Overcoming Long-Haul Covid through the GYROKINESIS® Method
In 2020 we spoke with Master Trainer Miriam Barbosa about her traumatic experience of contracting Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic. Coupled with pre-existing medical conditions, it was a harrowing time. However, Juliu Horvath, creator of the Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis Methods, gave her a specific breathing protocol, to which she attributes much of her recovery. Juliu eventually developed this into a full program called the Cardiovascular Breathing Program, and is now available as three program courses for both GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® Trainers. Many trainers are now taking this work and sharing with their clients.
Learn more about the Cardiovascular Breathing Program course on the course page.
Gyrotonic media contributor Cina Canada followed up with Miriam to see how things are going three years later.
Breathing Through Long-Haul Covid with the Cardiovascular Breathing Program
Cina: It’s been a while! I want to follow up on our last blog post and see how you’ve been doing and how your health is, how the breathing work has been impacting you, etc. Currently, you are in Brazil? Visiting, or have you moved there?
Miriam: My home is in New York, but I’m in Brazil because I came to teach several courses at Arko Emotion Studio in Porto Alegre, Brazil. This was all connected to putting together a performance organized by Manuela Coimbra, a Pre-Trainer in my Gyrokinesis Network. We did Gyrotonic choreography to open the show, and then we did classical ballet to contemporary and aerial dance. It was a whole event promoting the Gyrotonic Method. Juliu would love it because we opened with three towers on the upstage area in the scenery and two handle units on the sides in the front. My daughter, Itzkan Barbosa, was on one of them, and Paula Penachio on the other (former Principal Dancer, Ballet Nacional Sodre), along with other teachers and clients from the studio. It was really beautiful! It was a spectacle.
Cina: Wow. Who sponsored this?
Miriam: Manuela Coimbra, an amazing teacher and pre-trainer. She used to be a lawyer and has always been a classical dancer, fell in love with the Gyrotonic work, and nowadays, she owns Arko Emotion Studio. Last year, we opened the doors of a local theater for the first time since the pandemic with my performance with Javier Dzul and her local dance group. This year, she decided to do a whole event with all of us and choreographing on the Gyrotonic towers, as well as donating profits and food for the poor and promoting some of the local community businesses within it. So, it became way bigger than I expected. But today is my day off.
Cina: Oh my goodness. Well, I won’t keep you for long so you can enjoy your time. I just want to ask you how things have been going since our last conversation when you were healing from Covid.
Miriam: Well, I do think I have something important to say about that because my Covid ended up being what we call the long-haul Covid. What I have to say is that I never gave up the breathing work taught to me by Juliu. As you know, I always have to move. I can’t just sit. So, I continued the breathing work, and in addition, I learned different techniques of meditation as well to calm down my nervous system, but I did a lot of Gyrokinesis and Gyrotonic work, obviously. I never stopped.
Throughout that process in 2020 and 2021, I had friends who contracted Covid. I received private messages for help, even one of them saying, “I think I’m going to die.” I’m like, “No, you’re not going to die.” I would do Zoom meetings with them or simply FaceTime with them, and I would do especially the tapping of the rib cage. Even today, I still do that. Before I came here, I had severe allergies in New York from the pollen. I’m still recovering my voice, but even on that stage, I kept doing my tapping. I feel like that little format Juliu gave to me before he added the other breathing parts for the full Programs 1, 2 and 3 formats of the full Cardiovascular Breathing Program. Simply the tapping, while Juliu would keep on telling me to just do as much as I felt I could without force and to let the tapping create a rebound. I couldn’t really do the counting and the aerobic rhythm at first. I had to listen to the insides. So, I applied what he did with me and did that with some of my friends and some close dancer friends who were struggling with long-haul Covid.
One of the symptoms of long-haul Covid is feeling like you want to give up, constantly fatigued. You feel tired, and if you listen to that voice inside of you, you end up not doing anything. Obviously, I had a lot of will to continue, and that tapping would reinforce that. So, I worked with these people, with that breathing work, daily. The results were immediate. Like a week later, they were much better. They were able to trust their recovery, and it gave them hope to get back on their feet.
Something happens mentally, and you want to give up when you suffer long-haul symptoms. You feel like your body cannot handle even sitting up straight. I remember that the following year, I had periods of ups and downs… especially morning times were hard for me. I was never a deep sleeper or long-time sleep. But the long haul made me sleep. It was one of the symptoms. There is a fine line between healthy and recovering sleep and sleeping out of fatigue.
The people that I knew, I was able to help. It was not like a class format or group class, it was an individual thing that I felt that could help other people as I continued my own recovery. I felt that if I stopped, I would retract into that place where many people were, complaining of the long haul and how they felt they were tired forever and they couldn’t do the things that they did before; I know that feeling. But you have to be really persistent. Otherwise, that takes over, and then it’s way harder.
That’s a piece of information, to me, that is a gift. I look online and read about the amount of people who have long haul covid, even the people who got the smallest covid symptoms during 2022, even now, these people suffer from prolonged fatigue. They are holding onto it. There is something about this virus that creates that in the body.
These are the communities that would really benefit from the tapping. Not in the sense of doing just the programs for the teachers and all the hours. I understand that’s our process so we can pass the work to the next generation of teachers to continue giving the information … But a real class, like an hour daily or something like that, would be beneficial. Even with me, in the very beginning, sometimes I did 15 minutes of tapping in the morning and then the stretches. I have my own needs because of the type of dance I do, but that is, to me, ultimately a super important piece of information about the tapping and the response that the body gives from within and what it creates.
I feel that’s the formula to help the long-haul community worldwide. It revives something in them that they are about to give up. Their breath, their life… And it’s like a rebirth. Of course, this breathing work is good for everyone, but I’ve learned from experience it’s especially good for the long-haul Covid people.
Recently, I contracted an infectious bacteria in Mexico. My defenses are not as great now. In the process of trying not to do surgery, the doctors just gave me very strong antibiotics to kill that bacteria, and it threw me backward. Consecutively, in New York City, spring comes really fast, and all at once the weather goes from cold to warm, and the whole city is yellow from the pollen, and I got an allergic respiratory problem and I could not speak for four days. I couldn’t breathe. I had to go check again and make sure it wasn’t a virus because I was coughing a lot.
And so I waited until the coughing was no longer so irritating and thought… let’s start again. Let’s see if this is really working, you know? So I just did it every day in Brazil. The only thing that kept me going was the tapping an hour before I had to teach and rehearse.
I do all of the tapping, and of course, I’ll do the double breath running in place because it shakes you a bit. If you’re congested, it opens you up. So I use that every time something happens with my health, I use it, and it’s like a magic formula. I was able to do this performance like nothing. It was intense, challenging, and demanding physically… but only at night, when my body was quiet I would have coughing and things would come out, but during the day, as soon as I started moving my body was happy, and I could go on with all activities.
It’s a whole process when you’re connecting to the breath plus tapping with the designated movement patterns, and you’re recreating that resonance. You’re tapping almost like, “Hello, who is there, and can we breathe as one? Can the diaphragm and the lungs get in sync with the heart?” Everything else becomes a compliment, and I do different variations of it every day.
And I feel that should be the number one formula for colds, for flu, for Covid, whatever, allergies, etc… I could only function for that reason. I just went through another round of having to use the formula more intensively, and it worked.
Read more about the healing powers of breathwork in Healing From Trauma With Movement – A Personal Experience
Making the Cardiovascular Breathing Program Work Accessible
Cina: Well, that’s exactly what we wanted to follow up with you about, how the breathing exercises have helped you post-Covid. But now you’ve been able to put it to the test again and reconfirm the benefits. Is there anything else that you would like to share with the community?
Miriam: I see we’re announcing a lot of breathing courses for teacher training, but I don’t see enough breathing classes for the general public. For me, from the beginning, it was an internal journey of discovery and healing. It wasn’t about teaching teachers, you know, and it was more of a healing formula. So to me, I would say that these programs are great, but the real formula is to allow the body to experience it in one hour, daily, or increments of 15 minutes to one hour, depending if the person and the circumstances of the individual health.
It doesn’t even need to be a whole hour for the general population who is actually struggling with respiratory problems; that’s how I see it. For the healthy people, they can do the hour class and have that burst of energy.
What I was initially given by Juliu could never have been a whole program because I was just starting to rebuild my defenses. It’s kind of like when we do a Gyrotonic or Gyrokinesis Foundation Course. We have a whole menu of exercises. But how you teach a client in one hour is very different than in a teacher training course. The Cardiovascular Breathing Program has the same quality. It has a structure for teachers to practice and understand how to teach the material, but then that teacher has to adapt it for their clients or with a group class and organize one-hour doses of it. And that’s the beauty of putting it into the general public.
Cina: So what is your advice for teachers and how best to make this breathing work accessible to the general public?
Miriam: I would say always create one hour with a beginning, middle and end, with a purpose. We always start with the simpler form of breathing, usually the single nostrils. Then, how do you go from there into the tapping? It depends on the client or class – if it’s a group of very beginners, or if it’s a person who is actually sick, that’s a different way to teach. The rhythm has to be a little bit slower. You have to listen to them and make sure that they are following without struggle. Right? And then, there has to be a middle and an end in terms of building a little bit more of their inner power, so they know their inner power of breath, moving gradually aerobically towards the end of the class so that they end up standing. And then, close with our deep breathing, in which we have the configurations of the arms, the different focus on different specific areas of the lungs, until the very end, where everything is breathing as one.
It could be slower, it could be faster, it could be simpler, it could have more dynamic different movements of arms on the standing part if the people are coordinated and more advanced enough and don’t have breathing problems.
So, programs one, two and three give you many facets to look at and pick and choose from according to who is in front of you. Which is different from simply teaching a course with the numbers and having teachers who are healthy. It’s very different. It’s like in Gyrotonic classes when you have to modify certain exercises because of an injury. Same thing with breathing. You know, you can’t force the breath, but you also have to be able to stimulate it and find that medium, which I had to find within myself because of all the experiences that I had at different moments. I remember building up, and I remember the first time when Juliu started doing more of the double breath running in place and the jumps in place. After that, I would lie down in bed and be in bed for hours. Nowadays, for me, it’s just like going to a class, I feel great, I don’t feel like I need to sleep as much.
The Programs are so rich and give you the gift to choose. Same as Gyrotonic classes, you give people what they can absorb and then a little more as they are able to build. But you can’t push to the extremes, so the system shuts down and resists backward. Also, you don’t want to do too little because, as I mentioned, in every person I’ve talked to who has long-haul Covid, even in 2023, the common symptom is fatigue that is hard to beat. So, you have to be able to push a little bit, not too much so that it doesn’t become chronic fatigue, but just enough so that the body begins to react.
Cina: How long did it take before you felt like you turned the corner from the fatigue?
Miriam: I worked through the fatigue for the whole first year. I was fatigued every day. I remember even performing back then and practicing going up and down the silks because it’s good for the lungs with pulling the body weight, but I remember my heart pumping and struggling for that whole first year. I was accompanied and monitored by medical devices throughout a year, every few weeks. It was up and down. That’s why I say not to give up. I remember thinking that if I listened to that voice and put myself in bed, I would not get up. That’s, to me, the most important thing. I even remember waking up in the mornings and having to wait 15 or 20 minutes before I could really see the world clearly and to stop the dizziness. It was this strange brain fogginess.
It was one year before I turned a corner. And then, it was very inspiring. I started working more toward my choreography and doing more things physically than I did before. It challenged me to go beyond my comfort zone with dance, with how much I did in the air, with different things I did not try before because I did not think I could do it. It gave me like a rebound after a year. No medications, just a lot of vitamins, which I still take today. I did have relapses, for example, when I took the vaccine. I think my body went into shock, but that just took about thirty days. I had friends who had relapses for like six months after the vaccine.
Nowadays, I feel much stronger. I am extra careful with my immunity because, in the process, I was bombarded.
Cina: Why do you think rounding that corner and coming out of the fatigue and fogginess allowed you to push your dance further?
Miriam: I really think it was a result of this work. Plus, you know, I did meditation. As I told you, I did other things for maintenance because I think you can’t really separate the body and the mind at all. And I think that process was emotionally difficult, and it created a lot of questioning. I really don’t know that I would have been able to face all the challenges that I faced daily without these breathing exercises. I talk about my breath in general, but it was also my digestive system. My heart got inflamed, and I had articulation pain, which was also part of the symptoms back then on that first wave. But I attribute my recovery majorly to the Gyrokinesis Method and breathing. No question.
In your mind, you might get skeptical about it because you’re suffering so much. But then all of a sudden you start to get this relief and then all of a sudden you’re breathing, you’re able to speak, and then you realize that you’re getting up from your bed without dizziness and this and that, and then you realize that you’re better. Also, I see the people that I was able to help and that they recovered.
Cina: I think it’s pretty remarkable and we thought it would be interesting for people to read a follow-up about, you know, where you’re at in your journey, especially because your story was so powerful right when the pandemic hit. Is there anything else you want to share?
Miriam: I feel that it all unfolded for the best, and I feel that there’s much more out there in the world and many more people out there in the world that need this work.
Revitalizing Your System
Cina: I don’t know the science behind breathing and energy, but I wonder what it is about the breathing exercises that give you so much more energy than if you just go to the gym and do a workout, you know?
Miriam: I mean, you’re revitalizing your system. When you go to the gym and you do workouts, which includes a lot of flexion of external muscles, you might actually be closing the doors of your body, the energetic doors and the respiratory pathways. Without breath, no energy. The body eventually stagnates if you are doing movements without any breath concept. When you work from within, you’re opening those doors. You’re opening the energy pathways. The breath is shifting, whatever is blocked is being released. In my view, no breath… no energy… no life…
You’re also benefiting your organs, your nervous system, and the spine. The spine is everything. It is the axis of your universe between your mind and your body. And so it’s like a tuned piano. You have to tune the piano in order to play beautiful music. Otherwise, the music will be distorted, and the body is the same thing. It’s like you can play, you can move it, but if you don’t move with a certain discipline, harmony from inside out, and tune the breath and the pathways of your nervous system, the music will be distorted. That’s the work we do, fine-tuning our body…
The fatigue situation is a major question for the doctors, you know, and they are starting to give people antidepressants. The fatigue, in their concept, becomes depression. Well… The body has suffered a tremendous invasion from an unknown type of virus that has messed up the entire system. The body is trying to be alive, and it’s suffering and struggling. That doesn’t mean you have depression per se… The body is suffering a tremendous chemical unbalance, which affects the regular brain functions as well. If your body starts to return gradually with some stimulation, which is what we do, then naturally, you will start to feel better. Whatever you call depression will dissipate because when the body starts breathing, the chemicals will start to come back to normal. You understand better what’s happening to you and you’re no longer feeling like you need to be in bed. There is a sense of well-being that takes place naturally through breath and movement. The goal is to survive and live a decent life and be able to continue our journey here to the best that we can, to be the healthiest that we can, and to help others – which I hope to do more of.
Cina: What you have to offer is so critical because you come at it from personal experience. There are a lot of people that teach breathing, but they don’t have the personal experience of deep and profound healing that has come from a breathing practice. So, what you have to offer is very important. Yes, I do hope you get a chance to share with more people who are suffering from that because if you haven’t been through it, you don’t understand that fatigue, and you don’t understand where those people are coming from. It’s hard to empathize on the same level. If you offered a class for long-haul Covid survivors, it would probably be packed full every single day.
Miriam: Maybe that’s what I’ll do. You know, Juliu brings so much light into the world through his work, through his experiences, because obviously, his experiences are what he gave to me. And he was like, “Oh, she’s going to benefit from this.” because it was helping him with his own things. I am just so happy to be able to channel it somehow and be able to share it because it’s exactly what we need.
Cina: Well, that’s the best part of this work, sharing it! So, thank you for sharing with us, Miriam. I look forward to hearing all the stories of those who start more breathing classes because they were inspired by reading this.
Miriam: Thank you, and a big hug to you.
Read about Miriam’s initial experience with COVID-19 in our post from 2020 Dancing with Covid
Those interested in taking Gyrokinesis Cardiovascular Breathing Program classes can use the Virtual Class Finder to find options near you. Licensed Gyrokinesis Trainers can find Cardiovascular Breathing Program Teacher Training Courses here. To find Gyrotonic and Gyrokinesis classes near you, visit our Studio Finder tool.
Visit Miriam’s website to see more of her work.