“ENO Breathe” is a wellbeing programme developed by the English National Opera in partnership with Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust designed for people recovering from Covid-19.
The programme focuses on improving breathlessness and curbing anxiety.
The ENO and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust conducted a trial with a sample group of long COVID sufferers between September and November last year, with immense results.
‘I never before had an experience like this. I didn’t think things like singing could help me with my breathing and improve my recovery from Covid and it has really helped me emotionally and physically.’Ludmila – ENO Breathe participant
90% of participants reported their emotional and physical wellbeing improved, with overall anxiety in the group decreasing by over half.
The weekly one hour sessions offer practical tools to support posture and breath control, encourage self management of anxiety, sing culturally diverse lullabies “selected for their power to calm and soothe”, and for participants to connect with others.
The scheme will be rolled out to more than 25 post-COVID clinics across London and the North of England. More from the ENO here if you are interested in taking part.
Why does this work?
The power of the breath
The breath has long been used as a meditation tool and natural anxiety remedy. When I learnt about this a few years ago, I genuinely thought breath work was a pointless exercise. My anxieties are real life worries, how does breathing help those, huh?
Well, I’m now a convert. Focussing entirely on our breath allows us to remain completely present, which is key to creating everyday happiness. Focussing on the past can bring up feelings of sadness, regret, and anger, and the future can bring up anxiety, worry, and stress – focussing on our breath, in a nutshell, can force us to live in the present.
It’s not just our mindset that changes when we focus on our breath. In our modern world, with constant stimulation and countless things to worry about, our parasympathetic nervous system – i.e. our hyperaware, ancestral “fight or flight” mode – is switched on far more often than it should be. Slowing down our breath tells our brains that we are safe, so switches over to our sympathetic nervous system, a necessary state for relaxation.
Shifting our nervous system out of this flight or fight mode is key to battling anxious thoughts and feelings. Controlling and focussing on our breath is a powerful and proven way to do this.
Breath exercises carried out by the ENO combat the physical breathlessness experienced by those in recovery for Covid-19 as well as anxiety – a win win.
The power of group singing
Big, big advocate for group singing over here. But I promise I’m not biased, group singing is a legitimate form of healing. Seeing it prescribed medically warms my cockles. But why does it work?
In Netflix’s “Surviving Death” that I recently watched, for my sins, there is one scene where a psychic medium is conducting a physical séance. Despite this, in my opinion, being total BS, the way the group had to “bring themselves closer to the spiritual world” was through song. The song was Westlife’s version of “The Rose” (you do know it – “some say love, it issss a river…”). Hilarious.
Despite how mad this looked (and sounded) on the surface, I think it does hold some truth – there is something transcendent about singing with people. You’re focussed on being in the moment, you’re connecting, collaborating, giving to something. The mental health benefits are enormous. It certainly feels spiritual, but I’m not sure your ancestors are going to appear in physical form in the room.
Even if it is in a seance room or over zoom whilst recovering from covid, music, the breath, and singing come with an enormous amount of power and goodness.
Read more about the healing power of music, here.