid. Try the exercises out for yourself and let me know how you get on. Subscribe via my website to receive next month's column straight to your inbox, and thank you as always for your time and support.
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