Tom Kobel

Tom Kobel
15.04.2021

For opera singers, lungs are one of their most important working instruments. They spend years training and practicing their breathing and vocal techniques. The English National Opera (ENO) in London thought that these techniques could also help those affected by Long COVID to breathe better again. So last year they launched an exercise program: ENO Breathe.

«Shortness of breath feels debilitating and scary. Our programme is designed to help people reduce their symptoms.»

The program, which of course takes place online, was co-developed by pulmonary specialists from Imperial College. Sarah Elkin, a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) specialist, says: «Shortness of breath feels debilitating and scary. Our programme is designed to help people reduce their symptoms.»

No previous knowledge necessary

The starting point are traditional lullabies. These have several advantages: they are in a pleasant vocal range that can be reached without effort, the melodies are often already known, and they have a calming effect. You don't have to like singing or be good at it to participate, emphasize the program responsibles. A BBC report gives a brief insight into how the sessions work.

BBC1

Starting with the lullabies, the breath is then retrained to break old patterns. Indeed, those who experience breathing difficulties tend to breathe too quickly and too shallowly - and thus intensify the oppressive feeling of not getting enough air. Calm and slow breathing, on the other hand, can calm the body and mind again.

Singing lifts the mood

There is also another aspect: it has been known for a long time that singing together lifts the spirits. It is precisely this social aspect that was also perceived as very positive by the participants of the program: They felt less isolated and part of a community of destiny that supports each other.

«Definitely recommend»

One participant in the pilot described the program as «fantastic». It «helped him enormously» with his breathing difficulties, he stated in the Imperial College media release. All participants said they would «definitely recommend» the program to other Long COVID sufferers. Because of this good experience, ENS Breathe is now being offered throughout England.

Shortness of breath: in the event of acute occurrence of unusual symptom please contact your doctor.

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Shortness of breath, especially acute shortness of breath or breathlessness, must be clarified by a medical professional in order to determine the cause.

In the event of acute occurrence of unusual symptoms, such as severe shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, or confusion, please get help, for example by calling the emergency number 144 (Switzerland).

Only on medical referral

However, although this is an online program, places are limited and subject to prescription. Only those referred by a Long COVID clinic can participate. So far, the program is limited to England, although there are plans to open it up internationally.

Interest among Swiss opera houses

The English program is thus not accessible in Switzerland. And there is nothing comparable at the local opera houses, as a small survey shows. In Bern, the London project is well known and attracts interest. «We are currently examining whether a similar project could be implemented here», writes Konzert Theater Bern in response to an enquiry.

Ideally, breathing exercises can give the lungs a break.

Accessible alternatives

Regardless of what the operas offer, those interested can also test in Switzerland whether breathing exercises can provide them with relief and new vital energy. At Altea, various exercises are available for this purpose in the Vademecum. In the Directory, you can also search for breathing therapy offers.

There is increasing evidence that the conscious occupation with breathing can have a very positive effect for people affected by Long COVID. This is shown, for example, by Brigitte Post's story. She describes her first breathing therapy session as so emotional that she cried from sheer relief.

Ideally, breathing exercises can give the battered lungs a breather - in the truest sense of the word.