How yoga therapy is uniquely suited to help individuals with long COVID

By Nicole DeAvilla

Many people who have contracted COVID-19 report symptoms that linger beyond the normal recovery time or develop new symptoms over time. This is referred to as long COVID.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that “the range and type of symptoms reported by patients—cardiac or pulmonary deficits, immune and metabolic dysfunction, pronounced fatigue, persistent pain, loss of sleep, dizziness or blackouts, difficulties with thinking and concentration—underscore the need to understand their potential relevance to multiple interrelated physiological systems.” 

Yoga therapy can help.

How can yoga therapy support people with long COVID?

The scientific literature suggests that yoga may be beneficial for a wide range of physiological symptoms. These include

  • improving sleep and reducing stress, 
  • reducing fatigue and improving quality of life in people with chronic conditions, 
  • and decreasing symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Individuals with long COVID often experience these symptoms, making yoga therapy a good choice to help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

A yoga therapist considers each person’s unique set of symptoms, lifestyle, and constitution, supporting clients in managing energy expenditures and replenishing reserves. Yoga therapy can also help clients cope with situational stress. People with long COVID may feel frustrated that they have not been able to return to work or have only been able to do so in a limited capacity. Parents may feel guilty or frustrated that they cannot be fully active with their children. 

Yoga therapy teaches people that they have the power to manage their reactions to stress and (possibly very intense) emotions. This is empowering and supports the healing process. 

If I have long COVID, can I even do yoga therapy?

This concern is natural. Many people think of yoga as vigorous or only accessible to people who are naturally flexible. Yoga therapy is not like that: It meets you where you are. 

A yoga therapist can help you manage energy levels during long COVID with gentle sessions appropriate for your current state. For example, I have worked with clients in their beds when getting up was just not possible. 

What should I expect when I see a yoga therapist for long COVID support?

Yoga therapists are lifestyle specialists and will help you find solutions to your everyday needs. There will be questions about your home and work life. They will do some form of intake, ask about your health history, and observe your breath and posture. Most yoga therapists will continue to assess and evaluate as you practice simple techniques such as pranayama (breathing exercises), asana (postures), or movement. 

Throughout the session, the yoga therapist will observe your energy levels and reactions to the techniques. They will then refine the practices with you as needed. 

This process allows yoga therapists to tailor techniques for you. It is important that you communicate with your yoga therapist to let them know how you are feeling throughout the session. 

The roles of yoga therapy and medical treatment

Some symptoms of long COVID are serious and should be treated by a medical professional. Yoga therapy can be integrated with the treatments and recommendations a client receives from their doctor. For this reason, clients should consider sharing with their yoga therapist what other medical support they are receiving.

Likewise, clients should let their medical providers know that they are working with a yoga therapist. Healthcare professionals can learn more about yoga therapy and its benefits here.* 

People are successfully turning to yoga therapy to help them manage their symptoms of long COVID. I think more people will be well served to seek the care of a yoga therapist along with the care of their medical providers to manage their symptoms and improve health and quality of life. 

Nicole DeAvilla, E-RYT 500, C-IAYT, is faculty at the Ananda Yoga Therapists Training program, mentors yoga professionals, and has an integrative private yoga therapy practice helping people restore their energy, increase focus, and raise their happiness levels.

*Yoga therapists and other healthcare providers: Access IAYT’s long COVID training here