Yoga coach helps patients after testing positive herself

When Manisha Shrestha and her husband tested positive for Covid-19 last month, they had the option of staying in home isolation or checking into a hotel since they lived with other relatives in a confined space.

But when her husband started having a fever, they both decided to be admitted into the Ayurved Research Centre in Kirtipur outside Kathmandu, which has been designated a Covid-19 treatment facility by the government.

Yoga in the time of Covid-19, Anjana Rajbhandary

Situated in a relatively open area with a panoramic view of the city below and the mountains beyond, the Centre is itself like an ashram and has had a healing effect on many of the 100 patients that are there at any given time.

However, three days after being admitted, Manisha’s husband’s fever did not go down and his oxygen level started falling. Doctors advised him to go to a city hospital ICU for better treatment in case his condition deteriorated. But her husband refused.

“Firstly, it was difficult to get a bed in hospitals in the city, and there would be no one to take care of him there, that is why he was reluctant,” recalls Manisha, who started doing yoga exercises in the Centre’s roof terrace with her husband every morning.

The combination of fresh air, quiet ambience and yoga helped him get better. At first it was just the Shreshta couple doing yoga on the roof, but soon other curious patients started joining in. Then others, and others.

At first there were just a few more patients besides her husband, but then the class grew and soon Manisha was coaching up to 50 physically separated patients every morning, many of whom had never done yoga before.

The patients who recovered would go home, to be replaced by newcomers. For some with breathing difficulties or other ailments, Manisha did specialised classes.

“I never expected there to be so many who would be interested, and it also helped us recover, and to pass the time while we were in the hospital for two weeks,” she adds.

For Manisha, this was nothing new since she has been a professional yoga instructor for the past 18 years, and was conducting regular classes in Kathmandu until the Covid-19 lockdown.

“Yoga is thousands of years old, and has this quality of improving one’s physical and spiritual wellbeing, and the two are connected,” she explains. “Since Covid-19 affects the respiratory system, the breathing exercises help, and yoga also improves the immune system and helps a patient’s mental state.”

Besides yoga, Shrestha also gave motivational talks to her fellow-patients since many of them were away from home and close relatives. She found that besides helping her patients, the talks were also helpful to relieve her own tension, and lift her spirit as well.

“It was really encouraging when patients came to be before they were discharged to thank me for helping them gain their self-confidence and make them feel better through the stretches and breathing exercises,” she says.

Sarita Chitrakar was one of the patients at the Ayurved Research Centre who took Manisha’s classes, and says he had lost her appetite and felt weak, but after doing daily yoga she felt like eating again and regained her strength.

“I just felt better in every way, I was more relaxed and was breathing easier,” Chitrakar said.

The Centre’s administration was also happy to have Manisha as a patient, and has asked her to come back to do yoga regularly with new patients as the number of Covid-19 positive patients increases by the day in Kathmandu.

“We have both tested negative now, and I will first have to make sure my husband recovers well at home, and then if there is no danger of infection then I will surely take up the offer,” says Manisha. “I am convinced that helping others recover with yoga, also helped speed up my own recovery.”