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What is SKY Breath Meditation?

It was October 2015. I was working with a real estate journal as a reporter in Midtown Manhattan. You’d think this is the stuff dreams are made of— the reality was far from dreamy.

Three months into the job I was stuck with a horrible boss, racist coworkers, and relentless performance pressure. I needed the job to be able to stay in the country. The demands simply grew and so did my stress levels. Several thousand miles away from home, stuck in a job I was failing at, and mounting pressure to perform or perish, almost threw me over the brink. But this story ends well.

As a result of all the stress and anxiety, I noticed white patches growing on my palm, forehead, and feet, and my skin started peeling and shedding. Like the stress and trauma of an inhuman work environment weren’t enough, now I had to deal with pale skin that was shedding. I visited a dermatologist for an opinion.

What the doctor told me next left me gaping at him. He said these were symptoms of a chronic skin condition called psoriasis which numerous studies have linked to emotional trauma, stress, and poor mental health. He prescribed meditation and breathing techniques to conquer my stress and anxiety. My doctor was clear that if I did not take steps to reduce my stress and tension, he would have to put me on steroids to control the psoriasis. I was willing to try anything to avoid that.

Enter SKY Breath…

I had friends who had been practicing a specific type of breathing practice called Sudarshan Kriya Yoga, or SKY Breath Meditation, a powerful, science-backed breathing technique that has proven to bring stress levels down in just three weeks of practice. On their recommendation, I signed up to learn the SKY Breath immediately.

To cut a long story short(ish!), after just the second day of learning SKY, I felt a mountain of stress and worries being lifted off my chest. I felt so light, calm, and completely at peace, like nothing I had felt before. The only inferior comparison to this experience of deep inner peace might be how I felt while walking on a quiet beach on a summer evening. Yet, a session of SKY breath was a much deeper and more tangible experience of stillness.

As I continued with my practice of SKY, I noticed a significant change in my outlook toward situations that before gave me immense stress. I was naturally calmer in dealing with difficult coworkers, I had more energy to get the work done that was expected of me, and I had a certain lightness of being that many around me began to notice.

Art of Living Founder and creator of SKY Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says our true nature is love and happiness. It only gets covered by stress and negative emotions. Just a few minutes of breathing can remove layers of negativity and reveal the beauty and peace within.

A daily practice of SKY breath works like a daily cleanse of the mind, body, and emotions, so you can clear out the stress and worries you bring home from work every single day! In turn, it enhances your creativity, brings sharper focus, and makes you happy from within.

How does SKY Breath work?

Like there is rhythm in nature, in the seasons, times of the day, our moods, and times when we eat, sleep, and work. Similarly, there is rhythm in our breath that we seldom explore. SKY uses this rhythmic breath to detoxify our body and mind. At the end of the practice, the mind effortlessly finds itself in a meditative and calm state.

Numerous studies reveal that regular practice of the technique helps alleviate stress, improves lung capacity, brings clarity of mind, slows heart rate, and reduces the release of stress hormones like cortisol.

Read about the history of SKY here.

SKY Breath Benefits

Apart from the vast body of anecdotal evidence, there have been around 100 independent studies around the world that talk about the myriad physiological and mental health benefits of the SKY Breath.

In dealing with depression…
Bangalore-based NIMHANS (National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro-Sciences), India’s most prestigious institute dedicated to neurosciences, found that SKY breath “demonstrated a 68–73 percent success rate in treating people suffering from depression, regardless of the severity of the depression. Substantial relief was experienced in three weeks. By one month, patients were considered to be in remission.”

NIMHANS states that SKY may be as effective as popular anti-depressant imipramine in dealing with depression.
Senior medical researcher, and chair of psychiatry at NIMHANS, Dr. Janakiramaiah, concludes that Sudarshan Kriya has “remarkable therapeutic effects” and “is clinically feasible and effective. It has the potential to become a first-line treatment of dysthymic [chronic, mild depression] patients and possibly in mild and moderate forms of major depressive disorder.”

In dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder…
SKY has been a powerful tool in healing for those experiencing mild to severe trauma due to its ability to eliminate stress and fear from the deep recesses of the mind.

It has become a widely recommended and effective alternative for treating PTSD symptoms among veterans and frontline workers, as well as a powerful tool for resilience building and mental health support.

In a particular randomized trial of SKY for veterans who returned from Iraq and Afghanistan, the participants reported a significant reduction in anxiety, normalization of their respiratory rate, and PTSD symptoms. They also reported a vast improvement in the quality of their life.

In what is telling about the impact of the breathing technique, many of them have gone on to become instructors and trainers of SKY breath themselves.

In dealing with hypertension…
The regular practice of rhythmic breathing balances the autonomic nervous system and it increases the time the parasympathetic nervous system is active, which is responsible for rest. In a study, patients with hypertension showed a reduction in several risk factors including anxiety, reduction in blood lactate levels (heightened lactate levels is a strong stress signal), and improvement in BMI and lipid profile.

Bolstered immunity with SKY…
An important way SKY helps build immunity is by eliminating immunity’s deadliest enemy—stress. Chronic stress is bad for our immunity and a weak immune system translates to frequent illnesses. A study of gene expression among practitioners of SKY showed that the practice improved immune function by eliminating stress on a cellular level.

In fact, when cancer patients practiced the technique, there was a significant increase in natural killer cells (special lymphocytes that support immune response) after 12 and 24 weeks of practice. 

For much desired hormonal balance…
It has become near impossible to stride into your thirties without the medical expert at least once signaling a hormonal imbalance as the main cause behind some or the other illness in our medical reports. The hormone function has an important say on our emotions too. A little imbalance in hormones and our emotional wellness can go for a toss. So we need all the hormones flowing in moderation, even the less desirable ones like cortisol.

Cortisol prepares the body for fight or flight response, a much-needed mechanism, you would say. But chronic stress leads to constantly elevated cortisol levels which weaken our immune response and can be a risk factor for hypertension and cardiovascular health. SKY breath helps manage the secretion of cortisol in the body and boosts the production of happy hormones like dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins. Studies showed, that just the very first SKY session significantly increased the production of plasma prolactin, a well-being hormone that is believed to be key in reducing depression symptoms.

I have been practicing the SKY breath for seven years now. My psoriasis does not flare up anymore (It never really goes away, you can only manage it and that’s why SKY breath is so important), nor does my mind shift into anxiety mode when life gets rough. SKY has been the most impactful and calming influence on my life, helping me find the happiness and peace within.

The Happiness Retreat

The centerpiece of the Art of Living Happiness Retreat is the Sudarshan Kriya, a powerful breathing technique that uses precise natural rhythms to get you unstuck.