The Elation of the Wheel: Yoga and Long Covid
On returning to an out-of-practice yoga pose in the face of long-covid; rediscovering the ability to breathe.
I’ve lately been trying to return to regular yoga practice. It’s been a while. I used to do yoga daily with a tight-knit group of friends, but as our group drifted apart geographically, so did my good habits! I’ve been on and off attempting to focus myself back to regular practice ever since, but finally, it seems to be covid that has given me the drive to do so.
Last autumn I got covid, and the lingering effects of long-covid have haunted me in the months since (although thankfully, finally, do seem to be easing the last few weeks). My breathing has been quick to turn to breathlessness with fairly minor physical activity. My pulse races along with that, sometimes accompanied by quite alarming chest pains (six-months post-infection I finally got pointed towards a cardiologist about that, and now more testing awaits!). And tiredness can often consume me following what would have once been unthinkingly easy routine tasks and activities.
It has been, to put it mildly, rather frustrating.
I’ve learned to restrain myself. A once routine cyclist for all my comings and goings, I now limit myself to hyper-local necessary tasks, like buying food. Even that can be taxing; the recovery time from even those very short-distance trips seems wholly unreasonable.
Some of what I’m feeling is layered with fear; when my chest tightens, I wonder if 35-year-old me might be about to suffer a heart attack.
I could go on at length about my great frustration, resentment even, for a society that seems perfectly willing to let this cursed disease infect and re-infect us en masse. But that’s a tale (a rant) for another time maybe. I know at least I am lucky it didn’t already do me more critical harm, be it deadly at infection, or an even more crushing form of post-covid.
But yoga at least is helping me.
When I first resumed practice a couple of months post-covid, it was really really hard. My breathing was uncontrollable, even holding the most basic poses sent me spinning into breathlessness. Having significantly reduced my physical activities in the face of that sort of response in day-to-day tasks, this was the first time I really tried to push myself in any way.
Months on, things are much better; poses my lung capacity couldn’t hope to allow to try before are now fairly easy. I can do flows now as readily as I could at the best of my past yoga times.
My breathing still isn’t quite right, it’s definitely more of a struggle to keep it under control sometimes. But that’s why yoga has been so great; so much of yoga practice is exercising that control, that focus, on breathing with how your body is being held, or is moving.
I don’t know if my yoga practice has actually aided my recovery at all — I certainly consider it a possibility; that it might have allowed me to retrain my breathing and physicality somewhat. But it undoubtedly has let me feel my recovery happening very clearly.
One particular pose came as a bit of a revelation; the first time I re-tried doing a wheel (the back bend where you push yourself up on your arms and legs, pictured above). It’s not a pose I generally felt super at ease with even in the before-times, but certainly within my previous ability. It felt for a long time beyond my means in my recent condition.
So when I did finally feel ready to try it again, when I pushed myself up from the ground, when I felt my chest open in a way it hadn’t for months, it was quite something. I took in this enormous breath unlike any I had known for so long, and it was almost overwhelmingly liberating. I could breathe; I could feel my chest so full of air.
After months of the most uncomfortable difficult shallow breathing, to let my lungs fill to capacity thanks to the wheel opening my chest was such a revelatory feeling!
I’ve been craving and enjoying chest-opening poses ever since.
I’ve been feeling quite miserable that I might be stuck as this feeble version of myself, so it was quite a reversal to feel progress, to feel my body working as it should be. I feel so grateful for that pose giving me back some sense of freedom, of hope.