Trauma core symptoms are stored in the brainstem. Effective release and self-maintenance calls for a daily program that activates the brainstem, usually by doing physical movements or activities that involve functions regulated by the brainstem. Some of these activities include breathing, posture, and certain patterns of physical movement.
As Western science is just discovering these connections through brain-imaging techniques, we cannot help looking eastward, where cultures that are thousands of years old have developed daily routines that enhance one’s well-being by activating the brainstem. Prominent among these are Yoga practices.
SKY (Sudarshan Kriya Yoga) is a yoga practice that has been developed to specifically target depression and trauma symptoms. SKY is taught, advanced and researched by the Art of Living Foundation. S. K. Yoga deserves our attention both by virtue of its incredibly rapid spread and popularity, and its phenomenal research outcomes.
In the 20 years since its development, the Art of Living Foundation has spread to 152 countries, and individuals whose lives have been affected by the use of SK yoga are estimated to be in the hundreds of millions.
Research studies are impressive both in in showing the techniques effectiveness in resolving Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and in alleviating all kinds of depression. For example: A study published in 2009 on 240 Asian survivors of the 2004 Tsunami compared SKY techniques, SKY plus Traumatic Incident Reduction (a conventional, flooding-technique therapy) and a 6-week wait list control group. Symptoms were tracked with the Post-Traumatic Checklist (PCL-17). Those who participated had PCL-17 scores of 50 or higher. The treatment consisted of a total of 8 hours of group training (groups of 30) delivered over 4 days (2 hours per day)
Immediately after the training was completed, the average PCL-17 score of participants dropped from an average of 66.5 to an average of 27. Six weeks later the average score had dropped further, to 23.9—a total drop of 42.5 points! (by this time the control group with no treatment had dropped only 4 .6 points.) This progress was not only maintained in the experimental group, but in fact the group continued to improve. At the six-month follow-up the average score of the SKY group had dropped even further–to 20.6
On the PCL-17, the lowest possible score is 17, the highest possible is 85. A score below 25 is considered normal for civilians. A change of 5-10 points is considered to be “reliable change.” A change of 10-20 points is considered to be “clinically significant change”, see http://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/pages/assessments/ptsd-checklist.asp.
To summarize, the SKY treatment group showed a change of 39.5 points after four days, a total of 8 hours of therapy, and those gains were maintained for six months—and clients continued to improve.
Interestingly enough, the third group, which had Traumatic incident reduction treatment added to the SKY techniques, showed no addition gains. Scores were the same as in the group that received only SKY treatment.
This is an outstanding result, inexpensively and efficiently delivered. But the most exciting thing about SKY treamtment is the self-reliance it creates. Once individuals learn the skill they can continue to use it on their own, at home, indefinitely, and its benefits in releasing painful emotions and creating personal well-being continue. Its hard to argue with highly effective therapy that can be taught in 8 hours to groups of 30 individuals at a time.
SKY has also shown remarkable benefits in the treatment of depression. One of many articles about SKY published in thee Journal of Affective disorders compares Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, the antidepressant Imipramine, and electroconvulsive therapy in the treatment of severe melancholic depression. Melancholic depression is agonizing, disabling, and notoriously difficult to treat. The most effective treatment, Electroconvulsive Therapy is invasive, expensive, has a notoriously high rate of relapse, and the dangers and side effects of running such strong electrical charges through the brain are unknown.
In this four week study, one third of severely depressed individuals received training in SK Yoga and were asked to practice 20 minutes per day. One third received the antidepressant medication treatment, and one third recieved Electroconvulsive therapy treatments three times a week for four weeks.
By the end of the four weeks, 67 percent of the group using SKY techniques experienced complete recovery, as measured by a score of 7 or less on the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression. In addition, those treated with SKY showed a significant increases in blood levels of the hormone prolactin, which research indicates may be very important in depression recovery. The presence of abnormally low P300 ERP brainwave patterns was also studied. The low P300 ERP is considered a “biological abnormality” associated with depression, and individuals with this abnormality are often resistant to recovery and requires longer treatment times with Electroconvulsive Therapy. With Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, low p300 ERP brainwaves returned to normal levels during the course of treatment. In addition, the level of abnormality at the beginning of treatment did not have an effect on the length of treatment before recovery was achieved. SKY worked just as quickly and effectively with those who had the low P300 ERP as it did on those without the abnormal brain waves. SKY was also effective in diminishing the stress hormone cortisol in the study subjects. These various biological outcomes show that even though depression can be said to be caused by a “chemical imbalance” or “brain abnormalitiy”, both can be corrected by this simple, brain-stem based self-help intervention.
The recovery outcome for the medication group was similar, slightly higher but not enough higher to be considered statistically significant. The electroconvulsive therapy group had the highest recovery rate of 92 percent. However, the typically high relapse rate with ECT dampens the overall effectiveness of this approach. A review of the literature published in the Journal of ECT estimates relapse for depressed patients at 50% or higher in the first 6 months, unless other support treatments are used. (see http://wireheading.com/ect/relapse.html. ) In contrast, Sudarshan Kriya Yoga holds its benefits well that studies are now being done to explore using it as a “supportive aftercare therapy” to reduce the relapse rate of other therapies such as ECT. One can easily ask–why not just use SKY in the first place?
The study referred to, and several other studies of SKY in the treatment of various types of depression can be viewed at http://www.aolresearch.org/pdf/Depression%20Summary.pdfi)
The presentation of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga on Healing Talk Radio will broadcast June 1, 2011, and will feature guests. Leslye Moore–an instructor and member of the Board of Directors at the Art of Living Foundation, and Archana Thiagarajan, from the Salt Lake chapter of the Art of Living Foundation.
We are working to arrange for an instructor to come to Utah County to teach the Art of Living Course, which includes Sudarshan Kriya Yoga. The course takes four evenings and costs $200. If you are interested, please contact me at healingtalkradio.@gmail.com.