How The SKY Breathing Technique Can Ease Anxiety

SKY, or Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, is a system of breath practices taught by the Art of Living Foundation. According to a 2021 article in the International Journal of Yoga, Sudarshan Kriya is Sanskrit for "proper vision by purifying action." SKY begins with ujjayi breath, which constricts the throat while taking two to four breaths per minute (via a 2021 study in Global Advances in Health and Medicine). Bhastrika breath follows, which is a series of rapid inhales and exhales at 20 breaths per minute. There are three, one-minute rounds followed by normal breathing between rounds. Then practitioners will chant "Om" three times slowly. The Sudarshan Kriya is an advanced breathwork technique that moves breathing from 20 breaths per minute to 80 breaths per minute.

According to a 2021 article in the International Journal of Yoga, SKY can keep the immune system healthy, reduce oxidative stress, and help alleviate COVID-related post-traumatic stress disorder. A 2017 study in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that SKY breathing reduced symptoms of depression after eight weeks of practice. SKY reduced stress, anxiety, and depression after a four-day workshop in the practice, according to a 2021 study in Global Advances in Health and Medicine. SKY breathing can ease anxiety and stress when practiced 30 minutes a day, according to a 2015 study in the Journal of Affective Disorders.

SKY's focus on the breath can change the body

SKY might help people with anxiety who struggle with mindfulness meditation, according to Popsugar. Because mindfulness practices focus on observing thoughts without judgment, it might escalate anxious thoughts. On the other hand, SKY directs your attention to breathing rather than your thoughts.

A 2013 article in the International Journal of Yoga explains how SKY can physiologically induce calm. The ujjayi breath stimulates the vagus nerve and increases respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RDA), which is how the heart rate increases and decreases during the inhale and exhale. People with depression and anxiety typically have low RSA. The bhastrika breath causes a brief stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system, similar to how exercise stimulates us. It's quickly followed by calm and alertness. The practice trains the sympathetic nervous system to respond appropriately to stress. The third component of SKY, chanting "Om," can improve brain function and heighten awareness. A 2022 study in the Journal of Basic and Clinical Physiology and Pharmacology found that Om chanting combined with Yoga Nidra reduced depression, anxiety, and stress.

Neuroimaging studies have found that yoga practices affect the amygdala and hippocampus in the brain, according to a 2020 review in Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience. Yoga practices reduce the volume in the amygdala, which correlates with lower stress levels.