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November 24, 2016

How to fight major depression? Breathing, study suggests

Penn researchers say yoga could act as alternative to antidepressants

A breathing exercise may work as an alternative for the millions of people who do not respond to antidepressants, a new study says.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Perelman School of Medicine found that the breathing-based meditation practice known as Sudarshan Kriya yoga helped in alleviating severe depression for people who weren't responding to antidepressant treatment.

According to the researchers, about half of the 41 million people in the country with depression fall into this category.

The study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, split up a group of 25 patients with major depressive disorder who were still depressed after eight weeks of antidepressant medication treatment.

One group continued taking medication, while the other started a six-session Sudarshan Kriya yoga program, which included the breathing exercises as well as yoga postures, sitting meditation and stress education.

Those put in the program for two months saw significant improvements in their Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, the most widely used depression assessment. With a baseline score of 22.0 – or severe depression – that group saw an average improvement in their scores of 10.27 points.

The group that continued regular treatment saw no improvement. (They were offered the session after the study was over, the researchers pointed out.)

So, how does Sudarshan Kriya yoga work? Here's the researchers' description, along with a video explanation:

The meditation technique, which is practiced in both a group setting and at home, includes a series of sequential, rhythm-specific breathing exercises that bring people into a deep, restful, and meditative state: slow and calm breaths alternated with fast and stimulating breaths.

As the researchers noted, there has been a lot of research on Sudarshan Kriya yoga's ability to fight stress, anxiety and milder forms of depression. But this is the first study to measure the breathing exercises as treatment in an outpatient setting.

The researchers said the next step is an expanded study that looks at the effects of the meditation on brain structure and function.

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