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Long COVID yoga programme: how did we do?

Last week it was reported that 7 out of 10 patients who were hospitalised with COVID-19 were still experiencing symptoms 5 months later. The UK-wide Phosp-Covid study (which has yet to be peer reviewed) followed over 1000 patients, and reported that 5 months after having COVID, they had an average of 9 symptoms each. The range of symptoms is wide and varied, but the 10 most common were: muscle pain, fatigue, physical slowing down, impaired sleep quality, joint pain or swelling, limb weakness, breathlessness, pain, short-term memory loss, and slowed thinking. More than a quarter also reported anxiety and depression.

There’s not a great deal of help out there for long COVID, yet. With our yoga programme, we were simply offering a time and space for people to explore how they could manage their own symptoms – we are not providing treatment or therapy (we’re yoga teachers, not medics). That means we were trying to test the waters, find out what might be helpful, and what might not. We were not attempting to directly treat any symptoms of long COVID (we’re yoga teachers… not medics). It’s all about holding space, providing opportunity for people to develop their own wellbeing, and offering people some time for themselves.

What did we do?

We offered a 6-week yoga programme to anyone who is recovering from COVID-19 and living in the Colne Valley, Kirklees. 6 people took part, and 5 of them provided feedback at the end.

The sessions were a combination of relaxation techniques, focusing on the breath, and some gentle yoga-based movements. The yogis were asked to do what felt right for their bodies on that day – no obligation or pressure to do everything. (This is always the case in a yoga class). We had 10 minutes at the end of each session where the participants could talk with each other. We talked about the yoga session as well as their ongoing experiences of long COVID.

Feedback from beneficiaries:

  • 4/5 people thought the yoga sessions helped them physically, 1 was unsure (e.g., with any feelings of tension in the body, energy levels, or any muscular pains). They said it helped with muscle tension, opening up the chest, and posture.

  • All 5 participants said the yoga sessions helped them mentally. (e.g., with feelings of stress or low mood). They said it helped with stress and feeling positive.

  • All 5 participants said the yoga sessions helped them to feel connected to other people. (i.e., reduced isolation).

  • All 5 participants said they used some of the postures or breathing practices outside of the yoga session. For example, the relaxation techniques, breathing for relaxing for sleep, and some of the lower back stretches.

So, what emerged from our pilot programme?

Overall, this seemed to be a very positive experience for the people that took part. Of course, it’s yet to be seen whether the positive impact will last, but we’ve made a good start. From my perspective, one of the clearest benefits was that this yoga session (9.30am on a Saturday morning) set our yogis up well for the day. A positive outlook and some gentle movement and breath focus to get things going – and this positivity could then be carried with them throughout the day. As one of our yogis said: “The morning sessions worked well and set me up brilliantly for the day.”

We hope to continue this work – details will be shared as soon as we are able to.

This programme was supported by a grant from the Co-Operative Care Colne Valley, and The National Lottery.

Yoga sessions delivered by:

Ellie Firth

Laura Merriman

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