How To Breathe for COVID-19

Uncategorized Mar 31, 2020

Coronavirus is a respiratory disease. Therefore, how we breathe is essential to potential prevention, protection & how we can find peace in this storm.

Well gang, by now we’ve all experienced the crippling social and economic challenges of Coronavirus in our lives. And while few of us will probably get it, (fingers crossed and our love goes out to those who have suffered in any way) there are things we can do to prevent further spread, protect ourselves from severe symptoms, and develop inner peace through this global pandemic.

What we know about Coronavirus is that severe symptoms tend to occur in people with compromised immune and respiratory systems, while younger people and those with strong immune and respiratory systems are able to overcome it and experience only milder symptoms.

It is basically a respiratory disease that is passed through respiratory droplets that pass through our nose (sneeze) or mouth (coughing, yawning, talking). Once infected, it spreads by attacking the cells of the lungs and eventually can cause more respiratory problems like bronchitis and pneumonia. In fatal conditions the lungs are deprived of their ability to generate oxygen to the blood, which leads to organ failure and death.

What this tells us are a few essential things: 1) People with compromised immune & respiratory systems are at an increased risk of severe symptoms, 2) Our body’s ability to exchange oxygen between cells is essential to our survival if we experience severe symptoms, 3) It is spread through our breath.

These somewhat critical factors should be important to all of us, and they are influenced by common breathing habits. Basically, we can help prevent and protect ourselves from the severe effects of COVID-19 (and other viruses like the flu) by focusing on how we breathe right now and into the future.

This article is intended to empower you with supplemental awareness along with effective breathwork practices for strengthening your immune and respiratory system to fight against viral infection and improve our overall health. These same practices can help you achieve and maintain inner peace, thereby reducing stress which has a direct effect on your immune system and your well-being. 

 Anyone who can breathe can learn to use their breath to be healthier and happier, and help prevent the systematic burden of coronavirus and increase their chances against respiratory related viruses.


The Stress-Breath Connection

Our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) controls all our vital functions, most of which we are unaware of, and also includes the respiratory system. The ANS is like the master control system of our physiological health, and it extends to our emotional health as well.

If we are overly stressed this reflects throughout the ANS which directly shows up in the quality of our breath. Someone who is stressed often will breathe through the mouth, more rapid and shallow, and from the upper chest as if in a slight panic. If our life is more chill or balanced (stress is good when balanced) this shows up in our ANS as well, and in turn, our breathing is more relaxed, deeper, slower, and through the nose. This preferable type of breathing is more from the diaphragm, rather than the chest.

Therefore, our breath mirrors the effects of stress in our lives, and this extends to our overall health, especially our body’s ability to protect itself from disease.

The cool thing about this stress-breath connection is that we can reverse engineer the process… by consciously breathing in healthy ways we can actually take control over stress and therefore improve the health of our immune and respiratory systems. If our breath shows the symptoms of years of stress, we can use specific breathing exercises to reverse this process and over time, bring our body, mind, and energy into a more cohesive, optimal, and balanced state.

Likewise, for someone who suffers from a compromised immune or respiratory system due to apnea, asthma, or other chronic diseases, breathwork provides an effective supplement to improving these conditions and thereby strengthening one’s ability to fight disease.


Health Starts With How We Breathe

Somewhere in our human evolution, probably around the emergence of modern agriculture, we started to predominantly breathe through our mouths. Mouth breathing is one of the most unhealthy habits our ANS has adapted, and most of us are unaware of it. The general rule of thumb, when we breathe through our mouth we are giving ourselves a better chance to die sooner rather than later. This is primarily because it weakens our immune system, causes oxidative stress, and removes our first line of defense from external diseases, such as viruses, bacteria, toxins, etc. (BTW, we typically mouth breathe at night when we are unaware of it.)

Why is mouth breathing so bad?

What happens when you run an engine without a fuel filter? You get a ton of impurities in that engine and it functions at less than optimal level. Over time the function of that engine gets worse until it eventually breaks down. The same theory goes for our respiratory system. When we breathe through our mouth we are breathing without a filter. Over time this will have an adverse effect on our overall health.

Think about this, in a single day we breathe in as much as 10-20,000 liters of air. In that amount of air lies 100’s of billions of bacteria, viruses, and other particles (according to research at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden). If we are sucking all that air in through our mouth, then we are dumping all those foreign bodies directly into our lungs and our blood, and this is not good.

Mouth breathing also releases excess carbon dioxide which cuts off oxygen to the brain. Mouth breathing also makes us less resilient to carbon dioxide, and this leads to increased hyperventilation… which cuts off more oxygen to the brain! This also lowers VO2 max, our body's ability to transfer oxygen between cells, which metabolically speaking, affects our overall health and includes energy, weight loss, fatigue, recovery, cellular health, cellular growth, etc. VO2 max is especially important in the severe symptoms of COVID-19 because fatality results in the body’s inability to distribute oxygen to its cells. Raise your VO2 max and you decrease the potential of this from happening.

Mouth breathing also leads to dehydration, as we release 42% more moisture through our mouth rather than our nose. If you wake up dehydrated and with a dry mouth you are probably a nighttime mouth breather.

Moisture released through the mouth plays a role in the spread of certain viruses, such as COVID-19, which is spread through water droplets that emit from our lungs and exit out our mouth. Hopefully, you’re starting to understand how mouth breathing is a major health problem we should all be aware of.


The Importance of Nose Breathing

Thankfully, we have a nose for good reason, to breathe properly!

The nose is designed as our filter to protect us from the harmful elements of our environment. Likewise, nose breathing produces Nitric Oxide (NO), one of the most essential elements to the health of our blood and our body. Subsequently, NO has been shown to inhibits the reproduction cycle of Coronavirus!

Nose breathing is not overall prevention from Coronavirus, however, it can significantly limit your chance of contracting it, spreading it, and it will also strengthen your body’s ability to fight it.

NO is a vasodilator, meaning it relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels, causing the vessels to widen. In this way, nitric oxide increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure. (If you are wondering as to the secret of Viagra, you’ve found it! So as a bonus, this article also teaches us how to address ED without the expense or embarrassment of the need for a pill.)

Nitric Oxide and nose breathing also play an essential role in protecting our body from viruses, bacteria, and disease. Combined they are antiviral, antibacterial, and antimicrobial! About 75% of all particles and viruses in the air are filtered through our nose. Therefore, breathing through our nose is our first line of defense against any viruses.

Nitric oxide sterilizes the air and helps re-distribute oxygen to the lungs. It also helps to increase oxygen in the lungs by 10-15%. The slower we breathe the more NO we uptake… unless we are breathing through the mouth, then we get no benefits of NO through our breath.

In other words, breathe through your nose!


Breathing as Prevention

There are many reasons why, if we breathe properly, we are extending our life and strengthening our chances against viruses and other diseases. Remember, stress and breath go hand in hand, so if we are shallow/chest breathing we are causing oxidative stress to our body. This results in a weakened immune system and inflammation and results in the plethora of different health conditions that arise from stress. This list is really really long, and basically includes the majority of health problems we face as a species.

“We now know that roughly 60% to 90% of doctor visits are for conditions related to stress.” - Harvard Mind/Body Institute

“The chemical reactions triggered by stressful situations result in an onslaught of stress hormones being pumped around the body. While these hormones are useful in acute situations, their ability to interfere with the immune system can result in inflammation, reduced white blood cells, and a higher susceptibility to infection and tissue damage.”

Stress is going to make us more susceptible to the severe symptoms of COVID-19 for many reasons. First, it weakens our immune system. Since stress directly affects our autonomic nervous system, which comprises the health of our breathing, lungs, and respiratory system, it is also going to make us more vulnerable because our respiratory system is now weakened from stress and improper breathing. When the COVID-19 infection attacks our system it does so at the respiratory system, putting our immune system into overdrive placing us at higher risk.

Hypoxia (extreme and prolonged low blood oxygen levels) is the underlying cause of organ shutdown and eventual death from COVID-19. Nitric Oxide has been shown to help prevent this outcome by inhibiting the replication cycle of SARS-Coronavirus. And therefore, proper nose breathing practices will not only strengthen our respiratory system, they also increase NO consumption in the body, which may directly counter the severe symptoms of COVID-19. (Likewise, studies are being conducted to see if the use of an inhaler supplemented with Nitric Oxide can reduce the symptoms of COVID-19.


Finding Peace in The Storm

Breathwork is the ultimate hack for our ANS, and basically, the best tool we have for taking control of our health and well-being. (Just google “Wim Hof The Iceman” to see how we can defy science through breathwork. More on him in Part 2 of this series as well.)

Through using specific techniques, like slowing down our breath, we are naturally activating our parasympathetic nervous system which brings us into a more relaxed and calm state. This alone reduces stress and inflammation and in the long run, brings our immune system back into strength and balance.

Conscious breathing brings us into deeper brain waves which are synonymous with meditation, and therefore we can gain all the benefits of meditation through breathwork, without any experience in meditation. We are not just talking about beginner-level meditation, but rather, anyone can reach the deepest levels of meditation, and its benefits, through breathwork.

I have had plenty of students who have never practiced meditation before reach its deep benefits... and this isn’t unusual. In a single breathwork practice, years of trauma can be released, a peak-state can lead to a life-changing realization, or a person might have a novel discovery for solving a complex problem. As Einstein said, “I think 99 times and find nothing. I stop thinking, swim in silence, and the truth comes to me.” That is the power of meditation.


Testing Your Breath: BOLT Score & VO2 Max

As mentioned already, your VO2 Max will measure your body's efficiency of transferring oxygen at the cellular level. Theoretically, this should apply directly to our body’s resilience to the severe effects of COVID-19. This is a measurement you can improve upon through specific breathwork practices like Buteyko breathing, available in our Vagal Toning Breathwork.

  1. Breathe at a normal rate through the nose for a few breaths.
  2. Exhale as you normally do and hold your breath by pinching your nose.
  3. Count the number of seconds you are able to hold before experiencing discomfort.
  4. Begin breathing and if your inhale seems deeper than normal then your count was too long. 
  5. Continue until you find the point where you can hold the breath out for a number of seconds, and begin breathing again at a normal relaxed breath. This count is your BOLT score.

A BOLT Score of anything below 10 is considered very unhealthy breathing, between 10-20 is Okay to good, and above 20 is considered healthy.  We want to strive from 40 to be in a state of very healthy breathing.


Vagal Toning Breathwork®

Whether one has a compromised immune or respiratory system due to stress, or not, we can use breathing practices to improve the health of these systems. For someone with apnea, asthma, or other chronic diseases that compromise the immune or respiratory system controlled breathing practices (pranayama) is a simple, free, and universally available option for improved health.

We developed Vagal Toning Breathwork® (VTB) as a practice that can incorporate a multitude of specific breathwork benefits into a single application in a short amount of time, typically only 10-20 minutes a day. This is what we offer all our students as a daily practice to reverse engineer the damage stress has caused on our lives and to bring ourselves back into optimal health and well-being at the energetic/cellular level. You can learn more about it and find a free version on our homepage by subscribing to our free minicourse. Or if you want the full experience of the benefits of breathwork, you can join our online course Transcendental Breathwork here.

Benefits we can receive from Vagal Toning Breathwork that directly relate to COVID-19:

  • Management over stress and anxiety and bringing our ANS into balance
  • Increased Nitric Oxide levels, thereby potentially inhibiting the reproduction cycles of SARS-Coronavirus
  • Better breathing, which opens up our nasal passageway and reduces the harmful effects of mouth breathing and apnea
  • Improved respiratory function and lung strength
  • Increased BOLT score which increases VO2 max 

Suggestions to prevent the spread and strengthen your resilience to Coronavirus:

  • Breathe through your nose only, especially in public places. Try not to talk in crowded areas like the grocery store.
  • Tape your mouth at night. Yes, this is a common practice.
  • Do breathing exercises for 
    • Reducing stress, 
    • Strengthening the immune system & 
    • Strengthening the respiratory system
    • Building NO.
  • Do cold therapy (we will talk about this more in part 2.)

Brian Assam is a certified breathwork facilitator, kundalini, and vinyasa yoga instructor. Along with his partner Alecia Heimes, we run Breathe and Believe and mentor people to well-being, peak performance, and optimal health through breathwork and mindfulness. We have hosted hundreds of events for thousands of people on the transformational, healing, and empowering powers of breathwork and the mind-body-energy connection. We are not doctors nor medical professionals. These statements have not been approved by the FDA, and in no way should be seen as a cure or overall prevention from viruses such as SARS, Coronavirus, other viruses or chronic disease.


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