How Do You Recuperate After a Long Case of COVID-19? Opera Might Have the Answer.

The art and science of breathing deeply

Few people know breathing better than opera singers.
Kenny Filiaert/Unsplash

For some people, infection with COVID-19 has resulted in a months-long recovery process, with physiological elements that linger long after that initial positive test. Some of our understanding of this comes from data from personal health devices, among other sources. And determining what recovery might look like and what the best practices are are both very much ongoing processes for the medical community.

Atop the CDC’s list of symptoms of post-COVID conditions is one that stands out — “Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath.” The agency goes on to note that “[m]ultiorgan effects can affect most, if not all, body systems, including heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain functions.” So who do you turn to when you’re encountering breathing problems after a lifetime of breathing normally? As it turns out, opera singers are finding their expertise to be very much in demand.

That might seem strange at first, but the more you think about it the more sense it makes. Few occupations require as intense a knowledge of how we breathe as opera, for one thing. And opera singers around the world are working with COVID-19 patients — a recent CNN article spotlit a program from the UCLA Medical Center working in tandem with the Los Angeles Opera.

They’re not the only ones to do so. The English National Opera has taught breathing exercises to people dealing with the effects of “long COVID.” Their efforts are twofold — the exercises both help people breathe more deeply and have a soothing effect on them, which is helpful on both a physical and psychological level.

One of the participants in the UCLA program, Jeff Sweat, told CNN that the exercises he’d learned had had a transformative effect. “Singing helps me connect. Breathing to a purpose. It gave me reason to learn how to breathe again,” he said.

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