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Better Breathing In The Land of COVID: (The Journey There….)

Updated: Feb 11, 2022

Jeffrey Shoaf C-IAYT

2/6/2022


I’ve been thinking a lot about breathing over the years, in fact since I started

practicing yoga in August of 2002. I’ve been especially thinking about it these last

two years, but differently now as we enter the start of the third year into this

pandemic. COVID has affected so many people of all ages, all genders, all races,

all continents, many of them unfortunately experiencing the worst outcome

possible, and countless others suffering long term consequences, months after

the initial acute phases have passed. This has caused me through recent

research to realize the majority of humans don’t breathe correctly. Most animals

do… Hmmm.


Where this all began…


As the lone middle aged male walking into that yoga studio the first day, the idea

of focused breathing began as a curiosity for me, as more of a by -product of

yoga, almost as a hobby if you will, and unbeknownst to me, my teacher was

indoctrinated in the “out -there”, transformational Kripalu Yoga tradition. It was

none other than Yoganand Michael Carroll. As a person who has danced with

anxiety in various iterations for periods of my life, both consciously and semi-

consciously, I realized intentional breath work was better than external

substances for controlling anxiety, depression, and your garden variety apathy…

For those of you unfamiliar, under -initiated, power breathing (aka pranayama)

as taught in the Kripalu tradition, was intended to be transformative, to change

your world view, to question “everything” you thought you ever knew. Suffice to

say, Yoganand would guide us most every time by uttering at some point during

our class, “Make your practice as strong as you’re willing to make it!”, with the

understanding that if you immerse in these techniques long enough, you’ll realize

you did too much, or as my friend, yoga teacher, and studio owner Jillian says,

you’ll end up with a “prana hangover”. But still, as lesson we all needed to

learn…


Why would a person want to practice so intensely? Well, according to the

masters, we need to:


1). Shake up our ego


2). Interrupt the incessant need to be validated


3). From the anatomical and physiological perspective, the powerful breath work

also frees up fascial restrictions in and around the tissues in the abdominal wall

and free up some of those psychological ones in the insane human mind. This

took me into the realm of coming to understand why the ancients practiced what

they did, and how essential it was/ ( is) to my own physical, spiritual, and emotional well-being. What I did not understand at this time was much of the

biochemical and biomechanics science behind it.


Fast forward to January 2015: My First Myofascial Dissection Lab


After completing massage school, hundreds of yoga immersions; (classes,

workshops and teacher trainings and then becoming certified as an E-RYT500

and yoga therapist), I took it upon myself to begin looking into the science behind

proper breathing and enrolled in Tom Myers, Todd Garcia, and Elizabeth

Larkam’s 5 day intensive out in Phoenix titled “ Fascial Dissection For Movement

Therapists”. Just so happens all five students standing alongside me in front of

recently deceased “Martha” all were interested in the human parts responsible for

respiration. What a delightful coincidence! We learned the physical connections

between the vocal, respiratory, and pelvic diaphragms, all tethered along with

the heart/pericardium, to the spinal highway and rib cage, and also learned if one

off these structures wasn’t “playing nice”, none of them would/could…This

caused me to think back to words I learned long ago by the famed architect Louis

Sullivan that “Form Follows Function” ( from my earlier days as a builder and

construction guy). As I immersed deeper into the study of human anatomy and

physiology, I was called to turn Louis’ phrase around to say “Function Follows

Form” as I saw ( and continue to see) most of us humanoids with pretty lousy

posture, and therefore, with pretty lousy respiratory habits( it works the other way

too) ! I went from remodeling historic homes to remodeling bodies. ( BTW:

Bodies are way harder to change…)


Fast forward to January 2020: Connecting Breathing Practices In The Medical Community


As timing would have it, and as the universe deemed necessary, I was

introduced to Madhavi Parihk, a physicians assistant for Dr. Russ Greenfield, an

integrative medicine specialist at the Novant Cancer Center here in Charlotte,

NC. who learned about my emphasis on breath work as a mainstay for most all

my yoga classes. We had a meaningful conversation that led to my leading a six-

week pranayama ( breath work) class attended some of their colleagues in the

medical and wellness fields, which has since led me to using breathing as a

stress management skill for physicians, staff, and their patients in recovery or

remission from various types of cancers.


Fast forward to March 2020: Covid-19 Arrives In America


I was in New York getting ready to board a flight home after a weekend of visiting

my daughter. The 1:15 flight was canceled due to low numbers of passengers

and the following “make up” flight two hours later had only about 20 people on

board a one hundred fifty seat aircraft. I hadn’t seen a plane that empty in 20

years. I knew something was different, something was wrong.

It was also about this time that, thanks to Whitney Hodges, fellow yoga teacher

and colleague turned me on to a podcast interview with none other than James

Nestor, researcher and journalist extraordinare and promptly bought his book

“Breath”. And then I was down the rabbit hole in earnest, enrolling in a year long

dissection lab here in Charlotte, N.C. to continue my research into the anatomy

and physiology of breathing. And then came Patrick McKeown, brilliant author of

“The Oxygen Advantage” and more recently “The Breathing Cure” who has

spent the bulk of his live researching the biomechanics, biochemistry, and

cadence for optimal breathing for various conditions, including Covid patients.

Combining the ancient wisdom, my own personal anecdotal reports, and modern

science has led me to explore in earnest ways to breathe for our very best

health, whether we’re ill with some respiratory infection or simply trying to avoid

one.


Fast forward to January 2021: Dawn of “The Breathing Club” / “The Virtual Breathing Clinic”


Timing is an interesting phenomenon. I don’t know why but I took it upon myself

to launch into various projects centered around breathing for better health. Since

Covid shut down my live yoga classes, my bodywork and private yoga practice

with one on one clients for about six weeks, I figured I better do something, so in

addition to moving my in person classes online, I launched a pilot class which I

called “The Breathing Club” and began working to create an online instructional

learning program geared toward physicians, medical staff, and patients called

The Virtual Breathing Clinic with Carol Davis of “Inspiring More” and Eric

Mugele creator of “Breakthrough Advocates”. I have since provided this to Dr.

Anthony Cooley, pediatric physician and associate professor at Emory University

Hospital and Medical School, where we’re looking to provide this online program

to assist with stress management among medical professionals.


Oh yeah, this Covid-19 thing I was promising to talk about….


So going about my work each day, triple vaxxed and masked, I, being a curious

fellow, am honestly ( and mostly) a student of human behaviors. As this applies

to the pandemic, I observe how people walk, act, and protect themselves ( or

not!) in the Land of Covid. I can be hypercritical, especially when I see so many

people seriously ill, making their family members ill, and so many people dying

from this disease, and the folks we now refer to as “Long Haulers”, ones dealing

with the long term effects of the post acute phase of Covid, and this has

happening way too often because people won’t mask up, won’t get vaccines,

vaccines, mins you that work, vaccines that no….,won’t implant a chip in you,

and vaccines that WILL keep your alive and pretty safe from the effects of

COVID, even if you do contract the OMICRON variant.


What I’ve learned as I continue to see way too many people (healthcare workers

included) sporting “chin diapers” ( you know what I mean…) where the mask

doesn’t cover the orifices that spread this virus, but somehow in their own minds

meets regulatory compliances with the signs that say “face coverings must be

worn to enter this building!”What I have come to discover is quite honestly most people don’t know how to breathe properly even without a mask on, but then create a “paper or cloth” border wall between the mouth, nose and outside air, and people really feel like

they’re suffocating. Nothing will trigger your sympathetic nervous system more quickly than feeling like you are suffocating . Fear is a powerful leader of thought processes…. So

let’s all offer at least a little compassion for the unaware that there is a cure, and

and easy one that’s in many cases, prove to be 100% free!


Some Considerations:/some facts:


We humans are mostly hyper-ventilators, breathing on average about 25,000

breaths per day. That's about three times more than we should breathe…

Many of us are mouth breathers, letting in environmental toxins and drying out

our air passageways, introducing foreign objects due to lack of a proper filter, and

creating inflammation as a result. We are breathing too fast, too much, and too shallow.

Noses are for breathing, mouths are for eating and talking.

Improving our tolerance for CO2 will enhance HRV ( heart rate variability) and

pull more oxygen off the red blood cells for the rest of our body to enjoy.

It also enhances our relationship to our vagus nerve, the one responsible to

reminding us how our organs are doing… ( pretty important info.)

Nose breathing also enhances the use of nitric oxide, which is a booster to our

immune system function. Mouth breathing increases the likelihood of snoring, sleep apnea, interrupted sleep patterns which may contribute to anxiety, depression, and poor

concentration.


So What Do We Do About This?


1). Practice slowing your breathing rate down gradually…


2). Work to slow your rate down to 6 second inhales/ 6 second exhales. (This

can take some time. But this will make mask wearing so much easier, as

good habits of slow nasal breathing are improved upon.


3). Once that becomes easier, try lengthening the exhalation even more, trying

perhaps a 6/8 or 6/10 ratio of inhale to exhale for helping symptoms of

anxiety or stress.


4). Pause to notice the calming effects on your nervous system, and how that

has positive effects on your entire body.


5). And although many “yogic breathing” techniques are loud, forceful, and

intense, conscious healthy breath patterns don’t have to be; in fact you can

safely practice many of these in public, or even driving, where the formula is

LSD (light, slow, deep).


6). Practicing these techniques in the waking hours will ( over time) improve your

breathing patterns while sleeping as well.


7). Consider “mouth taping” at night as we can’t always control which airway

we’ll use while sleeping. Small inexpensive strips of surgical tape may be

used, unless there is a pronounced obstruction in the nasal passages, or with

MyoTape, which allows for occasionally breathing through the mouth when

necessary.


In conclusion, improving our respiratory habits overall, will increase our immune

system function, cause mask wearing to be not such a big deal, and will protect

ourselves, our families and loved ones, and the public in general..

For more information, and to schedule a consultation for individual conditions,

reach out to me @jeffreyshoaf.com

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