Julia Outlaw, an Alexander Technique teacher and College of Medicine member, who lives in Tooting, South London, with her husband and two young daughters, first fell ill with Covid in February last year.
In her early forties, with a healthy diet and no underlying health conditions, Julia has endured a long road back to health after being diagnosed with Long Covid, with symptoms still persisting into 2021, more than a year after the initial infection.
Julia tells the College of Medicine that it was difficult to re-balance and find harmony in health with the disharmony that Long Covid can bring. A wide spectrum of symptoms – including a racing heart rate (tachycardia), breathlessness, associated anxiety and gastrointestinal problems – surfaced over several months.
With mass testing still largely unavailable when Julia was affected, medical professionals simply advised her to rest at home unless her conditioned deteriorated.
A prescribed course of antibiotics didn’t help, instead ‘depleting my gut microbiota and immune system further’ and leaving her feeling ‘shaky, breathless, and finding it very difficult to eat.’
Julia explains: “What Long Covid does to your nervous system is exactly the same as anxiety in some ways, and they compound each other, and you’re in this circle; your nervous system is unable to find it’s parasympathetic resting rate at all.
“The fatigue was relentless but brought no deep sleep. Instead, it was as if my whole nervous system had gone out of whack. I was stuck in a sympathetic ‘fight or flight’ state but with no energy.”
She continues: “For several months I had neither the energy or brain capacity to hold a short conversation, read, watch television or engage with much at all. With post viral insomnia and acute anxiety, it was a dark time.
“At my lowest point I was prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressant drugs. It was difficult to accept but they had a role to play at that point. For me, this made the alternative support even more crucial – to help my system find some balance”
While Julia’s family also caught the virus, they had much milder versions but her husband was faced with the stress of trying to work, homeschool and look after two small children while Julia was ill.
A year after catching Covid, she says she’s in much better health, with nature, embodied mindfulness and an Ayuverdic diet key to restoring her health.
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“I can now walk at a normal pace, chat, sing and engage with my girls. I still have occasional relapses – where the chest pressure returns along with shivers and shortness of breath. My energy levels have increased though and I feel like I’ve been lucky.”
What has she learned about health from her own experiences with Long Covid?
Julia says: “As a Alexander Technique teacher specialising in natural movement, posture, breathing, and the connection between mind and body, I had some sense of what was happening was to me. I was very lucky to have access to practical techniques to calm my breath a little, ground myself and try to regulate my system.
“It was definitely an experience to live through Long Covid and you obviously come out of the other side a bit different. The sense of failure and uncertainty was very difficult. Wasn’t this supposed to be a ‘two-week’ mild bug in most cases?”
“The facts are that without connection and nature, it is very difficult to rebalance and find harmony in health. One dimensional approaches, ie; those that are not holistic, unfortunately have the capacity to de-rail the recovery process further.
“They highlight the current medical system’s set-up and inherent flaw – specialisms are just that. They are silos for various parts of our body with small recognition of interconnections of the different organs, systems and environmental context. Medicine didn’t used to be like that.”
Julia adds that looking to ancient methods could be useful for Long Covid patients: “Many ancient traditions have a more natural integrated approach to restoring and sustaining health, rather than focusing on treating disease. I feel many people with Long Covid could benefit from this approach.”
TECHNIQUES JULIA HAS USED IN HER RECOVERY FROM LONG COVID
NATURAL BREATHING: Learning how to co-operate with the natural function of breathing, rather than manipulate it has been helpful. In my experience, Long Covid deeply affected my vagus nerve and therefore everything else, including breathing patterns. Getting the diaphragm and ribs moving naturally to enhance natural healing helped reduce inflammation. Singing was also hugely positive.
GENTLE QI GONG AND NATURAL MOVEMENTS: Daily movements supporting heart and lung meridians and general energy circulation. Movement generally is very healing to a depleted system, especially gentle, natural movements that are co-ordinated with breath.
AYUVERDIC DIET AND HERBS: A non-prescriptive, easy-to-follow diet specific to my type (dosha balance). I mostly ate warm, easy-to-digest foods, not much raw food, no tomatoes, and limited dairy and wheat plus warm teas and lots of herbs and spices. This quite quickly restored my digestion, and began to give me energy. Ayuverdic herbs are based on balancing hormonal systems and digestive fire, as well as reducing inflammation. They have also supported my mental and emotional well-being, as I weaned off the drugs.
NATURE: At Long Covid’s worst, I managed small sits in the garden. As I recovered, it became tiny walks in the local park, and woods became by far the best medicine. The supportive impressions of nature – the flowers, bird song, strong-rooted trees – helped heal me just by being in it.
CONNECTION: Trying to find as much normality as possible. Meeting a friend, enjoying eye contact, permitted hugs and support from family were all calming for the vagus system.
ART: Seeing beauty, recognising sacred geometry in things around me, looking at beautiful pictures and listening to soothing music all contributed hugely to my healing journey.
PATIENCE: I recognise more what matters to me and how precious life is, and try to find gratitude for it each day. I have learnt to slow down and to not take ‘everything’ on my shoulders.
The Harmony in Health team, of which Julia is a part, is launching a short course for sufferers at different stages of Long Covid – highlighting some holistic approaches that may support natural healing. The first free hour long event is on Thursday 25th March at 3.30 pm. Please sign up below to register a place or for more information… or share with those you know!