Indian Ink
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Indian Ink

Power-breathe the coronavirus away

I have seen breath-control cure asthma, so why not corona?

Keep coronavirus under control with a simple breathing exercise (Photo by irham bahtiar on Unsplash)

A couple of weeks ago, I was down with the flu. It had all the usual symptoms like a running nose, occasional sneezing fits, sore throat, infected sinuses, headaches. But this time around, there was a difference. My chest was affected and I found myself coughing more than usual. Now my policy with the flu is to ignore it and continue with my life as usual. This includes going for my 5 km jog at dawn. But with this flu, I somehow found myself unable to jog. I assumed it was due to the flu, and I decided to give myself a break and walk instead of run. To my surprise, I found myself unable to work up a brisk pace with even the older walkers zooming past me. Something was not right.

It struck that I was experiencing something new. I unplugged my earphones, and focussed on my body. I wasn’t tired, my legs seemed fine, no joint aches… all systems seemed to be humming along fine. Except for my breathing, which seemed to be a bit weird. It was not like when you do a short sprint and gasp for air. This was the reverse. I was not struggling for breath at all. But I was just unable to speed up my walking pace. It felt like my lung capacity seemed oddly reduced. It was almost as if lungs had become smaller. This was something I had never experienced before.

Why I wasn’t scared

The moment I figured out I had breathing issues, my antenna went up. I had read that shortness of breath was a symptom of coronavirus. The problem is you can only get tested for coronavirus in India if you have traveled abroad or been in touch with people who have the bug. I didn’t fit the bill. Could I have caught the bug while jogging or brushing a carrier at the supermarket? Possible.

Oddly enough, I wasn’t really worried. Thing is my wife used to have a similar breathing issue. She has asthma, which sometimes makes it a struggle for her to just breathe. The first time I saw her gasping for air, I felt that if she could cough out the phlegm in her lungs, she would be fine.

And I was confident I knew how to clear her chest. (I must add here that I have nothing to do with medical profession. But I dislike hospitals and medicines, and I must be doing something right as it’s years since I’ve even popped a pill of any sort.)

Anyway, when I was in my teens, I used to attend a karate class. One of the things I learned there, was a breathing exercise, called the Sanchin kata. Though it was just breathing, it was a rigorous exercise that would leave me soaked with sweat.

The kata definitely isn’t supposed to be a cure for breathing issues. But I had serendipitously discovered that doing the exercise while having a chest infection cleared out the crap from my my chest. It seemed to me the exercise strengthened the doer’s lungs. I reasoned if it worked for me, it should work for my wife. So I taught her the kata. The exercise proved to be surprisingly effective. After practising it for just a few days, her chest cleared up. That was the end of her breathing troubles. Though dust still triggers off her asthma, it’s usually a mild attack, and she has never needed to take any medicine for it.

If this breathing exercise can beat asthma, it should be able to beat the coronavirus too.

Breath Control

The original karate exercise is a long series of steps called a kata. However, I have just taken one particular sequence of six steps and repeated it endlessly. Since this exercise involves power-breathing, it should ideally be done on an empty stomach. No food, no water, no nothing. Before breakfast is good. If you are doing it later in the day, make sure you do it at least 4–6 hours after your last meal. I follow a two-meal-a-day diet. So I do the exercise twice a day. Once before breakfast, and once before dinner.

Enough talk, let’s get down to action

Let me take you through the actual exercise.

You breathe in through your nose. Breathe out through your mouth. Feet together, stand straight, chest out, shoulders back.

Now reach out with both hands like you are grabbing the air. Then pull the air in slowly through your nose, but with all the strength you can muster. First, fill your belly like a balloon. Then the back of your chest. Feel your shoulders rise. Finally, fill the front of your chest by opening out your shoulders. Draw in as much air as you can.

Hold for a second. Now breathe out slowly, but in the reverse sequence. Let your chest collapse, then let your shoulders drop, and finally, expel the air in your tummy by tightening your abs as hard as you can. Ideally, breathing out should take twice as long as breathing in.

Let me demo it. I have set the video below to skip to 1:21 – 3:11 and go directly to the actual demo.

If you plan to see the full video, which is an alternate, shorter version of this story, I suggest you turn on the subtitles. I tend to stumble over words while recording, and later often find that even I can’t understand what I’m saying!

The circus is in town, with two shows a day.

Repeat the exercise until you manage to cough out all the crap in your chest.

Do as many reps as you can till you feel there’s nothing more in your chest to clear out. That above demo was just a couple of minutes. But I usually do the exercise for nearly half an hour. This adds up to a whole load of crap being expelled from my chest. After the exercise, my entire chest and throat feel clear and light. I tell you it’s such a relief and pleasure to breathe freely. Sadly, my chest usually fills up again by evening, and so the circus goes on!

Go the whole hog

I would like to add that I do the full exercise (the complete Sanchin Kata) as it is much more effective. I strongly recommend you do the same. The initial moves serve as a warmup for your lungs. So by the time you reach the ‘fast breathing’ part, there is a much better probability of being able to expel the gunk in your chest. Though the movements seem a bit more complex, it’s not that hard. The video below demonstrates the full kata, with an intro explaining the stances, hand and leg moves, and turns.

Demo of the full Sanchin Kata, viewed from different angles

Learn from the professionals

I did search the net for a demo of the kata by a proper karate instructor. Couldn’t find any good ones, except for the one shown below. My version of Sanchin Kata is different. But the basics are sort of similar, and the Japanese instructor does a very good job of explaining the moves.

My Personal Experience

Coming to my recent breathing difficulties, I started doing the exercise and in a couple of days my chest cleared up to a large extent. I was soon back to jogging at my usual pace of 6 min/km. My chest isn’t 100% clear so I will keep doing the exercise till it’s back to normal (This is similar to what many of those who have recovered from coronavirus have reported). I don’t know if what I had was coronavirus or just a common flu but some of the symptoms were definitely unusual. Especially the odd feeling I had about my lung capacity being reduced.

Curious, I went online to see if I could get a better understanding of what coronavirus actually does to our lungs. The video below does exactly that. It’s worth watching as the surgeon explains why the virus is deadly, in a way that is easy to understand, though it’s a bit scary. What interested me was the part about how the virus causes our lungs to lose their elasticity and hence their capacity to absorb oxygen. Damn!

Did I really catch the virus? I know that crap I was coughing out from my chest wasn’t the normal phlegm. It was a kind of a clear, watery liquid and tasted funny. But I may never know what I had unless I’m tested, which seems unlikely to happen considering that tests are reserved for dire cases. I did speak to a doctor who suggested I get screened for tuberculosis! That’s a plot twist which can only be resolved after India’s lockdown is unlocked.

I can’t get no ventilator

Anyway, if you feel yourself coming down with coronavirus symptoms, especially breathing issues, you might do well to consider the exercise. Obviously, the best thing is to get professional help. But the question is can you yourself do something to prevent things from getting worse? I firmly believe this exercise will help (or any similar breathing exercise). You should be able to clear your chest enough to avoid being seriously affected.

Try it. You got nothing to lose but the crap in your chest. And avoiding being hooked to a ventilator. Always assuming you get one!

One last thing

This exercise is taken from karate, which is all about self-defense. So what we are doing is practising self-defense against a virus.

Go on. Be a corona fighter.

#beacoronafighter

Update: It seems JK Rowling also believes that she had the coronavirus and recovered using another breathing technique recommended by a doctor. My technique is a bit more aggressive but it’s not like rocket science. Any good athlete can work out their own technique to cough out the crap in their chest efficiently.

So if you suspect you have the virus, do some breathing exercise, people. It could be the difference between life and death.

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Zero, Yoga, Chili... there’s a little bit of India in everyone

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