Breathing is a fundamental aspect of human existence. Without it, life would be impossible. Despite this, the act of breathing is often overlooked and taken for granted.
However, various pranayama or breathing techniques have been used throughout history for their ability to promote relaxation, healing, and spiritual growth.
One such technique that has gained popularity in recent times is the SKY Breathing Technique. In this article, we will explore:
- what SKY Breathing technique is,
- the research behind
- and benefits of SKY Breathing technique
- and how to practice the three phases of SKY Breathing to improve your health and wellbeing.
History and Science behind SKY Breathing: Sudarshan Kriya Yoga
Developed by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, a spiritual leader and founder of the Art of Living Foundation, the Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, or SKY Breathing Technique is a type of cyclical controlled breathing exercises with roots in traditional Yoga that help increase the levels of nitric oxide in the body.
Within SKY Breathing technique, the practitioner cycles through three distinct phases and types of breathing, in the following specific sequence of varying breathing rates and techniques:
Nitric oxide is a molecule known for its vasodilating and anti-inflammatory properties, which has been shown to have a positive impact on the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and immune system.
By increasing the levels of nitric oxide in the body, SKY Breathing technique promotes relaxation, reduces the production of stress hormones, and calms the mind.
There are more than 70+ independent research studies conducted demonstrating SKY Breathing Technique’s benefits, showing that it is an effective tool for managing stress, improving lung function, leaving a positive impact on the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, and immune system and boosting overall health and wellbeing.
6 Main Benefits of SKY Breathing Technique
Here are six main benefits of SKY Breathing technique that you should know about:
1. Relieves stress, soothes Anxiety
A comprehensive review published in the International Journal of Yoga of over thirty studies was conducted on SKY Breathing.
It found that one of the most significant benefits include its ability to be a beneficial, low-risk, low-cost adjunct to the treatment of stress, anxiety, and special populations experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, stress-related medical illnesses, substance abuse, as well as in the rehabilitation of criminal offenders.
2. Improved Lung Function:
From a recent study conducted, Spirometry tests in regular SKY practitioners have shown improvement in the lung function of normal healthy adults, which may have significance in serving as an adjunctive complementary treatment modality for improvement in lung function among the patients of obstructive airway disease, asthmatics in particular.
3. Boosts Immunity
A study conducted in All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, showed better antioxidant status both at the enzyme activity level and at RNA level in SKY practitioners.
This was accompanied by better stress regulation and better immune status due to the prolonged life span of lymphocytes by up-regulation of antiapoptotic genes and prosurvival genes in these subjects.SKY practice may exert effects on immunity, aging, cell death, and stress regulation through transcriptional regulation. The anti-inflammatory properties of nitric oxide make it an effective tool for boosting the immune system.
By practicing the SKY Breathing Technique regularly, individuals may experience a reduced incidence of colds, flu, and other respiratory illnesses.
4. Improved Mental Clarity
A 2003 study studying EEG changes found that SKY Breathing Technique was associated with significant increases in beta activity, and helps promotes mental clarity, focus, and concentration.
Practicing SKY Breathing Technique regularly could help individuals manage brain fog, improve memory, and increase productivity.
5. Makes it easier to Meditate
Liz Pomerantz, the administrator of a Phd program at Harvard Medical School attests to the benefits of Sky, saying that in particular SKY breathing technique helps her meditate effortlessly.
Members of the Harvard Longwood Campus are invited to give meditation and SKY Breathing technique as part of their SKY Campus Happiness Program and workshops in collaboration with the Art of Living Foundation.
6. Improves Sleep Quality
A 2021 pilot study conducted on Indian participants of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga revealed that this breathwork technique seems to improve sleep quality of practitioners, and is helpful in alleviating insomnia.
Regular practice of SKY Breathing Technique will yield higher results.
Precautions and Concerns relating to SKY Breathing Technique
Ideally, SKY Breathing technique should always be performed under expert guidance, or else it may be ineffective or even harmful.
Those who are pregnant, menstruating or suffering from extreme mental illness and substance abuse should avoid practicing it.
There are no known side effects of SKY Breathing technique. To date no scientific research conducted has noted severe side effects and thus it is considered a very safe practice, especially if done under the guidance of an expert.
However, it is recommended that complete beginners should consult a doctor or an experienced yoga teacher to assess their mental and physical capabilities to perform the SKY Breathing before attempting.
3 Stages to follow to Practice SKY Breathing Technique
Find a quiet and comfortable place where you can sit comfortably without any distractions. Begin by taking a few deep breaths to help calm the mind and body. Take a deep breath in through your nose and exhale through your mouth with a sigh.
Part 1: Ujjayi or “Victorious Breath:
This involves experiencing the conscious sensation of the breath touching the throat. This slow breath technique (2–4 breaths per minute) increases airway resistance during inspiration and expiration.
Within SKY Breathing technique, Ujjayi breathing is practiced in a very precise manner outlined below. This first phase controls airflow so the practitioner experiences physical and mental calmness with alertness.
- Sit in Lotus or Hero pose or any comfortable seated position with your hands on your hip bone.
- Practice Ujjayi with the following specific breath pattern: inhaling through your nose for a count of 4, hold your breath for a count of 4, and exhale through your mouth for a count of 6-8, and hold on empty for 2.
- Repeat the process outlined in step 1 for 8 times
- Then, change the hand position and keep your thumbs under your armpits. Your hands are now parallel to the ground.
- Repeat the same breathing procedures as in stage 1 for 8 times.
- Bring your hands back with your elbows pointing to the sky.
- Repeat the breathing technique as in stage 1 for 6 times.
Part 2: Bhastrika or ‘Bellows Breath:
In this phase, air is rapidly inhaled and forcefully exhaled at a rate of 30 breaths per minute. It causes excitement followed by calmness. Ideally, the practitioner should take about 30 breaths per minute.
- Keeping the same seating position as before, close your fists lightly and place them in front of your chest.
- Inhale and stretch your arms on top of your head while opening your arms. Fill your lungs fully.
- Forcefully exhale and bring your hands back to the initial position, that is, closed fist and in front of your chest.
- Repeat this process 20 times in each of the 3 sets.
Part 3: OM Chanting and Sudarshan Kriya
Before starting the final phase of SKY breathing technique, sit in easy pose and chant OM to relax your mind and body. With each extended exhale, chant OM and repeat the procedure 3 times.
In the Kriya, you will transition from slow breathing to medium to fast-paced breathing. While performing the breathing pattern, chant the SOHUM in your mind, with ‘SO’ inhale and ‘HUM’ in exhale.
- Come back to sit in lotus pose, hero pose or whatever is comfortable for you
- For the 1st cycle – Inhale and exhale in a slow rhythm. Repeat it 20 times.
- For the 2nd cycle – Inhale and exhale faster than the 1st cycle. Repeat it 40 times.
- For the 3rd cycle – Inhale and exhale faster than the 1st and 2nd cycle. Repeat it 40 times.
- All the cycles need to be performed 3 times.
The entire duration of the 3 part SKY Breathing technique Sudarshan kriya will take around 45-50 minutes, while the short Sudarshan kriya typically takes around 20-30 minutes.
After you have completed all the parts, you sit in easy pose, take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to relax for at least 5 minutes.
The longer version should be practiced weekly under the guidance of certified instructors, while the shorter Sudarshan Kriya can be done once daily, ideally during the morning, to experience the full benefits of the SKY Breathing Technique.
The SKY Breathing Technique is a simple yet powerful tool that can help individuals manage stress, improve lung function, boost the immune system, and promote overall health and wellbeing.
By increasing the levels of nitric oxide in the body, this technique has been shown to have a positive impact, especially on the respiratory system, and immune system.
The science behind the SKY Breathing Technique is still being studied, but existing research suggests that this technique is a promising tool for improving overall health and wellbeing.
If you are interested in trying this technique, consider finding a certified instructor who can guide you through the process and help you get the most out of this practice.