PART THREE: Yogic Behavioral Support via Body, Breath and Mind
Yoga, Breath and COVID-19: lifestyle behavioral support mechanisms
Approaches to manage the physical and psychological burden of stress from living through and after the current global pandemic
A. Specific Yogic Behavioral Support Mechanisms: Prevention and Promotion
Yoga practice techniques that mainly originate from the Hatha yoga tradition over the last 1,000 years possess on the physical side a triple combination of health maintenance, disease prevention, and chronic illness management and cure, as well as being meditational techniques when done with the correct focus. These practices were closely correlated with the ancient Indian medical approach of Ayurveda whereby disease and cure were expressed in Ayurvedic terminology and subsequently Hatha yoga practices of bodily conditioning, cleansing techniques or breath regulation were prescribed as part of the healthcare solution. Since 1920, starting with the first scientific experimental research on elements of yoga by Swami Kuvalayananda, this small but valuable part of comprehensive yoga that offers physical activity and therapeutic methods was framed in the light of modern anatomy and physiology essentially ushering in what is now a century of modern yogic therapy, fully documented in his classic 1961 manuscript Yoga Therapy. From this and subsequent work done over the decades it is clear that yoga techniques offer little relief in terms of acute issues and express their full benefit in physiological and psychological support through lifestyle attitudes and behavioral mechanisms especially in terms of chronic disease but also in terms of prevention and the promotion of optimal health. Though some yoga aficionados would argue for the power of mind developed by practice to withstand acute reactions and pain this is attitudinal and does not remove the initial cause of the acute response, namely the contraction of the virus in this instance.
A recent report from the WHO calls for the adaptation of the COVID-19 response to encompass prevention and management of Non-Communicable Disease (NCD) risks given the increased vulnerability in this time to those suffering such morbidities (1). A comprehensive yoga approach’s value in terms of prevention and support as we continue with the reality of COVID-19 disease and the potential exacerbation of NCDs with a threatening comorbidity situation, is to help upregulate the immune system, strengthen the respiratory apparatus, and increase psychological and emotional resilience (2). This is encouraging given evidence that a robust immune response to COVID-19 does occur across different cell types, especially in those considered healthy. Of those infected the majority survive but experience differing severity of symptoms. Kedzierska et al. report, this robust response leads to clinical recovery in patients considered at a non-severe level of COVID-19 (3).