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Sunday, October 31, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Breathing exercises cited as effective as drugs

By Hilary E. MacGregor
Los Angeles Times

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Medical professionals who recommend the Art of Living program in the United States say they would like to see more clinical studies of the technique, while noting the difficulty of obtaining financial support for research on breathing.

There are, however, some studies on the health benefits of the Art of Living's breathing techniques done in other countries.

In a 2000 study, doctors at the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences in India found that daily practice of the Sudarshan Kriya was as effective as a standard antidepressant in treating patients hospitalized with severe depression, and nearly as effective as electroconvulsive shock therapy, with far fewer side effects. Two earlier studies done the same year by the same institute found levels of cortisol, a hormone released under stress, and depression both decreased over a three-month period during which patients practiced the Sudarshan Kriya.

For now, U.S. doctors cite their own experiences — most anecdotal — as evidence of its benefit.

"Having done this course helped me to help my patients," says Dr. Richard Brown, an associate professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University. "Breathing not only calms down the stress response system, which is what antidepressants do, but it activates the recharging, healing part of the nervous system."

Dr. Sharon Sageman, director of a women's clinic that treats post-traumatic stress disorder at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, has referred about 50 patients to the program. She believes the Art of Living program provides a form of exposure therapy, with the Kriya technique allowing the brain to retrieve memories and thoughts we cannot normally access.

"My trauma patients will say the rapid breathing can make them think of a traumatic event, so they re-experience it," she says. "But this time they are in a relaxed state, in a supportive setting."

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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