While most people think of Sudarshan Kriya as an elusive health booster, very few truly understand what it is and how exactly it helps our bodies. Hence, in this article, we have mapped out Sudarshan Kriya’s steps and benefits, in addition to other important things to know about it before you decide to incorporate it into your everyday practice. You can consider this article as a 101 for the same!
Sudarshan Kriya benefits our health in many ways — physiologically, mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. It is an all-encompassing healing practice — the kind that one would recommend to someone in great physical or mental distress. Hence, even through our research on the subject, we found several studies conducted on prisoners, middle-aged and elderly citizens, and those suffering from post-traumatic stress. Nonetheless, this practice can be excellent for people from all walks of life, who have a relatively healthy physical and mental state. Without further ado, let’s scroll away and understand more about this practice.
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What Is Sudarshan Kriya?
Sudarshan Kriya is a four-phased breathing exercise, considered a salient practice for advanced-level yogis. While being derived from ancient Indian yoga, the practice as we know it today was invented on September 17, 1981, by Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar. He cognized the practice after sitting in tranquil stillness on the banks of the Bhadra river in Shimoga, Karnataka. This yoga practice is said to have a plethora of health benefits — mental, physical, emotional, medicinal, etc. A standard Sudarshan Kriya practice comprises four parts, as outlined below:
This breathing technique involves slow and controlled inhalations and exhalations. The key is to constrict the throat in a way that the air passing through it releases an audible gushing sound that relaxes your senses. This sound is similar to ocean waves, which is why Ujjayi Pranayam is often referred to as ocean breathing.
The sound of “Om” stirs an auspicious air in the atmosphere and stimulates your senses, so you feel energized and rejuvenated. However, another important reason why chanting this is a part of your practice is so that you can prolong your exhalation, and thereby strengthen your lungs.
Also known as bellow breathing, this technique involves rapid and sharp exhalations, which sound like rhythmic yelps or beats — something that reminds one of how a blacksmith strikes a piece of metal to give it shape. This practice is intended to stimulate your inner system and purge impurities from your respiratory organs.
The final part of the practice includes three rhythmic breathing intervals per cycle — slow, medium, and rapid — with no pauses in between.
Now that you have an overview of what this practice comprises, let’s read further to understand the steps in detail.
How to Practice Sudarshan Kriya Yoga Step by Step?
A standard Sudarshan Kriya practice goes on for about 45 minutes. You can practice it for a shorter duration if you are new to it. Here are steps to practice the same:
Step 1: Start by sitting comfortably in a Vajrasana pose — fold your knees and rest your glutes on your legs. Ensure your spine is erect and the rest of your body is in a relaxed state. Once you’ve settled, close your eyes.
Step 2: Commence the practice with slow and channeled Ujjayi breathing. Take 2-4 breaths in a minute, and ensure that you feel the airflow in your throat. Be conscious and mindful of each breath during this exercise.
Step 3: After this, follow up with a quick and rhythmic Bhastrika Pranayam. Contrary to Step 2, here you need to incorporate 30 sharp breaths in a minute. Ensure you inhale quickly and exhale forcefully as if you are purging out visible toxins from your system. Some Bhastrika practices also involve arm movements synchronized with the breaths — so feel free to practice any variation you like.
Step 4: Then, chant the word “Om” thrice, with a brief gap between the second and third chant. Ensure that you emphasize a bit more on the “mm” sound and prolong it as much as you can to stretch the expiration process.
Step 5: Now, you have prepared your system to commence the primal Kriya. Start by taking slow, normal breaths wherein your inhales and exhales are equally long. Then, transition to medium-paced breaths. Lastly, take rapid breaths (kind of like Bhastrika) where your exhalations are a bit longer than your inhalations.
Generally speaking, Sudarshan Kriya is considered as an intense practice, unlike Nadi Shodhana or Kapalbhati, which are considered to be more beginner-friendly. So, for those who are contemplating to start practicing it, it helps to be familiar and habitual with simpler breathing exercises first. Besides, consulting a professional yoga trainer for this is non-negotiable as an improper and unmonitored practice can do more harm than good! Let’s scroll away to understand the Sudarshan Kriya’s benefits and why we should practice it.
14 Astounding Benefits of Sudarshan Kriya for One’s Physical, Mental, And Psychological Health
Physical Benefits of Sudarshan Kriya
1. Helps with Heart Diseases
Several studies have proven that Sudarshan Kriya benefits one by optimizing heart rate, especially by syncing the rhythm of your breathing and heart rate (respiratory sinus arrhythmia). This process thereby helps facilitate blood circulation in the body, aids in an active lifestyle, and prevents numerous heart diseases (1), (2).
2. Increases Lung Capacity
The slow and fast-paced breathing exercises, especially in Ujjayi and Bhastrika Pranayam reduce your respiratory rate to bring it to an optimum level (1). This means that you’ll be less likely to experience panting or breathlessness, and thereby feel calmer and more efficient in most situations. Adding on, this exercise can be used as a complementary treatment to asthma and obstructive airway disorders. With better heart and respiratory health, one is likely to live a holistically healthier lifestyle.
3. May Stimulate Better Hearing
In a study conducted on a group of 70 middle-aged adults, an increased hearing ability was observed in the practice group that did practice Sudarshan Kriya compared to the one that didn’t (3). Many experts believe that this benefit is linked with the chanting of “om” as a part of the practice.
4. Improves Antioxidant Status
With the regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya, a person becomes equipped to bounce back from the effects of free radical damage and daily life stressors that they are frequently exposed to. This is because the practice boosts antioxidant production in the body (4) (5). Simultaneously, the practice benefits one by reducing the blood lactate levels in the body (5). Hence, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that the practice can indeed enable you to live a longer, better quality life!
5. Activates Chakras in the Body
Popular belief and anecdotal evidence suggest that Sudarshan Kriya is a powerful yoga practice to stimulate and balance all seven chakras or energy points in the body, which helps eliminate several physical and mental ailments.
6. May Boost Immunity
You can count on this breathing exercise to benefit your health in miscellaneous ways as it is likely to build immunity in your body. Numerous studies have found that owing to this factor, Sudarshan Kriya can help with physiological ailments such as chronic fatigue, neck and back pain, diabetes, and in extreme cases — cancer (1).
Mental Benefits of Sudarshan Kriya
7. Boosts Mental Alertness
A study on 230 prisoners with non-psychotic psychiatric disorders showed that a regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya enhanced their mental alertness (5). Several studies owe this mental activation to the chanting of “om” in the practice as it increases one’s sensitivity to sensory transmission (1). In simpler words, you can expect a person to be quicker in detecting environmental cues and responding to them without exhausting their nervous system, with regular practice.
8. May Enhance Performance of SNS
Like a cardiovascular exercise, the regular practice of Bhastrika helps increase the potential of one’s sympathetic nervous system (1). This means that a person feels more equipped to respond to daily life’s stressors in a calm and composed manner, and hence, be more efficient in doing so.
9. May Improve Brain Activity
Studies have proven that this breathing practice, like numerous other yoga practices, may invigorate the brain by activating alpha, beta, and theta brainwaves, which are linked with cognition and memory. Adding to that, the practice helps increase the brain’s gray matter by activating the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex, which control our thoughts, movements, actions, emotions, and decision-making abilities (6).
10. May Help Fight Alcohol/Tobacco Addiction
Sudarshan Kriya benefits alcohol and tobacco addicts by lessening the production of cortisol and adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which are responsible for bad moods and emotional lability. This thereby helps reduce one’s dependency on alcohol or tobacco and elevates one’s mood (7). Moreover, the antioxidant benefits of the practice nullify the oxidative stress caused by excessive alcohol or tobacco consumption, to alleviate the negative impact (8), (9).
Emotional And Psychological Benefits of Sudarshan Kriya
11. Helps with Depression And Trauma
Cortisol is a major stress hormone and neurotransmitter responsible for depression, and regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya has shown significant results in its reduction. On the contrary, research speculations suggest that this exercise may catalyze the production of feel-good hormones such as oxytocin and prolactin, which can have antidepressant benefits. Besides, it is considered to be a marvelous practice to be combined with psychological/psychiatric therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (7).
12. Reduces Anxiety
Sudarshan Kriya yoga has been proven to reduce autonomic symptoms of high anxiety such as dizziness, chest pain, severe headaches, perspiration, abdominal pain, increased heart rate, etc. (5). These benefits help improve one’s overall quality of life.
13. Increases Occupational, Social, And Psychological Functioning
Adding to the previous point, the practice helps improve a person’s GAF score — Global Assessment of Functioning, which involves three major areas of development — social, occupational, and psychological. These aspects help with the multi-faceted psychological well-being of a person (5) (10).
14. Improves Post-Menopausal Quality of Life
Here’s great news for women post their 50s who are afraid to embrace menopause! A study conducted on 156 postmenopausal women in Central India who practiced Sudarshan Kriya for two years showed a significant improvement in their general health and happiness status compared to a different sample set (6). In fact, the study describes the results as the “best quality of menopausal transformation”. Considering the “feel-good” factor of this practice, it is no surprise that it could yield such results.
No good thing in this world comes without its downsides. Hence, while Sudarshan Kriya benefits us in many ways, the following are some potential risks associated with it that you should be aware of.
Potential Risks of Sudarshan Kriya
Regardless of the countless Sudarshan Kriya benefits this practice offers, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that it is a rigorous pranayama exercise. Hence, it is advisable to practice it under the supervision of an expert or trainer. Besides, one must take great precautions to not practice this exercise without being precisely methodological. The following are some potential risks associated with the practice:
Rapid or deep breathing is often triggered by incorrectly practicing Ujjayi or Bhastrika Pranayam.
Shortness of breath and other respiratory issues.
A feeling of dizziness and discomfort, which can likely be caused when a beginner indulges in a prolonged breathing exercise.
Incorrect or shallow breathing is likely to cause headaches, as it likely prohibits oxygen from flowing to the brain or involved muscles.
5. Energy Exhaustion:
A drop in energy levels can be caused due to respiratory muscle fatigue, especially when one is practicing the exercise recklessly, without following the correct procedure.
However, the practice is generally considered safe and has little to no risk involved in most cases.
Now that you know about the steps to practice, benefits, and risks of Sudarshan Kriya, we recommend you take baby steps and incorporate this practice into your fitness routine. It may help to start with 20 or 30-minute breathing circuits, especially if you are new to breathing exercises. Moreover, practical familiarity with simple Pranayam exercises such as Dirgha Pranayam or Nadi Shodhana always helps in adapting to this practice. Lastly, ensure you maintain a healthy diet and an active lifestyle to see more apparent benefits of this practice.