Yoga Exercises for COVID Recovery, According to Experts

Has a COVID-19 infection impacted your breathing? If you're looking to get back into exercising after COVID, yoga can be a key way to rebuild your breathing abilities, which is crucial for physical activity.

In yoga, each breath is connected to a specific action or movement. "This is the foundational principle of yoga as an exercise modality and philosophy," Dr. Ingrid Yang, a physician and Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT)-500 who is also certified by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT), told Newsweek. "Yoga is the only form of exercise we know that, in order to perform properly, necessitates linking breath with movement."

COVID affects everyone differently, with some coming out of it relatively "unscathed" and able to jump right back into their normal fitness routine. Others may deal with residual effects for an extended period of time, also known as long COVID, Kelly Clifton Turner, an E-RYT-500 and the director of education for YogaSix, told Newsweek.

Even after your doctor approves you for a return to exercise, it's important to assess how you are feeling before beginning your normal workouts, the yoga instructor advised.

Here we look at some of the best yoga exercises for COVID recovery.

Yoga for COVID Patients

Clifton Turner suggests starting with simple movements that connect breath and movement.

These moves (such as the cat-cow, downward-facing dog, Chaturanga and half sun salutations recommended below by Clifton Turner) can be a good way to assess your strength, flexibility and stamina and "ultimately plan your broader return to yoga exercises, she said.

The COVID recovery yoga poses recommended by Yang below "stem from understanding what patients go through while they are actively infected," the physician and yoga therapist explained.

A woman doing upward-facing dog yoga move.
A woman doing the yoga move known as the upward-facing dog position. You can choose to do this move at the end of the Chaturanga transition before doing the downward-facing dog. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Cat-Cow

According to Yang, many people recovering from COVID (along the entire spectrum of the disease from mild to severe) have not moved much during their active infection period and feel disconnected from their bodies.

The cat-cow invites movement and spatial awareness back to the body and also links this movement with breath, which is an essential component of COVID-19 recovery, she noted.

Dr. Ingrid Yang in a cat pose.
Dr. Ingrid Yang in a cat yoga pose. Jeremy Schneider

Clifton Turner said toggling back and forth for a few rounds of breath through the cat-cow moves can help awaken the spine and increase flexibility and mobility.

  • Get into a "tabletop position" on your hands and knees, with your shoulders positioned over wrists and hips over the knees.
  • Inhale and get into the cow position by "allowing your belly to hammock," Clifton Turner said, and lifting your tailbone toward the sky. Tile your pelvis back, stretching your chest and face up to the sky, advised Yang.
  • Then exhale into the cat position by rounding your spine, tucking your chin toward your chest, hips towards your nose and your tailbone inward.

Yang advised going through the cat-cow movements with your breath for three to four cycles. You can also do the cat-cow moves sitting up in a chair by placing your hands on your knees and moving the spine through the cat-cow moves with your breath, she said.

Dr. Ingrid Yang in a cow pose.
Dr. Ingrid Yang in a cow yoga pose. Jeremy Schneider

Staff Pose

While this pose may initially seem like you're simply just sitting on the ground, "it is actually quite difficult because you are actively sitting and using your postural muscles," Yang said.

"Posture is integral for proper respiratory function and COVID-19 rehab is centered around encouraging patients to sit up tall and use their core and back muscles," she explained.

  • Start by sitting on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. If this bothers your back, sit on a rolled up blanket or yoga block, Yang suggested.
  • Put your palms next to your hips to help you sit upright, while engaging the belly and relaxing your shoulder blades down your back.
  • Point your toes toward the sky so you feel the fronts of your legs engage. Stay in this position for three breaths.

The cat-cow and staff poses "work seamlessly together because they allow us to start moving the body again safely," Yang said.

Dr. Ingrid Yang doing staff yoga pose.
Dr. Ingrid Yang demonstrating the staff yoga pose. Jeremy Schneider

Locust Pose

Even patients who are not severely ill from COVID may still experience a milder form of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) during the course of their illness, Yang said. "With patients suffering from ARDS, we recommend a manoeuvre called proning. Locust pose is essentially a form version of proning," she explained.

  • Start by lying on your belly on the floor or a mat. Your arms should be stretched alongside your body, with your forehead to the floor or mat.
  • Inhale to engage your belly to lift your arms, shoulders, chest, and head off the ground. Exhale to relax your body down.
  • "Try not to hold your breath as you rise and descend and allow the length of your breaths to be your focus," Yang noted.
  • Cycle through this movement five to eight times. To rest, stack your hands under your forehead and take a few deep, relaxing breaths, she said.
Dr. Ingrid Yang in a locust pose.
Dr. Ingrid Yang demonstrating the locust yoga move. Jeremy Schneider

Downward-Facing Dog

  • From the tabletop position, walk your hands about one-palm's print forward. Tuck your toes under and draw your hips up and back toward the sky, Clifton Turner said.
  • Pedal out your feet to slowly open up your hamstrings, allowing your head to hang heavy to decompress your neck.
  • Once you are feeling comfortable, "move to a place of stillness so you can focus on long, steady breaths," she said.
A person doing downward-facing dog yoga move.
A person doing the downward-facing dog yoga move. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Chaturanga Transition

  • The Chaturanga (or yoga push-up pose) is a great test of strength, Clifton Turner noted. From the downward dog position, inhale and shift forward to "a high plan/top of a push up" position. Release your knees to the ground for more support.
  • Then exhale and lower halfway down while hugging your elbows into the body. "Focus on keeping the body long and strong from the feet through the crown of the head or your knees and crown," the yoga instructor explained.
  • Stop once your shoulders are in line with your elbows. Press either back to a plank pose or pass through to form the upward-facing dog position before returning to the downward-facing dog move, she said.
A man doing the Chaturanga yoga move.
A man doing the Chaturanga yoga move. iStock/Getty Images Plus

Half Sun Salutations

  • Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart, allowing your hands to fall by your sides.
  • Inhale and circle your arms up to the sky.
  • Exhale and hinge at your hips, maintaining a long spine, and swan dive forward. Release your fingertips towards the floor or your shins.
  • Inhale and reverse swan dive back up to stand up.
  • Exhale and draw your hands back to your heart. Repeat this for three to five rounds, Clifton Turner advised.
A woman doing a half sun salutation.
A woman doing a half sun salutation yoga move, which begins with you inhaling as you circle your arms up to the sky before exhaling and hinge at your hips, as shown here. iStock/Getty Images Plus