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Controlled yogic breathing may help people who are suffering from depression, according to a new study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.
In the pilot study, completed at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, medicated patients with major depressive disorder (MDD) who practiced a meditative breathing technique experienced significant depression and anxiety relief. Medicated MDD patients not using the breathing technique showed no symptom improvements.
The breath-based meditation used in the study is called Sudarshan Kriya. It involves a set of rhythmic breathing patterns - slow, calm breaths alternating with fast, stimulating breaths - that generate tranquility. “Sudarshan Kriya yoga gives people an active method to experience a deep meditative state that’s easy to learn and incorporate in diverse settings,” said lead researcher Anup Sharma, M.D., Ph.D.
The twenty-five patients enrolled in the study had not experienced symptom reduction after more than eight weeks of antidepressant treatment. Each was randomized into either the breathing meditation group, or the control group. The Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HDRS) was used before, and after the study to assess the participants’ mood, energy level, suicidal ideation, and other symptoms. At the study’s start the mean baseline HDRS score was 22.0, indicating severe depression.
During the study’s first week, meditation participants went through a six-session program that included Sudarshan Kriya yoga, some yoga postures, sitting meditation, and stress education. The second through eighth week of the study, the meditators received weekly Sudarshan Kriya sessions, and practiced the technique at home.
Those in the meditation group improved their HDRS scores by 10.27 points (on average), while the control group showed no improvements. Yoga group participants also indicated substantial symptom relief on the self-reported Beck Depression, and Beck Anxiety Inventories.
These research results suggest that Sudarshan Kriya is a promising adjunct intervention for MDD treatment when patients are unresponsive to antidepressants. “The next step in this research is to conduct a larger study evaluating how this intervention impacts brain structure and function in patients who have major depression,” says Sharma.
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