Having Covid or living with someone who does is no joke, but sometimes, lying in bed for days on end can make us feel worse. Here’s how to move gently to support your body during isolation.
Like so many people, my partner has Covid. He’s locked in his room, having meals left for him to pick up when I’m safely downstairs. After a few days of being bed-bound, he asked me to leave a yoga mat outside his door and since then, he’s been taking regular screen breaks to stretch and balance – something he claims is making him feel infinitely better.
Movement often makes us feel more energetic, happy and strong. It distracts us from brain noodling over things like cancelled Christmas plans. But we haven’t heard much about how to exercise with Covid and what kinds of moves or poses might help with newer symptoms like headaches, brain fog and congestion.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be anything as prescriptive as yoga. Olivia Brierley is the founder of the Mindsoul Movement Library, and she says that “gentle and mindful movement is done intuitively and with great awareness”.
“It means looking inward at the body’s needs and listening to those internal cues to determine what practice and movement to engage with that day.”
The first thing to consider, obviously, is whether you genuinely feel up to moving. Brierley says: “It is essential for anyone experiencing mild Covid symptoms to take a body scan and assess how the mind and body are feeling on that particular day. Once you have considered how your body feels, you can then match your movement accordingly.”
By day five, you might still be feeling like you’ve got the mother of all migraines and in that case, there’s probably not much point in trying anything else but sleep. However, if you are up to it, home yoga can be good, says Chatty Dobson, yoga teachers and owner of Flex Chelsea.
Brierley says: “Engaging in the right exercise class and being mindful while you move can be extremely beneficial physically and psychologically.”
If, for example, you’re feeling overwhelmed by lethargy or fatigue, a 20-minute low-intensity pilates sequence may be a good option. “Opting for a low-impact workout gives you that short, sharp energy boost to help get you through your day or evening,” she continues. “If you feel lethargic, then slow, controlled movements will help you recharge. Practising pilates will relieve a compressed, tense body and create awareness, giving you more strength and energy.”
Meanwhile, meditation can help to get a handle on feeling stressed or overwhelmed. She believes that “everyone can benefit from gentle movement and moving mindfully if they are experiencing mild Covid symptoms, but the vital thing to remember is that no one size fits all.” It’s about tuning into how you feel on that particular day and then engaging in movement that is right for you.
Even if you don’t have Covid but you’re worried about catching it or you’re anxious about the general state of play, yoga can be great “as it connects your breath to the movement,” Dobson tells Stylist. “It makes you breathe deeper, it expands the airways – all of the things we need to be doing. Whether that is pure asana (moving practice) or just sitting still with your hand on the heart and one on the tummy.”
Of course, it’s really important to stress that if you feel really ill, doing yoga won’t help. “Don’t force yourself or punish yourself if you’re not up to moving,” Dobson confirms. “But it’s always worth thinking about how you’re breathing, and that in itself, is yoga.”
That might mean sitting up in bed to take some big breaths or closing your eyes to concentrate on taking steady sips of air for a few minutes. If nothing else, that moment of mindfulness offers a mental break from continually thinking about being unwell.
For reducing Covid symptoms
If you do have mild symptoms, then Dobson recommends trying the following gentle backbends for opening up the lungs and chest. “It’s winter, so we’re cold and tend to huddle ourselves over to protect our organs,” she explains. “This closes everything up and makes us also feel vulnerable and shy. We want to open up our shoulders, open up our lungs.”
Deborah Berryman is a senior yoga teacher with Yoga Alliance Professionals and is a registered mindfulness teacher. She says that the following pose “reproduces the belly-down position doctors recommend for COVID patients, helping to recruit collapsed or poorly utilised lung tissue”.
- Begin on your belly with your feet hip distance and your hands reaching back, palms down.
- Reach your big toes straight back and press down with all ten toenails to activate your legs.
- Keeping your hands lightly on the mat, raise your head, shoulders and chest.
- Roll your shoulders back and up away from the floor. Keep the back of your neck long and emphasise lifting your sternum instead of lifting your chin.
- To come out of the pose, slowly release.
- Repeat three-to-five times if you can, inhaling to lift the torso into extension and exhaling to relax back to the floor or bed.
- Sit down and catch hold of opposite elbows behind your back, drawing the forearms down towards your bum or towards the floor.
- If you’re more flexible in your shoulders, you could do the same but interlace your fingers behind your back.
- Roll up a pillow as much as you can and lie down on it so that the long way of the pillow goes in line with your spine.
- Lie with soles of feet together, knees wide apart (if comfortable for your hips, alternatively can have legs straight or bent with knees).
- Open your arms out wide to a ‘T’ and let your neck relax. She recommends staying in that position for five minutes to really open up the chest and airwaves.
For reducing Covid anxiety
Berryman recommends the following breath retention sequence for “strengthening lung tissue and respiratory system, supporting recovery and calming the mind”.
- Make sure you are sitting upright and comfortably.
- Take a slow, deep breath in through your nose and hold it at the top for a count of three (if you can) then let it go gently from your mouth. Repeat three-to-four times.
- Gentle, relaxed breathing for 20-30 seconds
- Repeat steps three and three through five times.
- Simply go onto all fours and then sit back onto your heels.
- Stretch your arms out ahead of you with hands on the floor.
- Slowly bring your forehead down to the ground and breathe.
“Following a simple sun salutation is also good for anxiety as it becomes that simple moving meditation,” says Dobson. “Once you’ve done it two or three times, you sort of forget what you were doing. If you’re concentrating on the breath and the movements, you get into the rhythm and the flow so it can take your mind off things.”
Look on YouTube for simple guides.
For more soothing yoga ideas, check out our range of How To videos, over on the Strong Women Training Club.
Miranda Larbi is the editor of Strong Women and Strong Women Training Club. A qualified personal trainer and vegan runner, she can usually be found training for the next marathon, seeking out vegan treats or cycling across London on a pond-green Tokyo bike.