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The  Science of  Breath

In a fast paced age where stress and depression are widespread, the toll of stress on physical and mental health can be extremely high.

Stress, anxiety and depression are known to be significant factors in the onset and progression of a wide spectrum of illnesses ranging from cancer and HIV-1 infection, to asthma and cardiovascular disease.

Sudarshan Kriya® and its accompanying practices (SK&P) are time-honored stress management/health promotion techniques whose health benefits are being validated by modern medical science.

Independent research has shown that SK&P significantly:

  • Reduce levels of stress (reduce cortisol - the "stress" hormone)
  • Benefit the immune system
  • Reduce cholesterol
  • Relieve anxiety and depression (mild, moderate and severe)
  • Increase anti-oxidant protection
  • Enhance brain function (increased mental focus, calmness and recovery from stressful stimuli)
  • Enhance health, well-being, and peace of mind

These simple, yet powerful breathing practices have a unique advantage over many other forms of treatment: they are free from unwanted side-effects, cut health care costs , and are easy to learn and practice in daily life.

The Art of Living International Research and Health Promotion Center aims to promote timely and scholarly investigation of the SK&P as they relate to physical, social, and emotional well-being. We welcome research collaborations and suggestions from interested parties.

The Science of Breath - Summary of Key Findings

Research Summary-

Improved Brain Function

To study the long-term effects of SK&P on brain function, EEG (electroencephalogram) changes were recorded in 19 SK&P practitioners outside of the practice of SK&P,and compared with EEG patterns of 16 controls (doctors and researchers who did not practice SK&P, yoga, or meditation).

EEG activity was also studied during the practice of SK&P in five females of similar age, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.

This study found an increase in EEG alpha activity, with interspersed persistence of beta activity. This indicates a state of relaxation co-existing with heightened alertness.

Effect on Cortisol, the "Stress Hormone"

Several studies have demonstrated significant falls in cortisol levels. In one study, blood cortisol, known as the "stress hormone," was measured in 21 individuals, 35-50 years of age. Regular SK&P practitioners (Group 1) were compared with beginning practitioners (Group 2) during their SK&P sessions.

The beginning practitioners were also measured before learning SK&P, while listening to classical music (Group 3). Among beginners, the fall in cortisol levels was significantly greater during SK&P than when listening to classical music, suggesting that SK&P produces a better relaxation response.

The significant further fall in serum cortisol levels, during and following SK&P, among beginning and regular practitioners, suggests that regular practice of SK&P progressively develops greater levels of both relaxation and resilience to stress.

Effect on Blood Lactate
(Indicator of stress and tension)

They undergo intense physical and emotional training daily. Blood lactate was measured in 10 such individuals, both before learning SK&P and after the first session. There was a significant fall in lactate levels after SK&P, suggesting that it induces a state of relaxation.

Effect on Immune Function

Natural killer (NK) cells are believed to be important in the body's defense against new and recurring cancers. NK cells are the surveillance cells of the immune system and are capable of destroying tumor cells as well as infected cells. NK cells were counted in the peripheral blood of  three groups: SK&P practitioners, normal individuals not practicing SK&P, and cancer patients in remission. NK cells were significantly higher (p<0.001) in the SK&P group than in either non-practicing individuals or in cancer patients in remission. The cancer patients then learned SK&P. After 3-6 months of regular practice, there was a significant increase in the cancer patients' NK cell count.

Effect on Antioxidant Enzymes

Free rad icals can react with oxygen and cause oxidant damage, contributing to many diseases, including cancer and such cardiovascular diseases as heart disease and stroke.

To counteract these free radicals, the human body has a defense system in the form of antioxidant enzymes. A study was conducted to assess the effect of SK&P on antioxidant enzymes. Levels of three major antioxidant enzymes-superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and    glutathione-were  all

found to be significantly higher in SK&P practitioners than in the matched control group, which suggests that people who practice SK&P have an improved antioxidant status and an enhanced defense against oxidant damage.

Effect on Blood Cholesterol

Psychosocial stress is a major contributor to hypertension and coronary heart disease (CHD). In CHD, deposits of LDL cholesterol, fat, and other substances on the arterial walls slow or block the flow of blood, resulting in heart malfunction. A study was conducted to assess the cholesterol levels of individuals before they learned SK&P, as well as after 7 and 45 days of regular practice.

Significant drops in total cholesterol and LDL (harmful) cholesterol, as well as increases in HDL (beneficial) cholesterol were observed.These findings suggest that SK&P improves the blood cholesterol profile, and that regular practice may therefore prove to be an effective tool in preventing and arresting hypertension and CHD.

Effect on Depression

SK&P has been shown to have a 68%-73% success rate in the treatment of depression, regardless of severity.

Relief from depression, determined by psychiatric evaluation and standard psychiatric measures (Beck Depression
Inventory, Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, and others) was experienced within three weeks.

Published studies further suggest that SK&P normalizes patients' brainwave patterns, increases serum prolactin (a "wellbeing" hormone), and is as effective as standard antidepressant drug regimens. Yet it is safe, free of unwanted side effects, cost effective, and self empowering

Public Research

Here are links to AOL research articles that were published in international peer-reviewed journals

Naga Venkatesha Murthy, P.J., Gangadhar, B.N., Janakiramaiah, N., Subbakrishna, D.K. (1997).Normalization of P300 Amplitude following Treatment in Dysthymia. Biological Psychiatry, 42 , 740-743.

Naga Venkatesha Murthy, P.J., Janakiramaiah, N., Gangadhar, B.N., Subbakrishna, D.K. (1998). P300 amplitude and antidepressant response to Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY). Journal of Affective Disorders. 50 (1):45-8.

Antidepressant efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in melancholia: a randomized comparison with Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and Imipramine. Journal of Affective Disorders. 57 (1-3):255-9.

Bhatia, M., Kumar, A., Kumar, N., Pandey, R.M., and Kochupillai, V. (2003). Electrophysiologic evaluation of Sudarshan Kriya: an EEG, BAER, and P300 study. Indian J. Physiol. Pharmacol. 47 , 157-163.

Sharma, H., Sen, S., Singh, N.K. Bhardwaj, V. Kochupillai, N. Singh (2003).Sudarshan Kriya practitioners exhibit better antioxidant status and lower blood lactate levels. Biological Psychology 63 :281-291.

Patricia L. Gerbarg and Richard P. Brown (Oct. 2005). Yoga: A breath of relief for Hurricane Katrina refugees. Current Psychiatry 4, 55-67.
Article at Current Psychiatry Online

Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Sudarshan Kriya Yogic Breathing in the Treatment of Stress, Anxiety, and Depression: Part II-Clinical Applications and Guidelines Aug 2005, Vol. 11, No. 4 : 711 -717


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