A Look at Proper Breathing Technique during COVID-19 Pandemic

mindful meditation focused on breathing can help relaxation and improve respiratory health

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A breathing exercise from a London hospital may help treat patients with COVID-19, Occupational Health and Safety reported Monday. Two prominent patients—Harry Potter author J. K. Rowling and CNN’s Chris Cuomo—both said the treatment helped them. Proper breathing is also key in meditation and relaxation.

young man breathing outdoors
Focusing on your breathing during mindful meditation begins with noticing how you inhale and exhale, paying attention to each breath. Photo by Antonio Guillem / Shutterstock

According to Occupational Health and Safety, one of the biggest problems with COVID-19 is that it hinders our ability to breathe. “This virus’s fatal possibility is creating hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues) by attacking the ability of the lungs to and circulatory system to connect with, and then deliver, life-preserving oxygen to all cells in our body,” the article said. “In essence, it internally suffocates a person, even when oxygen may be abundant outside.”

The article outlined a breathing technique that may help when done in tandem with prescribed treatment. Dr. Sarfaraz Munshi, of Queen’s Hospital in London, recommended taking a deep breath and holding it for five seconds, five times in a row; then coughing once into a cloth; and finally laying prone on the stomach for 10 minutes, which promotes deeper breathing. Dr. Munshi said it expands the lower part of the lungs to expedite the dislodging of mucus, which can then be coughed out.

Proper breathing also helps relax the body when done during meditation.

How to Focus on Breath

“Watching the breath serves two important purposes: One, to calm us, and two, to focus our awareness,” said Dr. Mark W. Muesse, W. J. Millard Professor of Religious Studies, Director of the Asian Studies Program, and Director of the Life: Then and Now Program at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. “But observing the breath can also teach us many things about the world and ourselves.”

Dr. Muesse said there are many methods to observe our breath during meditation and each one is worth a try. The first is to focus on your breath by paying attention to the sensation of air flowing in and out through your nostrils. This involves finding which area feels the most sensitive when you breathe and paying attention to it.

“A second way to observe breathing is by attending to the abdomen or the chest, as they expand and contract with each breath,” he said. “You may prefer directing your concentration to one of these locations if the sensation at the nostrils seems too subtle to hold your attention. Simply guide your awareness to the place where you most prominently sense the rhythms of your inhalation and exhalation.”

Whichever area of your body you choose to focus on, the important thing is to stick with it. Additionally, Dr. Muesse said, simply let your breath come and go as it does, rather than trying to make it deep or shallow, fast or slow.

“As you focus on your breathing, try to remain merely observant; refrain from engaging in thinking about what you observe,” he said. “Stay attentive to your breath for as long as you can.”

Finally, Dr. Muesse said that it’s alright if your mind wanders. All of us will find that we can’t hold a focus on our breath for too long. When it does, guide your attention back to your breathing without judging yourself. By being aware of what detracts your attention from breath, you’re practicing building your ability to concentrate better.

A brief period of breath-focused meditation can help relax us in the moment and face the day with a clearer head.

Dr. Mark W. Muesse contributed to this article. Dr. Muesse is W. J. Millard Professor of Religious Studies, Director of the Asian Studies Program, and Director of the Life: Then and Now Program at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. He earned a B.A., summa cum laude, in English Literature from Baylor University and a Master of Theological Studies, a Master of Arts, and a Ph.D. in the Study of Religion from Harvard University.