Breathing Through a Pandemic
Updated: Oct 12, 2020
On center stage of this pandemic are our beautiful and sometimes fragile, human lungs. For thousands in hospital with COVID-19, the struggle to breathe by ravaged lungs is a struggle to live. Hospital workers on the front-line find it hard to breathe while wearing personal protection equipment. We were asked by wellness coach, Carol Scott, to provide tips on breathing for her colleagues, particularly those who are working on the front-line in personal protective equipment.
We are all more conscious of breathing, knowing that if we have been infected, our breath spreads the virus whether or not we have symptoms. Many of us spend a good deal of our waking hours holding our breath, bracing for the next wave of bad news. Pandemic times are breathtaking, remarkable and astonishing in how they are taking our breath away in so many ways. Pre-pandemic, it was easy to take for granted the ability to breathe, not seeing it as a valuable possession, and forgetting that life starts with the first breath and ends with the last. Those of us who are breathing with healthy lungs now, know that breathing is a most precious gift. We also know that so long as we can breathe freely, we can be strong and able members of the team that carries us all through pandemic recovery, when that time comes.
Reflecting on the profundity of breathing in this moment, I reached out to EDDIE HARROLD, a master of modeling and teaching the art and science of breathing to executives, athletes, and coaches. Eddie helps us appreciate that the simple act of breathing properly is the path to calm, focus, resilience, and a healthy immune system. Here are some of Eddie’s wise tips on breathing with benefits.
Use your nose. Breathe deep. Slow your breath. Try the four-part breath. Try the ocean sound breath.
Nose breathing Give extra attention to breathing through the nose, and not the mouth, which engages the lungs’ air filtration system, the tiny hairs or cilia in nasal passages designed to protect the lungs from foreign invaders like viruses.
Breathing under stress is quick and shallow, inhaling and exhaling into the upper portion of the lungs where nerves signal a challenge and activate a stress response (sympathetic nervous system).
Imagine your lungs as balloons that you are slowly filling up with air from the bottom of your lungs, all the way to the top of your lungs just under your collar bone. Notice the diaphragm pushing down as you inhale allowing the lungs and ribcage to expand, and rising up when you exhale. Keep your shoulders down and still.
Breathing low and deep stimulates the nerves at the bottom of the lungs, activating the relaxation response (parasympathetic nervous system). Nasal, diaphragmatic breathing enhances the production of nitric oxide in the nasal passages, which boosts the immune system.
Take long, slow breaths
Breathing deeply in itself lengthens and slows the pace of the breath. When the rate of breathing is fewer than ten breaths a minute (6 seconds per breath), the relaxation response is activated. When we breathe at a rate of 4-6 breaths a minute (10-15 seconds per breath), the heart rate slows down and heart rate variability improves, with more relaxation and recovery. Experiment with a four-part breath, counting to 5 on a full, slow, deep inhale, and a pause for 3 at the top of the inhale. Then count to five or more on a slow, full exhale, and pause at the bottom of the exhale for 3, or longer until the natural urge to inhale arrives. Notice a pleasant stillness of the mind when you gently pause your breath at the top and the bottom of the breath.
Try the ocean sound breath
Who knows whether we will be together on beaches anytime soon, so in the meantime play around with the ocean sound breath. Make an ocean sound with your breath: it sounds like DARTH VADER. Slow the pace, breathing in and out slowly and deeply. The ocean sound helps slows the pace of breathing because we are constricting the epiglottis muscle on the inhale and exhale.
Next time the pandemic takes your breath away, bring it back. Rather than unconsciously holding your breath, inhale and exhale through your nose, deep and slow. Add a conscious pause, a shortcut to a calm and still mind. Then… Breathe in your vehicle before you go into your workplace.. Breathe in the shift change huddle IF you are a leader, practice ’team breathing’ Breathe before your put on PPE Breathe on breaks (if you get one). Alone or with a partner. Breathe after a challenging case or code Breathe when you get back into your vehicle. Breathe deeply with those with COVID-19 who are struggling to breathe. Breathe slowly to appreciate health care workers on the front line.
Breathing is our future!
Onward and upward. Coach Meg & EDDIE HARROLD