So many of my patients suffer with anxiety and depression. What’s worse, it is estimated that 90% of visits to primary care doctors are related to stress. Stress makes pain and other physical symptoms worse and harder to control. It interferes with management of medical problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
I’ve known for a long time that yoga is helpful for stress management and for your physical health. But there is one specific yoga practice, taught and practiced right here in Cleveland (and around the world), that has proven health benefits. Sudarshan Kriya yoga.
Sudarshan Kriya yoga (SKY) was developed and is taught by Art Of Living International, a nonprofit group led by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. I was privileged to participate in a training course recently and can tell you from personal experience that there are real benefits to this practice.
I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this practice to patients and readers based on my own experience. It turns out, though, that there have been over 30 scientific studies published on the health benefits of this practice. Let’s review some of the evidence.
Anxiety is one of the most common mental health problems I see. It is a chronic illness that colors a patient’s entire experience and significantly impacts their quality of life. Sudarshan Kriya yoga was shown to produce improvements in symptoms in over 70% of subjects and complete remissions in 41% of subjects in only 4 weeks of practice. That is comparable to the effectiveness of medication and psychotherapy.
An estimated 20% of American adults will suffer with depression, and it is one of the most common problems I see in the office. Most patients respond well to medication but some do not. SKY is as effective as imipramine (a third-line medication choice) for patients who don’t respond to more commonly used medications.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a terrible consequence of traumatic life events seen in survivors of natural disasters, terrorist attacks and childhood trauma, and especially in combat veterans. It is very difficult to treat and leads sufferers, particularly veterans, to even contemplate suicide to escape their symptoms. Sudarshan Kriya yoga produced significant and sustained improvements in symptoms in veterans suffering from PTSD, suggesting it should be considered in all patients with this awful illness.
With the attention being paid to the opioid epidemic, it is encouraging to be able to offer an intervention that improves quality of life for opioid users in recovery. One study did demonstrate this effect. SKY also helps smokers quit using tobacco products.
Stress, anxiety, and depression all have physical effects on the body. Many adverse effects of stress have been documented and they contribute to many chronic illnesses. How does SKY impact these physical illnesses and improve health?
Stress causes changes in the lipid profile and in hematological parameters such as platelet count. Over time, these changes may contribute to the increase in heart risk known to be associated with high levels of chronic stress. Sudarshan Kriya yoga has been shown to improve these changes in as little as 3 weeks.
It is also known that stress causes changes in the cardiovascular system related to the autonomic “fight or flight” system. Over time, especially in patients with high blood pressure and diabetes, dysfunction in this system can contribute to increased risk of heart attack and stroke. SKY improves measures of cardiac autonomic function which may in the future be shown to decrease cardiovascular risk.
Diabetics in particular can benefit from the practice of Sudarshan Kriya yoga. Glucose tolerance (postprandial glucose) improved significantly in people practicing SKY and, as mentioned above, cardiac autonomic function improved as well.
Those who are living with chronic, life threatening diseases such as cancer know that stress and anxiety worsens all their physical symptoms. Yoga, including SKY, improves pain and stress even in those with advanced stage breast cancer.
We are not just physical beings. Our minds, emotions and spirits affect our bodies as much as the foods we eat and the exercise we perform. Sudarshan Kriya yoga is an effective way to improve our mental health and our physical wellbeing. If you suffer with anxiety, depression, PTSD, substance addiction, diabetes, heart disease or any other chronic illness please consider taking the Happiness Course with Art Of Living International. Click this link to find a course near you!
QUESTION: Do you practice yoga? Would you consider trying it?