It has been almost three years but Monisha Raja said she is still suffering from COVID-19 after being diagnosed in March 2020.
“I still have fatigue, sometimes joint pains,” Raja said. However, her long COVID is different from others as she “didn’t have any problems with my lungs,” she said.
Raja attributes her resilient breathing to decades of yoga and its pranayama breathing technique. Her condition caught the attention of her doctor, Dr. Mount Sinai Doctors Medical Group’s Ragiv Agashiwala, who told her to “get into it”.
Raja said yoga made it easier for her to breathe when she first contracted COVID and continues to do so now. It was working with Agashiwala to heal that she realized she could help other people with long COVID.
“I said, ‘If it works wonders for you, maybe you should try it with some of your other clients,'” Agashiwala said.
She has been teaching yoga for 23 years and is now helping to create a posture and breathwork curriculum designed to protect the pulmonary system from COVID.
William Bushell, senior researcher at the Chopra Foundation Institute for Consciousness Studies, is one of the authors of the research and says that pranayama breathing is part of Raja’s success.
“Several forms of pranayama are effective in minimizing the effects of COVID,” Bushell said.
“I can go back to some of these practices that help calm the nervous system,” Raja added.
Raja founded Yoga for Covid in May 2020 and has taught around 100 students since the program began. She teaches virtually and in person.
“These breathing exercises expand the lungs,” she said.
Researchers believe that breathing helps clear what is known as the glymphatic system. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is a waste removal system that supports the central nervous system.
“This is viewed as part of the brain fog associated with long-term COVID,” Bushell said.
And aside from helping your brain, Bushell said how you position your body can make a difference, including prone poses where students lie on their stomachs.
“That frees up the back lungs, where most of the lung volume is,” Bushell said.
Angeline Urie, a student attending the yoga session, said she has seen an improvement in her long-standing COVID symptoms since the program began.
“As someone in their mid-50s, it was a little bit harder to shake, so I’m just grateful to bring the attention to my nervous system and lungs,” Urie said.
Raja said she is pleased that her students are feeling better and whether or not this catches on as the curriculum develops, she is already reaping the benefits.
“Physically, I am in the best of health when I practice this,” Raja said.
To learn more about this yoga class, visit the website.