Sufferers are singing opera to help them beat Long Covid.

Patients recovering from coronavirus are being referred to a programme teaching tips from singing professionals to help them get over their breathlessness and the anxiety this can produce.

The programme, organized by the English National Opera in association with Imperial College London, helps them relearn how to breathe by using techniques used by top opera singers.

Following a six-week pilot that ran between September and November 2020 that was independently evaluated, patients reported definite improvements in symptoms and wellbeing with emotional as well as physical benefits.

ENO Breathe uses weekly group online sessions led by mentors and participants start with an initial chat with a member of the Breathe team.

Each free session begins with a warm up exercise to prepare the body and mind by deepening awareness of physical sensation.

The patients, who must be referred by an NHS specialist, then progress into singing lullabies.

The ENO Breathe website says: “Lullabies are expressly designed to calm and soothe, and have the benefit of being short, memorable and accessible to all.

“Singing lullabies builds emotional connections with the other activities and exercises on the programme.

ENOs the Merry Widow

ENO's the Merry Widow

“Participants leave sessions with a calming song in their hearts – and crucially – this creates a positive emotional connection to a wealth of tools and exercises to help manage their symptoms, making these exercises more memorable, more meaningful and more usable.”

Excerpts of lullabies specially performed by ENO singers and players are shown for patients to watch and listen to.

One participant Deborah said: “Even though some of us are not singers, it doesn’t really matter. It just feels that you want to be in that gang, you want to join in.”

And Jenny said: “The use of the lullabies and the relaxing songs kind of calms you already, ready to breathe in a more focused way. I thought it was sneaky!”

The approach, which also focuses on posture, mirrors techniques employed by opera singers who, ENO says, achieve the physical co-ordination required for singing via emotional connection and imagery rather than just giving their body instructions.

Participants are also given resources such as song sheets and audio and visual materials, downloadable playlists for bedtime or moments of panic and filmed exercise videos guiding viewers through breathing, vocal and warm-up techniques.

Jen said: “ENO made me feel like something was actively being done to recognize and treat long Covid and not let us become lost in the ether.”

And Sheeba added: “It’s prevented me from calling my GP about anxiety brought on by breathing issues. I genuinely believe it will take pressure off medical facilities.”

Local patients are already being referred by the Oxfordshire Long Covid Team and are scheduled to start the course in a month.