Mental Depression & Sudarshan Kriya: Recent Research
by D.P. Agrawal
Even in the West, it is now generally accepted that traditional techniques of Yoga and Pranayama do improve mental health. The effects of stress and depression on physical and mental health are far-reaching. Anxiety and depression have been found to aggravate the progression of serious diseases like cancer, HIV, asthma and cardiovascular ailments. Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) is the name of the science which deals with these problems. The SudarshanKriya and related breathing practices have been found to have remarkable therapeutic benefits. These simple, yet powerful, breathing practices have the advantage over many other forms of treatment because they are free from negative side-effects, are much cheaper, and are easy to learn and practice in daily life. These yogic practices are now focus of attention of India’s top medical research institutes.
In India both National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (NIMHANS), Bangalore, and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi have been carrying out research on these practices and their effects. Clinical trials at NIMHANS, Bangalore, showed that regular practise of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) – a set of breathing techniques promoted by Sri Sri Ravishankar, founder of the Bangalore based Art of Living Foundation – reduces symptoms of mental depression. NIMHANS researchers claim that SKY is as effective as the established anti-depressant drug imipramine, a tricyclic antidepressant, (Depsonil, Antidep). All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi, has reported that SKYand Pranayam sessions reduced serum cortisol levels – an indicator of stress – in the blood more effectively than listening to classical music. They are also employing SKY to cure alcohol and tobacco addiction.
It has been reported that the distorted dream stage EEG brainwave patterns of the depressed people, the dream-stage EEG patterns significantly improved. Depressed people have a particular EEG brainwave abnormality, which is measured by the P300 ERP amplitude. When P300 was post-tested at day 90 it had returned to normal, (it was indistinguishable from normal controls) and they remained depression free. There was a reduction in REM latency onset and an improvement in NREM stages. About 70% of patients completing the program experienced remission from depression, both at the one month and the three month retest times. Blood analysis revealed statistically significant elevation of plasma prolactin levels after the very first SKY session. This is important since elevated plasma prolactin may be crucial in producing an anti-depressant response. Cortisol ( a stress hormone) levels remained stable, indicating that the practice of Sudarshan Kriya is not stressful.
In 1998, a pilot study on the effectiveness of Sudarshan Kriya and its related breathing practices in the treatment of Multiple Sclerosis was conducted at the Institute of Rehabilitation of the Republic of Slovenia.
There was recently a symposium at Delhi, which cautioned that larger groups have to be studied before firm conclusions can be drawn. Dr Vinod Kochupillai, professer and head of medical oncology at AIIMS who has coordinated these studies, says that the available data on SKY and Pranayam seems to validate the claims that such practices lead to a healthier body, calmer mind and balanced emotions.
1996. Effects of Sudarshan Kriya in Dysthymic Disorders. B.L. Mehti, N. Janakiramaiah, et al. Departments of Neurophysiology and Psychiatry, NIMHANS.
1997. Normalization of P300 Amplitude following Treatment in Dysthymia. P.J. Murthy, B.N. Gangadhar, N. Janakiramaiah, and D.K. Subhakrishna. Biological Psychiatry, 1997, Vol.42, pp. 740-743.
1998. P300 Amplitude and antidepressant response to Sudarshan Kriya Yoga. P.J. Murthy, N. Janakiramaiah, et al. Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 50, pp. 45-48.
2000. Anti-depressant Efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in Melancholia – a randomized comparison with ECT and Imipramine. N. Janakiramaiah, M.D., B.N. Gangadhar, M.D., et al. Journal of Affective Disorders, vol. 57, Issues 1-3, pp. 255-259.