Breathing for Stress Reduction
Stressed out? Just Breathe.
Photo Credit: Azumio.com
It’s been a long day at work, traffic was worse than normal, and you still have a ton of items on your to-do list. How do you deal with the stress that can add up in your life? Some revert to the television, others may work out and another portion of us may turn to a food. One practice that often gets overlooked is simply breathing. This simple but effective method has been around for centuries. One technique that has been looked at extensively in the research is Sudarshan Kriya Yoga otherwise known as SKY. SKY is practiced by millions in over 150 countries and provides a conservative approach to a wide range of stress related conditions. Let’s take a look at the benefits that you could see when applying this technique to your life.
SKY is comprised of four main techniques:
- “Victorious Breath”- Slow breath technique (2-4 breaths per minute) to control airflow so that each phase of the breath cycle can be prolonged to an exact count. Experience: Physical and mental calmness with alertness.
- “Bellows Breath”- Rapid inhalation and forceful exhalation at a rate of 30 breaths per minute. Experience: Excitation followed by calmness
- “Om” is chanted three times with very prolonged expiration. Experience: psychological alertness and an increased sensitivity to sensory information
- “Purifying Breath”- an advanced form of rhythmic, cyclical breathing with slow, medium and fast cycles.
I will be concentrating on the benefits of the first two techniques as they directly correlate with stress reduction. SKY provides a sequence of breathing techniques of different lengths, frequencies and intensities. This allows the user to tap into the parasympathetic nervous system (rest and recovery) and turn down the sympathetic nervous system (“Fight or Flight” and stress). The SKY literature states, “rather than allowing the emotions to alter the breath, one can skillfully use the breath to transform one’s emotional state.” Having control of these systems is extremely empowering and can promote healthy physiological changes when it’s time to relax and recharge. Let’s take a closer look at these changes.
Slow yoga breathing or “Virtuous Breath” allows you to take control of your heart rate. Normally, our heart rates increase when we take a breath in and decreases when we exhale. Purposely slowing down our breath indirectly decreases our heart rates and stress levels. In addition, slow breathing has helped reduce and stabilize stress-related biomarkers. In fact, one study saw a 56% reduction in cortisol and a 71% reduction in lactate in highly stressed police cadets when applying the SKY method. Furthermore, this method helps decrease symptoms of anxiety without the side effects and costs of commonly prescribed drugs.
When is a good time to practice this type of breathing? The best approach is to schedule a set time to practice each day. This will help instill the habit. Many recommend that the best time is first thing in the morning before your day gets too busy. If you commute to work, this can also be a perfect time to apply these methods. Avoid reverting to your phone when you are waiting for an appointment and practice your breathing instead. Doing household chores such as mowing the lawn or folding laundry are also acceptable times to perform this method. You do not need to be standing or sitting still in order to breath slowly. Lastly, avoid practicing these methods when you are tired, unless your intention is to fall asleep :).
You should try and spend a minimum of 15 minutes per day when practicing these methods. Try each technique and see which one works best for you! Some see the positive effects of SKY overnight. Others may take a week or two to feel the benefits of the technique kick in. Being consistent will help make this a healthy habit in your life. Try not to get frustrated and trust the process. You are on the right path!
- Zope, S. A., & Zope, R. A. (2013). Sudarshan kriya yoga: Breathing for health. International Journal of Yoga, 6(1), 4–10. http://doi.org/10.4103/0973-6131.105935
- Agte VV, Jahagirdar MU, Tarwadi KV. The effects of sudarshan kriya yoga on some Physiological and biochemical parameters In mild hypertensive patients. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol. 2011;55:183–7
- Rao RM, Nagendra HR, Raghuram N, Vinay C, Chandrashekara S, Gopinath KS, et al. Influence of yoga on mood states, distress, quality of life and immune outcomes in early stage breast cancer patients undergoing surgery. Int J Yoga. 2008;1:11–20.
- Descilo T, Vedamurtachar A, Gerbarg PL, Nagaraja D, Gangadhar BN, Damodaran B, et al. Effects of a yoga breath intervention alone and in combination with an exposure therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression in survivors of the 2004 South-East Asia tsunami. Acta Psychiatr Scand. 2010;121:289–300.
- Agte VV. Sudarshan Kriya Yoga for Improving Antioxidant Status and Reducing Anxiety in Adults. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 2008;14(2):96–100.
* This guest blog post is written by Edward Espinoza DC, MS. Dr. Espinoza is a sports focused chiropractor at Canyon Lakes Chiropractic Group in the San Ramon Valley. See more info at:
Active care (such as breathing exercises) is an important part of the healing process and is emphasized in all of his treatments.