The Role of Yoga Therapy in Managing Long COVID Symptoms

Jul 24, 2023

A Guide for Medical Professionals

By Sara Merrick-Albano, E-RYT, C-IAYT

Long COVID poses a significant concern for both healthcare providers and patients alike. Research suggests that approximately one in every five individuals who contract COVID-19 may experience long-lasting symptoms, commonly known as Long COVID. It is crucial for medical providers to explore holistic treatment options to help manage these symptoms effectively. One promising approach is yoga therapy, which has demonstrated potential in mitigating the effects of Long COVID and supporting the healing process.

Through an examination of studies, research, and physician accounts, we gain valuable insights into the symptoms and impact of Long COVID on the human body. Notably, many studies and specialized Long COVID recovery clinics highlight the importance of breathwork as a central component of treatment. This aligns with the core focus of yoga therapy, raising optimism about its potential to alleviate Long COVID symptoms and facilitate recovery.

Understanding Long COVID and Its Symptoms

Long COVID, also referred to as post-COVID-19 syndrome, encompasses a range of new, returning, or persistent symptoms that manifest more than four weeks after the initial COVID-19 infection. According to The Atlantic, it is estimated that “10 to 30 percent of those infected have long-term symptoms” of COVID-19. These symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, insomnia, fevers, changes in smell and taste, shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, depression, anxiety, muscle or joint pain, and gastrointestinal issues.

Of particular interest is the overlap between Long COVID and conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encephalomyelitis (CFS/ME). In a June 2022 study, researchers found that while Long COVID patients report “less severe pain and fatigue overall” than CFS patients, the cognitive and physical symptoms of both conditions are very similar.
Yoga therapy has shown promise in alleviating symptoms of chronic fatigue. This makes the similarities between Long COVID, CFS/ME, and chronic fatigue an intriguing avenue for exploration. Medical professionals like Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, MD, PhD, editor-in-chief of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), have noted the importance of investigating the shared symptom clusters and variations across these conditions.

Addressing Long COVID Symptoms with Yoga Therapy

One of the recommended treatment options for Long COVID involves breathing therapy and retraining, which aligns with the fundamental principles of yoga therapy. For instance, a pilot program at Mount Sinai reported improvements in symptoms such as shortness of breath and fatigue among Long COVID patients following a week of breathwork exercises similar to coherent breathing. Yoga therapists often work with clients to regulate the autonomic nervous system through breathwork techniques. By doing so, yoga therapy can enhance the manageability of Long COVID symptoms and potentially alleviate them. 

Coherent breathing, involving diaphragmatic breathing at a rate of 5-6 breaths per minute, has demonstrated positive effects on heart rate variability, relaxation of the nervous system, and potentially the regulation of the immune system. Proper breathing is vital for lymphatic system circulation, which is closely linked to immune function. Additionally, coherent breathing helps mitigate exhaustion and fatigue by enabling the nervous system to relax and conserve energy.

Yoga therapy also encompasses other strategies, including gentle physical movement, mobility and strength maintenance, practices promoting rest and rejuvenation like yoga nidra and prana nidra, enhanced mind-body awareness, and meditation techniques for symptom management.

The Empowering Nature of Yoga Therapy

Yoga therapy focuses on each patient as an individual, providing a one-on-one healing program to help patients mitigate symptoms. By addressing each individual’s needs and limitations, yoga therapists facilitate nervous system regulation, strengthening, and pain management for patients with Long COVID or other chronic conditions.

Are you looking to refer your Long COVID patients to a yoga therapist? Yoga Therapy Associates provides certified, individualized integrative health care to meet your patients’ needs. We specialize in the treatment of individuals who may not be responsive to Western interventions alone. Schedule a meeting with us to learn more about how yoga therapy can help your patients.

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