Can Opera Training help long haul COVID patients recover?
Reena Gupta, MD
Singing is a sport. Any professional singer knows this intuitively, as their training leverages breath support, endurance, strength and agility. Though respectfully placed in the ‘artist’ bucket, most singers treated at the Center for Vocal Health will speak more like a professional athlete when describing ailments. Fatigue, soreness, achiness, inefficiency, loss of endurance.
So the singing community was unsurprised to read that opera training may aid the rehabilitation of long haul COVID patients struggling with breathlessness and respiratory symptoms. A New York Times article titled “Opera Singers Help Covid-19 Patients Learn to Breathe Again,” describes a program developed by the English National Opera called ENO Breathe.
The opera company, proving adaptable and resourceful during the shutdown, was seeking ways to help COVID patients, realizing that their sports training could likely make a difference. They approached a local physician and created the ENO Breathe program, a six-week customized program with exercises reworked by professional singing tutors.
This remarkable marriage of singing rehabilitation and medicine is intuitive to anyone who has trained in voice. It is one of the clearest examples of singing as a sport and should be credited with continuing the necessary conversation of the physical demand of singing, the associated medical and training support that is needed, and the destigmatization of injury that can occur in any sport.
Further, one of the most remarkable quotes in the article was by patient, Wayne Camera, who stated “The program really does help. Physically, mentally, in terms of anxiety.” In long haulers suffering with respiratory and psychological trauma from COVID, the dual benefit of singing rehabilitation is profound. Working to heal both anxiety and lung capacity, this program and others like it do a far greater service than any modality that treats either alone.
This program and singing for rehabilitation could be explored in the recovery of any deconditioning, inflammatory, or medical issue. When done under the guidance of a physician, this could revolutionize how we view “recovery” to focus on both athletic and mental health rehabilitation.
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