When I first started practicing yoga, I failed to understand the importance of pranayama. I never practiced it. After practicing for a while, I recognized the power of the breath and started to study pranayama. Now I use it in my daily life all the time -- to focus, to energize, to calm down, to balance. I also use it with my clients. It always amazes me how the simple act of breathing (or altering your breathing) can positively impact your system.
Because this is a topic near and dear to my heart, I've asked Danielle Grilli, the content director over at rVita, to write an article about pranayama and its effectiveness for helping those with depression and anxiety. While I've never suffered from depression, I often meet folks who have and struggle with it on a daily basis. While drugs are sometimes necessary, other times there are other ways to get relief -- including pranayama, dietary changes, and yoga. Danielle has researched this topic and offers up the excellent article:
Pranayama for Depression and Anxiety? Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) Proves Effective
To say that depression and anxiety in the
As regards alleviation of the symptoms, there are options. However, despite the popularity of pharmaceuticals (over 147 million anti-depressant prescriptions were written by US doctors in 2004 alone!!) many people opt out. Whether a matter of tolerance, side-effects, or a simple dislike of ‘medicating’, many individuals suffering with depression and/or anxiety prefer other, more natural treatments. One such natural and effective treatment is pranayama or yogic breathing.
Derived from Sanskrit, Pranayama means the "lengthening of the prana or breath". The practice itself is an ancient method of mindful breathing which has its roots in yogic methods. Given its long history, pranayama has, not surprisingly, proven to be an effective treatment for both depression and anxiety in clinical trials.
The most influential evidence for pranayama as a viable
treatment for depression derives from research conducted by the National
Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience in India.
Another open, randomized clinical trial, conducted by scientists at the Biometry and Nutrition Group, Agharkar Research Institute, compared the efficacy of SKY against both electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and the drug imipramine. In this study, consisting of 37 participants and taking place over a period of 7 weeks, researchers found that, although inferior to ECT, SKY was shown to be as effective as imipramine in the treatment of depression. During the study, participants practiced 30 minute daily sessions and once-weekly 75 minute sessions of SKY.
Lastly, although more clinical studies are needed to support the findings, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga has also been shown to be clinically effective in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), stress-related medical illnesses, substance abuse, and criminal rehabilitation. Studies also suggest that regular practice of SKY lowers levels of triglycerides in the blood, significantly increases antioxidant capacity, marginally reduces oxidative stress, improves sleep, and increases an individual’s overall sense of well-being. To date, there have been no significant side-effects reported.
2. Antidepressant efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in melancholia: a randomized comparison with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) and imipramine. Journal of Affective Disorders , Volume 57 , Issue 1 - 3 , Pages 255 – 259. N . Janakiramaiah
3. Richard P. Brown, Patricia L. Gerbarg. The Journal of
Alternative and Complementary Medicine.
August 1, 2005
, 11(4): 711-717. doi:10.1089/acm.2005.11.711.
7. Vaishali Vilas Agte, Shashi Ajit Chiplonkar. Alternative
& Complementary Therapies.
April 1, 2008
, 14(2): 96-100. doi:10.1089/act.2008.14204.
A big thanks to Danielle for all of her research and a very interesting article.
I've practiced a derivative of Sudarshan Kriya with Kundalini teachers, but I've never practiced in the Art of Living tradition. If you'd like to learn first-hand what it's like, click here for an excellent blog post about learning this kriya from Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. For even more information about the technique, click here.
If you can't make it to an Art of Living course any time soon, I highly recommend a book from Kundalini yogi David Shannahoff-Khalsa. The book, entitled Kundalini Yoga Meditation: Techniques Specific for Psychiatric Disorders, Couples Therapy, and Personal Growth, offers a variety of Kundalini meditations and kriyas for those suffering from depression, anxiety, addiction, insomnia, and other issues as well as case studies about those who have tried and benefited from these methods. I urge anyone dealing with these issues to supplement their current therapy with these methods. You just might find an alternative that provides relief.