Controlled Yogic Breathing as an Effective Therapy for Depression

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By Jessica Davis


Numerous individuals who use antidepressant treatments do not experience complete alleviation of their symptoms. A groundbreaking study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry sheds light on the efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya yoga, a breathing-based meditation technique, in mitigating severe depression in such individuals.

This innovative research, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, provides substantial evidence supporting the use of controlled yogic breathing to combat depression. Sudarshan Kriya yoga, practiced both collectively and individually, incorporates a series of rhythmic breathing exercises designed to induce a state of deep meditation and relaxation, alternating slow and soothing breaths with invigorating and rapid ones.

Groundbreaking Results

A meticulously designed pilot study led by Dr. Anup Sharma, a Neuropsychiatry research fellow at Penn, revealed notable improvements in depressive and anxiety symptoms among medicated patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) who participated in the breathing technique compared to those who did not. After a two-month period, the HDRS (Hamilton Depression Rating Scale) scores of the yoga group exhibited a significant reduction, while the control group remained unchanged.

The HDRS is a widely utilized clinician-administered assessment that evaluates various aspects of depression, including mood, interest in activities, energy levels, presence of suicidal thoughts, and feelings of guilt.

Promise for Treatment

Dr. Sharma emphasized the significance of exploring new approaches for treating depression, given the high proportion of individuals who do not fully respond to antidepressants. Sudarshan Kriya yoga offers a promising and cost-effective alternative, providing a non-pharmacological strategy to combat this debilitating condition.

“Sudarshan Kriya yoga empowers individuals with an active method to achieve a profound meditative state that is accessible and adaptable to various environments,” explained Dr. Sharma. Past research has demonstrated its effectiveness in individuals with milder forms of depression, alcohol dependence-related depression, and MDD. However, its application in an outpatient setting for depression had not been clinically investigated until this study.

Future Research

Previous studies suggest that yoga and controlled breathing techniques may regulate the nervous system, reducing stress hormones. The authors highlight the need for well-designed studies to further investigate the therapeutic benefits of yoga for depression, considering the growing interest in this ancient Indian practice.

With millions of Americans practicing yoga annually, the outcomes of this pilot study demonstrate the feasibility and potential of Sudarshan Kriya as a complementary intervention for MDD patients who have not achieved satisfactory results with antidepressant medication. “The next phase of our research will involve a larger study examining how this intervention influences brain structure and function in individuals with major depression,” concluded Dr. Sharma.

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