Opera singers are helping long Covid sufferers get their normal breathing back

Long Covid causes a combination of physical and mental challenges.

To aid the recovery process, English National Opera have partnered with Imperial Healthcare NHS Trust to deliver online classes and support through a platform called ENO Breathe.

Described as a breathing and wellbeing programme, participants are invited to re-train their breathing through singing.

Jenny Mollica, Director of ENO Baylis, makes it clear that it’s not a choir or singing group – you don’t need to have skills here or an interest in music, it’s just about utilising the benefits singing can have on breathing.

‘We’re very passionate about arts and health and we wanted to see if there was something useful we could offer within the Covid context with the skills that we’ve got,’ she tells Metro.co.uk.

Symptoms of long Covid, particularly breathlessness and anxiety, are addressed by the ‘immersive’ programme which Jenny says was built for ‘body and mind’.

The impact of the programme, though new, has already been felt by patients.

After the pilot run, 90% found their breathlessness had improved, 91% said the same of their anxiety, and 100% plan continue with the exercises.

One patient reported that she regularly woke in the night gasping for breath before the programme. However, once she was used to the exercises and was able to recall them in those moments, she could put them into practice until falling back to sleep.

Jenny explains that lullabies are used by programme leaders as a way into exercises.

‘They’re really calming and soothing,’ she says. ‘Patients find them relaxing and the lullabies themselves are really memorable. The thing with lullabies are that we learn them around the world, so they feel accessible to everybody.

‘Alongside the lullabies we’re embedding breathing techniques that we know will do certain things physiologically within the body that will support people with their breathing.

‘It also means when people panic and they really need to support their breathing, they’re much more likely to remember a lullaby than they are a practical breathing exercise their doctor taught them.’

Jenny says some people with long Covid have felt ‘unseen’.

There is a lot to be said for simply connecting with other people in similar circumstances, as another patient in the pilot found being in a support group with other long covid sufferers made him feel less isolated and improved his confidence in dealing with his health.

‘It’s de-medicalising Covid recovery,’ though the programme was put together with medical experts. ‘It’s taking it out of a medical context which I think is quite relaxing for people,’ Jenny adds.

The team have worked hard to break down the barriers people might feel there are around opera and singing. Jenny says: ‘A lot of the people who do ENO Breathe are ambivalent about singing and they don’t think it’s for them,’ but by the end of the programme, some are converted.

‘They come because they want to get better and they want to speed up their journey back to wellness after a really traumatic experience of having Covid.

‘Singing is a vehicle to helping them achieve that outcome.’

Ultimately, the aim of the programme is to ‘equip people with tools they can use in their every-day life’ to assist with their recovery. The ENO Breathe team want to help people self-manage their symptoms.

Once given an official long Covid diagnosis, patients can refer themselves on the ENO Breathe website and from there they have a one-to-one consoltation, then participate in six weekly virtual group sessions.

Participants are given access to helpful resources to use beyond the sessions for long-term guidance.

Found out more about the free programme here.

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