Why Knowledge of ‘Prana’ Can Help You Tackle COVID-19

How to build your immunity in a few minutes a day

COVID is in the air (Image by enriquelopezgarre from Pixabay)

As the world battles the COVID virus, the situation in my place, India, seems to get worse by the day. The second wave is ten times more deadly than the first. Even though the news channels and politicians mask the actual number of deaths, the number of phone calls I receive about a person passing away and the overflowing mortuaries convey a different scene.

The vaccine has arrived, but as with all vaccines, is not a hundred percent effective. If you’re thinking otherwise, COVID is here to stay — it may soon be as trivial as common flu but it’s not going away.

Worse, there’s no special remedy for the virus — I should know because I got COVID last month. All I could do was breathe, eat nutritious food, take multivitamins, and avoid stress or anxiety. Barring the vaccine, there’s no separate solution to COVID. Or is it?

The mind, breath (prana), speech, hearing, and sight were arguing about which was the most important. To test their importance, they decided to leave the body one by one.

The speech left first, leaving the body mute. The eyes departed next to make it blind. The faculty of hearing left to render the person deaf and finally, the mind left leaving the body unconscious. Yet, the body was alive, only until prana started to leave.

Seeing this, the other faculty admitted the supremacy of prana and begged it to come back — for their own powers are useless with the presence of prana.

Prana is the energy that underlies and infuses all matter. You can put as much oxygen, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen in a dead body, but it won’t come back to life — for the prana has left the system.

Modern medicine may not give pertinent solutions to COVID. But the ancient science of yoga (and similar sciences in other ancient cultures) gives myriad ways to increase immunity, reduce stress, stabilize heart rate, maintain oxygen levels, and a slew of other benefits. The most popular and effective technique is Pranayama.

Pranayama (prana+yam=energy+control) means the control of energy. The way to control prana is to control the breath. This is why pranayama is loosely translated as control of the breath.

In a time when modern medicine has no solid answer to tackle the virus, the world has seen a rapid upsurge of yoga adoption — particularly that of pranayama techniques.

Pranayama relieves stress, strengthens your lungs, detoxifies the body, improves sleep, immunity, digestion, and cardiovascular health, and many more benefits too long to cover here.

During my fight with the virus, my meditation and breathing practices were the highlights of the day. The rest of the day was a mishmash of fatigue, dullness, and weakness.

Even if you don’t have the virus yet, it pays to invest 10–30 minutes a day getting all the wonderful, natural benefits of pranayama for which you don’t need anything besides some extra time.

Learn This Before Doing Anything Else

Before going into any other breathing exercise, it is important to learn the right way to breathe. This simple habit can alone reduce your stress levels drastically. It can also reduce symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, depression and anxiety, and sleeplessness.

The diaphragm is a dome-like muscle below your chest. It contracts when you inhale and provides space for the lungs to expand.

When you don’t use your diaphragm to breathe, your lungs don’t get enough air. This activates the fight-or-flight response in your body which spikes your stress levels.

The simplest way to fix this is to breathe from your belly — aptly called “diaphragmatic breathing”. When you inhale, your stomach should expand, and when you exhale, it should contract.

Most people don’t do this a) because of bad habits and b) to avoid revealing their waist size. These are not good excuses to skip proper breathing which is the only thing you can’t live without.

To get rid of your bad breathing habits, start by taking 5 minutes every day to breathe from your belly.

Another great way is to lie down on your bed and keep a light weight on your belly — say a pack of beans. Then start breathing by expanding and contracting your belly. The extra weight helps you be aware of your stomach moving in and out. It helps us be conscious of how we’re breathing in daily life.

If you do it for long enough, abdominal breathing will become a habit. It then lays a good foundation to learn other breathing techniques that require above-average breathing capacity.

Even Count Breathing

This is the easiest and the most popular one you’ll find. It’s used by a wide range of people including Navy SEALs, police officers, nurses, and corporate executives.

Here’s how you do it.

Breathe in for four seconds → Hold for four seconds → Breath out for four seconds → Repeat.

Try one round right now. It’s best for situations where you find yourself getting too excited or fearful. It calms the nervous system and increases awareness in the present moment.

Once you’re comfortable with four seconds, you can increase the time as you like. Make sure to keep it equal for all steps.

Side Note: An alternative to this is Box Breathing. It adds an extra hold after you exhale. Breathe in for four seconds → Hold for four seconds → Breath out for four seconds → Hold for four seconds → Repeat.

Alternate Nostril Breathing

Nadi Shodhana as it’s called in Sanskrit is an even better way to calm the nervous system and balance both hemispheres of the brain. It helps you lower your heart rate and improve respiratory endurance.

From a yogic perspective, ‘Nadi’ is a Sanskrit word meaning ‘channel’ or ‘flow’ and ‘Shodhana’ means ‘purification’. Therefore, Nadi Shodhana is primarily aimed at clearing and purifying the subtle channels of the mind and body, while balancing its masculine and feminine aspects.

Here’s how it goes:

  • Close your eyes and exhale completely
  • Close your right nostril with your right thumb
  • Breathe in through the left nostril
  • Close the left nostril as well with your fingers and hold the breath
  • Release the right nostril and exhale
  • Immediately inhale with your right nostril
  • Close the right nostril as well and hold
  • Release the left nostril and exhale

This is what one round looks like. You can do this as many times as you like. Even three to five rounds are great to experience the benefits. As with even-count breathing, you can inhale, exhale, and hold for the same count, as per your breathing capacity.

Expanding Sun Breath

This is a great follow-up to alternate nostril breathing. It is especially beneficial to improve concentration.

It adds a chin-lock, called Jaladhara Bandha, to the technique. To practice this, when you hold the breath during alternate nostril breathing, bring your chin to the chest. While eyes still closed, gaze at the point between the eyebrows. When you’re ready to exhale, bring your head back parallel to the floor and continue as usual.

Why the point between the eyebrows? Because it’s the esoteric center of concentration. It is also the part where your frontal lobe of the brain, largely responsible for attention and concentration, is located.

This technique focuses your energy on the frontal lobe. By doing so it improves focus and awareness. Since it can be difficult to understand, here’s a guided video explanation.


Sometimes called the “bumblebee breath” or the “humming” breath, Bhramari is a great technique to deal with anxiety, stress and insomnia. It’s also quite calming in any situation, really.

The technique is simple. You inhale for (say) 6 counts and exhale for 6 as well. But on the exhalation, you make a humming sound while keeping your mouth closed. When you hum, feel your brain vibrating with that sound — as if the sound is massaging your brain from the inside.

To increase the effect, close the flaps (tragus) of the ear while you exhale. Closing off the ears interiorizes the mind more and relaxes you even further.

After you’ve done a few rounds of Bhramari, try to lengthen the exhalation to twice as long as the inhalation. This is the usual breathing cycle when you’re asleep. Thus, this technique also helps you to attune to that state and fall asleep faster.

Breath of Fire

No, you won’t become a dragon throwing flames out of your mouth.
The Sanskrit name for this is Kapalbhati Pranayama. Kapalbathi literally translates into ‘a shining forehead’ which is what happens when you practice this.

Your forehead shines from the inside, symbolizing a healthy, sharp intellect. It also helps in weight loss, removes toxins from your body, and increases the energy available to the brain.

Here’s how it goes:

  • Sit comfortably with a straight spine, away from any backrest.
  • Breathe in through your belly
  • Key point: When you exhale, pull your stomach back in towards the spine. Don’t push too hard, remain within the limits of your comfort. It should be a forceful, strong but not a violent exhalation.
  • Then relax your stomach. The breath naturally flows in so you don’t have to breathe in consciously.

This is one breath. Practice around twenty breaths to complete one round. Since you’re not breathing in and exhaling rapidly, each breath takes around one second. Thus, one round does not take longer than thirty seconds. You can repeat two more rounds and sit in silence to observe how your body and brain feel.

Don’t practice this on a full stomach. Wait for two hours after a full meal to practice this. Keep your body still, and relaxed.

Though the technique feels powerful, be gentle in your practice. Forcefulness produces agitation which is counterproductive to our goal. Again, since it’s not a usual exercise, here’s a guided video demonstration.

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Written on May 23, 2021