Science of Breath

Extracts of the Scientific Research Papers Presented at AIIMS During the 
First International Symposium on Sudarshan Kriya, Pranayam & Consciousness 
on March  02 and 03, 2002.

Introduction:

Scientific studies suggest connections between body and the mind implying that emotional state and thought processes affect brain, endocrine system and also immune system.  A new discipline has emerged based on these concepts – called Psychoneuroimmunology or mind-body medicine.

Effect on stress on thoughts and emotions: Pure Consciousness:

Perception of stress leads to restlessness, anxiety, irritability or aggressive behavior and/or a state of panic, in extreme cases, even addiction to tobacco, alcohol and/or drugs.  Negative emotions surface in the form of hatred/dislike, jealousy, greed, possessiveness, lust, arrogance and anger.

Further, inter-personal relationships are adversely affected, work out-put decreases and power of concentration wanes.  Efficiency goes down and memory weakens.  Most of us are afraid to acknowledge our negativity and so we begin finding fault with others.  We start complaining, which adds further to our stress;  a vicious cycle begins.

 

SK & P are the processes, which remind us of this fact.  They are the vehicles, which transport us to our very source – pure consciousness.  Stress is perceived, only when our consciousness is flowing outwards, when our mind, senses, and emotions are connected to the outside world, to the environment, and to the events of life.  But when the consciousness is turned in-wards; when senses, thoughts and emotions are harmonized with consciousness, we experience “State of pure consciousness”, where there is no stress, one perceives only joy.

It needs to be emphasized that knowledge of this state of pure consciousness at an intellectual level is not enough.  One has to experience/realize this state, for it to affect a change at the level of our psyche, thoughts, emotions and body.

 

Effect of stress on body: Subjective responses to SK & P:

Body too is affected by stress.  Pulse increases, heart pounds and we start perspiring – hands become cold and clammy.  This is caused by the release of several hormones, chemicals and cytokines from our endocrine glands and immune cells, which are activated in response to the perception of stress.

While the body can adapt to acute stress and does not suffer much damage, exposure or perception of repeated stressful situations (chronic stress) leads to irreversible physiological changes, resulting in diseased states like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart attacks, asthma, gastrointestinal ulcers, viral infections, migraine/non-specific headaches etc.

Those practicing SK & P on regular basis claim that their negative emotions gradually turns to positive ones, unnecessary thoughts begin to vanish from mind, and the body begins to look and feel younger and healthier.  As doctors and scientists however we were not willing to accepts these claims at face value.  For this reason research was initiated by seven departments at AIIMS, NIMHANS, Bangalore and by Bangalore Medical College.
Process to counter stress: Research at AIIMS:

Over the centuries, many Sages and Rishis recommended the practice of yoga, meditation and Pranayam to prevent or alter our reactions to stress.  More recently, Sudarshan Kriya (SK) has been introduced by Sadguru Sri Sri Ravisankar ji.  These are the processes which not only affect the mind and body, but take us beyond, towards the very source of our mind, body and emotions-consciousness.

Pranayam is an ancient wisdom.  It directs or regulates our “prana” – subtle life force energy, the very essence of our life.  It’s regular practice activates and harmonizes many biological rhythms including brain rhythm, heart beat, enzyme rhythm and mental and emotional rhythm.

Sudarshan Kriya is a rhythmic breathing process.  Three different rhythms in a cyclical fashion are introduced to participants through Art of Living (AOL) workshops of 22-24 hours spread over six days.

According to Sri Sri Ravisankar: 
“Breath and mind are linked like body and mind. Breath sorts out the imbalances in the mind and the body. It’s the secret of life, we have forgotten”.

We figured that if in need there are two states of consciousness, one flowing outwards connected to outside world and another flowing inwards which harmonized the body thoughts and emotions, then the body physiology in these states must differ.  Therefore,  we studied physiological and biochemical parameters related to the brain, endocrine system, immune system and the body’s other defensive mechanisms before and after SK & P to see not only the immediate changes, but also the long term effects on body and mind.
Electroencephalogram (EEG): Effect on stress hormone – Cortisol:

EEG changes were recorded on 19 Sudarshan Kriya  practitioners and compared with 15 controls (doctors and researchers from within AIIMS not practicing SK & P, yoga  or meditation), to study the long term effects of SK & P.

Significant increase in beta-activity was observed in the left frontal occipital and midline regions among Sudarshan Kriya practitioners compared to controls (p <0.05).  Neurologists interpreted these findings as indicative of heightened alertness.

EEG in 5 AOL female practitioners in the age group 35 – 45 with similar socio economic and educational background was studied during SK & P.  Increase in alpha activity was demonstrable in both the hemispheres with interspersed persistence of  beta activity.  This indicated a state of relaxed alertness.

That SK & P indeed leads to relaxation, was confirmed further by the measurement of blood Cortisol (a hormone known as stress hormone) in 21 healthy individuals in 35 – 50 years of age.  Results were compared among regular AOL practitioners vs. beginners and also among beginners during SK & P vs. listening to classical music.  AOL regular practitioners had lower blood Cortisol level at the base line indicating that they are less stressed when compared to beginners, there was further fall during Kriya suggesting that SK needs to be practiced regularly to maintain relaxed state of mind.  Among beginners, fall was greater during SK & P as compared to when they were listening to music, confirming that SK & P was indeed more relaxing than listening to classical music.

Blood Lactate:

Effect on immune system:

Blood lactate is another chemical, which increases during stress. Those undergoing police training are a highly stressed group as they undergo intense physical training on a daily basis.  Blood lactate was measured in 10 such individuals before and after SK &P.  There was a marked fall confirming that SK & P induced a state of relaxation.

Effect of SK & P was studied on our immune system, the system which protects us from disease.  Natural killer (NK) cells are surveillance cells of immune system and are capable of destroying tumor cells as well as infected cells.  These were enumerated in the peripheral blood (PB) of AOL practitioners, normal individuals not practicing SK & P and cancer patients.  NK cells were found to be significantly higher (P <0.001) in AOL practitioners compared to normal individuals and cancer patients.  Cancer patients were then subjected to AOL workshop, over three to six months of regular practice of SK & P, they demonstrated an increase in NK cells.  This study is yet an ongoing one, and definite conclusions are awaited. 

Antioxidant enzymes: Effect on blood cholesterol:

The body is repeatedly exposed to chemicals and pollutants in the environment due to which  free radicals are generated.  These react with oxygen and cause oxidant damage leading to several diseases including cancer.  To counteract these out body has a defensive system in the form of antioxidant enzymes. 

Studies carried out at AIIMS as well as Bangalore Medical College have indicated an increase in antioxidant enzymes after (P <0.05) indicating improved antioxidant defense.

Studies conducted at the Bangalore Medical College demonstrated a significant fall in serum total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol, as well as an increase in HDL cholesterol.  This would make SK & P a tool for prevention of coronary heart disease (CHD).

LDL cholesterol as well as an increase in HDL cholesterol.  This would make SK & P a tool for prevention of coronary heart disease (CHD).

     

Effect on depression: Conclusion:
NIMHANS of Bangalore recorded a 70% cure in individuals suffering from depression.  SK & P were as effective as drugs without any side effects.  This was also both cost effective and self empowering.  Following SK & P, brain wave patterns were found to normalize and serum prolactin increased.  With the regular practice of SK & P, one experiences flow of positive emotions, replacing anger, frustrations and jealousy.  The body feels younger and healthier and the mind feels calmer.  EEG, blood cortisol and blood lactate levels reflect a state of relaxation, yet alertness.  Increase in NK cells and antioxidant enzymes suggests that regular practice might prevent many diseases including infections and possibly even cancer.  Fall in cholesterol may prevent cardiac disease and depression is cured in 70% of cases.  Thus, even though further studies are needed, available data so far serves to validate the subjective claims of a healthier body, calmer mind, and balanced emotions.

By:
Dr. Vinod Kochupillai

Chief, Institute Rotary Cancer Hospital
All India Institute of Medical Sciences
New Delhi 110 029
Phone: 011 651 6821
Email: vinodkochupillai@yahoo.com