Yoga is widely known for its unique approach to both physical and mental healing. Now a new study coming out of Journal of Traumatic Stress is pointing to a specific part of the yoga practice that can especially benefit those suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): yogic breathing. Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, a practice of controlled breathing that specifically targets the autonomic nervous system, was studied by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and assessed for its capacity to treat PTSD.

Training Soldiers in Breathing Techniques

The Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (CIHM) at the Waisman Center of the University of Wisconsin-Madison was especially interested in Sudarshan Kriya Yoga due to the potential benefits it may have on the autonomic nervous system, a system of the body that controls heart rate, breath, and ultimately, the ability to respond to surrounding environments. They began a series of tests on a group of 21 soldiers, 11 of whom, were used as a control group. The other 10 received a one-week training in Sudarshan Kriya, yogic breathing.

“This was a preliminary attempt to begin to gather some information on whether this practice of yogic breathing actually reduces symptoms of PTSD," says Richard J. Davidson, founder of CIHM and one of the authors of the study. He and his colleagues ran tests on both active and control group participants, measuring their responses—eye-blink startle magnitude and respiration rates—to various stimuli. These two responses are indicative of how individuals regulate emotions, pointing to larger aspects of mental health. Those who received yogic breathing training reported lower anxiety, reduced respiration rates and fewer symptoms of PTSD.

A Glimpse at Individual PTSD Treatment

Davidson aims to better specify treatments of PTSD to the individual. “Right now, a large fraction of individuals who are given any one type of therapy are not improving on that therapy. The only way we can improve that is if we determine which kinds of people will benefit most from different types of treatments," he adds. Davidson admits, however, that there is more work to be done. He hopes to further the research by including more participants and inch towards a more cohesive understanding of the relationship between yogic breathing and PTSD treatment.

Date of original publication:
Updated on: September 20, 2016


University of Wisconsin-Madison

Emma M. Seppälä, Jack B. Nitschke, Dana L. Tudorascu, Andrea Hayes, Michael R. Goldstein, Dong T. H. Nguyen, David Perlman, Richard J. Davidson. Breathing-Based Meditation Decreases Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms in U.S. Military Veterans: A Randomized Controlled Longitudinal Study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 2014; 27 (4): 397 DOI: 10.1002/jts.21936