The Vagus Nerve and the Healing Promise of The Sudarshan Kriya

May 20, 2013 | By | 39 Replies More

Flickr - Nerve - Cutting MonkeyFrank Huguenard, Staff Writer
Waking Times

At the center of our bodies resides a long, sinewy nerve that extends all the way from our medullas down through our chests to beyond our stomachs. This nerve, known as the Vagus Nerve, happens to be at a most fascinating intersection, not only between our two physical nervous systems (our central and autonomic nervous systems) but also between our conscious minds and subconscious minds. As such, it also acts as a bridge between our gross bodies and our subtle bodies. And it’s a nerve probably 99% of the population have never heard of nor even have a clue where it’s located. And yet the Vagus Nerve (ironically pronounced the exact same way as sin city itself, Las Vegas) may be the single most relevant organ in our body relative to our peace of mind and happiness.

Research indicates that a healthy vagus nerve is vital in experiencing empathy and fostering social bonding, and it is crucial to our ability to observe, perceive, and make complex decisions. Tests have revealed that people with impaired vagal activity have also been diagnosed with depression, panic disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety, panic disorders, violent mood swings, fibromyalgia, early Alzheimer’s and obesity. Given the state of society today and the vast array of dis-eases associated with unhealthy Vagus Nerves, it doesn’t take a medical doctor to conclude that by healing our collective Vagus Nerves, we can heal a lot of societies woes.

Scientists have discovered that artificial Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), through electrical impulses via a surgically implanted pacemaker like device, shows promising results in reducing depression, anxieties and even conditions such as epilepsy and obesity. VNS has also shown positive effects in promoting weight-loss as the signals to the brain of ‘fullness’ are more easily transmitted. But what if there were a less intrusive and more natural way to stimulate and heal the Vagus Nerve?

Automated Habit Formation

Human Beings have an Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) that is the body’s automatic regulatory system of nerves and controls that do all the background tasks that keep the body operating. The ANS is comprised of three separate subsystems, the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS), the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Enteric Nervous System (ENS).

The Parasympathetic Nervous System is responsible for many of our resting functions such as lowering heart rate, increasing digestive & gland activity and sexual arousal, the Sympathetic Nervous System is mainly associated with modulation of hormones and neurotransmitters relating to “flight or fight” responses.

The Enteric Nervous System is generally considered by scientists to be involved predominantly with food digestion, waste elimination and sending full/hungry signals to the brain. However, that doesn’t explain why 90% of the nerve fibers of the ENS run one way, from the stomach area, through the vagus nerve and up into the brain.

Furthermore, 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, not in the brain as most people would assume, making it even more likely that the total functionality of the ENS is far greater than managing our gastrointestinal needs. When you stop to consider that 90-95% of our thoughts occur in our subconscious minds, and also the idea that the Enteric Nervous System is also the organ of the subconscious mind, is it any surprise that most of the nerve fibers between the two systems originate in the ENS or that most of the serotonin is also produced in the ENS?

The cerebrospinal system is the organ of the conscious mind and is the channel through which we receive conscious perception from the physical senses, and exercise control over the movements of the body. While the cerebrospinal or central nervous system (CNS)  has the brain as its control center, the ENS has a ganglionic mass in the belly known as the Solar Plexus, often referred to as our second brain*, as its central processing unit and it is in this coprocessor that most of our everyday tasks get executed from. When things in our life become ‘second nature’, they are effectively processed through our ENS rather than our CNS.

It is our Vagus nerve that provides the gateway between the two systems, acting as a bioinformational data bus that routes the impulses going through in both directions. Since the Vagus Nerve acts as the central switchboard between our two nervous systems, it should not come as a surprise that impaired functioning of this one nerve can lead to so many different conditions and problems.

Our consciousness’s natural tendency is to compartmentalize tedious tasks so that the brain can focus on higher priority activities.  As we go through life and learn to do things, such as tying our shoes, it would take far too much of our brain’s capacity to have to focus on every small aspect of life so once most things are learned with our conscious awareness, they then get handed over to our automatic background systems.  Over time more and more repetitive tasks go from originating in our conscious minds to happening in our subconscious minds.

When an athlete is said to be ‘in the zone’ and performing at near perfect levels, it is because they are practically and literally almost unconscious and functioning entirely through their ENS. And when someone has an intuition, or in other words they have a ‘gut’ feeling, that information is coming to them through the Solar Plexus and when we say that someone has learned to play a song ‘by heart’,  in reality, it would probably be more accurate to say they learned how to play ‘by solar plexus’!

Why Laughter IS the best medicine

Humans have two natural albeit involuntary methods of VNS that have been long considered to be therapeutic, both laughter and weeping. There is ample scientific evidence suggesting that both laughing and sobbing are extremely beneficial for our health and in the context of Vagus nerve research, it is obvious how these two acts can promote healing and wellness through the increase in vagal stimulation.

However, there is also powerful breathing technique to manually and naturally stimulate the vagus nerve, called the Sudarshan Kriya. Scientists have found that SK&P (Sudarshan Kriya along with the related Practices, of yogic asanas, pranayams (including Nadi Shodana) and meditation) can be extremely effective at opening up this vital channel of energy.

In the ancient Sanskrit language, Sudarshan translates to ‘right vision’ and Kriya mean purification process. The Sudarshan Kriya is rhythmic breathing method that has been known to create profound transformations in the people who practice it. The Sudarshan Kriya has been scientifically proven to help cure symptoms associated with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, provide relief for people suffering from addictions of many forms, helps reduce cortisol (the human ‘stress’ hormone), cut down on cholesterol, improve sleep patterns and in general, create a better sense of peace of mind and well being. Basically, the same list of symptoms associated with impaired Vagal activity are all conditions known to be significantly improved through SK&P.

Scientific Research on Sudarshan Kriya

Scientists in the west have been studying the effect of various forms of breathing exercises on our mental and physical health for many years and Yogis from India have been emphasizing a variety of techniques featuring the breath for thousands of years so this is nothing new, but what is new about the Sudarshan Kriya is just how it works.

Of all the various functions of our autonomic nervous systems, from heart beat, perspiration, hormonal release, gastrointestinal operation, neurotransmitter secretion, etc., the breath stands alone as the only subsystem the conscious mind can put into ‘manual override’ and so it is through manipulation of the breath that we can recalibrate the entire system.

Dr. Richard Brown M.D., Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, is one of the first clinicians to successfully correlate impaired Vagal activity with so many different diseases. He has theorized that SK&P contributes to a state of alert calmness by its effect on the Vagus Nerve, which is vital in transmitting data between our two nervous systems. Dr Brown also suggested that other mechanisms by which SK&P works are by relaxing of stress response systems, neuroendocrine release of hormones, nitric oxide neurotransmission, fear conditioning circuits (prefrontal cortex and limbic system), and thalamic generators.

There are many environmental factors that have been associated with impaired Vagal Activity including stress, excessive adrenaline and hormone secretion, over stimulation from television/film/video games, diet and lack of exercise. Interestingly, brain wave rhythms measured during and after SK&P are similar to those of babies.

One of the foremost research experts on the effects of Vagal nerve stimulation through SK&P is Stephen Porges, PhD.  Dr. Porges postulates that the different rhythms of breath in SK&P may stimulate different diameter fibers of the vagus nerve. This makes SK&P unique and likely to have a much wider range of applications and effects than the currently available electronic vagus nerve stimulator.

SK&P Promotes Changes at the Molecular Level

Probably the most exciting scientific findings regarding the benefits of Sudarshan Kriya come from Dr. Fahri Saatcioglu PhD. of Oslo, Norway. In his most recently published findings, Dr. Saatcioglu has provided evidence for how SK&P actually enhances gene expression and alteration which leads to a plausible explanation for how practicing Sudarshan Kriya regularly promotes anti-aging in the body by encouraging DNA strands to repair themselves. According to Dr. Saatcioglu, “during Sudarshan Kriya, yoga and related practices, changes in the way our immune cells use the genetic information in their DNA are increased. This may then result in processes in these cells which may contribute to their function and may also affect the functioning of tissues and organs which then can affect the whole physiology “, adds Saatcioglu, “these data suggest that previously reported therapeutic effects of yoga practices have an integral physiological component at the molecular level”.

Effect on Depression

SK&P has been shown to have a 68%–73% success rate in the treatment of depression, regardless of severity. Relief from depression, determined by psychiatric evaluation and standard psychiatric measures (Beck Depression Inventory, Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, and others), was experienced within three weeks. At the three-month follow-ups, patients remained stable and in remission. Published studies further suggest that SK&P normalizes patients’ brain-wave patterns, increases serum prolactin (a “well-being” hormone), and has been proven to be as effective as standard anti-depressant drug regimens.

Dr Stephen Larsen, Ph.D., has researched the neurophysiological responses before, during and after SK&P. He conducted experiments measuring EEG (recorded at 19 cortical sites), EKG, heart rate, galvanic skin response, hand skin temperature, pulse plethysmography and blood pressure. He found that SK&P produced significant changes in every physiological measurement. Significant increases in beta activity were observed in the left frontal, occipital, and midline regions of the brain in the SK&P practitioners, as compared to controls (p<0.05). These results are interpreted by neurologists as indicative of increased mental focus/heightened awareness in SK&P practitioners. It is striking to note that SK&P practitioners displayed significantly greater mental alertness (beta activity) than the control group of physicians and medical researchers, whose profession requires development and daily use of these very skills.

Blood lactate is another biochemical measure of stress. Participants in police training constitute a highly stressed group. They undergo intense physical and emotional training daily. Blood lactate was measured in 10 such individuals, both before learning SK&P and after the first session. There was a significant fall in lactate levels after SK&P, suggesting that it induces a state of relaxation.

Dr. Larsen’s results indicate that over a period of time, the practitioner’s health becomes more robust, flexible and able to deal with the challenges of stress. This research further reinforces the theory that through the Vagal Nerve stimulation that the Sudarshan Kriya provides, the many conditions associated with impaired Vagal activity can all be addressed.

Antioxidant Response to SK&P

The body is constantly exposed to environmental toxins, and its cells continuously produce normal metabolic by-products. Both of these factors can result in the formation of free radicals. These react with oxygen and cause oxidant damage, contributing to many diseases, including cancer and such cardiovascular diseases as heart disease and stroke. To counteract these free radicals, the human body has a defense system in the form of antioxidant enzymes. A study was conducted to assess the effect of SK&P on antioxidant enzymes. Levels of three major antioxidant enzymes—superoxide dismutase (SOD), catalase, and glutathione—were all found to be significantly higher in SK&P practitioners than in the matched control group. These data suggest that people who practice SK&P have an improved antioxidant status and an enhanced defense against oxidative stress on the body.

Effect on Cortisol, the “Stress Hormone”

Several studies have demonstrated SK&P leads to a significant reduction in cortisol levels. In one study, blood cortisol, known as the“stress hormone,” was measured in 21 individuals, 35–50 years of age. Regular SK&P practitioners (Group 1) were compared with beginning practitioners (Group 2) during their SK&P sessions. The beginning practitioners were also measured before learning SK&P, while listening to classical music (Group 3). Among beginners, the fall in cortisol levels was significantly greater during SK&P than when listening to classical music, suggesting that SK&P produces a better relaxation response. Regular SK&P practitioners had significantly lower blood cortisol levels at baseline than beginning practitioners, indicating that they experienced less physiological stress under the demands of daily living. The significant further fall in serum cortisol levels, during and following SK&P, among beginning and regular practitioners, suggests that regular practice of SK&P progressively develops greater levels of both relaxation and resilience to stress.

The Mind Body Relationship

The interaction of the conscious and subconscious mind requires a congruent interaction between the corresponding systems of nerves, our Autonomic Nervous Systems and our Cerebrospinal Nervous Systems. Again, the interface between our two nervous systems is made by the vagus nerve, which passes out of the cerebral region as a portion of the voluntary system to the thorax, networking out to our hearts and lungs, and ultimately passing through the diaphragm it loses its outer coating and becomes merged with the nerves of the Solar Plexus, thus establishing a binding connection between the two and making humans the self aware beings that we are.

Having an understanding of the dual nervous systems, the relationship between unhealthy vagal activity and a myriad of diseases, the knowledge of how the health of our nervous systems directly corresponds do our mental health, it makes sense that healing the Vagus Nerve can provide profound benefits.

Practicing Sudarshan Kriya, in conjunction with a comprehensive set of yogic postures and pranayamas, assists in fine tuning the nervous systems and healing this most vital organ. While it seems obvious that the action of SK&P works through Vagus Nerve Stimulation, this is probably a gross over simplification of the overall beneficial biophysiological effects of the practice and scientists continue to analyze other ways SK&P functions on the nervous systems as well.

Sports Performance Enhancement

Although no specific empirical data has been scientifically gathered yet on enhancing athletic and sports performance through SK&P, it only stands to reason that a technique with the proven benefits of improved intuition, increased clarity of mind, quicker reaction times, greater composure and significantly more stamina and endurance would aid any competitor in any sport increase performance levels.

Self Defeating Mental Habits

In conclusion, there is one more vital piece to this puzzle to ponder over. If you think about the automatic habit forming mechanism in place and how thought patterns (such as the act of tying a shoe) go from the conscious mind to the subconscious mind, it is important to understand that this same transference also happens in the case of mental habits as well. So many of us have self-defeating mental habits such as guilt, blame, victimness, complaining, the sense of lack, defensiveness, etc. and what’s important to keep in mind is that many of these thought patterns have been committed to our subconscious thoughts. They’ve become as automatic as so many other habits and unless we actively bring these mental habits back up into our conscious awareness, they will continue to persist and bring misery and sorrow into our lives.

It is important to remember that once an impaired Vagus Nerve has been returned back to health, the harmful negative habits that have been accumulated over years of impaired Vagal Activity don’t automatically disappear. It is vital therefore, to be mindful of these common mental patterns and bring them to your awareness, back into your conscious mind, so they can be disarmed and removed.

*While the Enteric Nervous System (which includes the Solar Plexus) has also been called the second brain over the past few decades, the Solar Plexus has been called the second brain in the east for thousands of years.

**Some portions reprinted with permission from the original author(s)

About the Author

Frank Huguenard is an author, teacher and documentary film producer, specializing in films on Science and Spirituality. You can see all three of his films, Beyond MeBeyond Belief and Beyond Reason at his website www.beyondmefilm.com.

Read more articles by Frank Huguenard, here

This article is offered under Creative Commons license. It’s okay to republish it anywhere as long as attribution bio is included and all links remain intact.

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Category: Body, Consciousness, Contributors, Evolution, Frank Huguenard, Ideas, Meta-physics, Natural Health, Resources, Science, Self, Spirituality, Time & Space, Transformation, Waking Times

Comments (39)

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  1. Sandhya says:

    Genuinely and faithfully, His Holiness Sri Sri Ravi Shankar you have given a life to million souls! Sudarshan Kriya, the best yoga, meditation, breathing or whatever you call it has helped people get rid of incurable diseases, enhanced their lives spiritually and got them centered to their source. Jai Gurudev.

  2. dimitri says:

    Google SK & P and you get over 40,000 hits. Many of them have to do with a guru who has built a monster, international following for himself through his gimmick called The Art of Living. Bottom line is that “Yogic” breathing in its many forms and styles is very beneficial to your physical and emotional health. In many cases it is even “transformative.” Meditation and breathwork go hand in hand. Try it!

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Dimitri, it is a pity you won’t allow yourself to learn to love yourself, go with whatever you see as the correct thing but dont allow your small mind to dictate your life and happiness you will omnly find sorrow and unhappiness.

      • SS says:

        Hi Anonymous
        Seems like you are a firm believer in “offence is the best defence” . did they teach you that before or after Sudarshan kriya

      • santiago says:

        Greetings, how do ascertain that Dimitri here doesnot love himself beacause he is critcal of Art of Living? Any internal practice you cultivate with steadiness of concentration and purity of heart is sure to build good results regardless of where it comes from, to think that SK and P is the unique is too narrow and remember, if you meet the guru on the road, kill him!

        • Nikhil says:

          Dimitri, SS and Santiago: Only one advice. Please experience Sudarshan Kriya first and then comment. A person who has never climbed the mountain can never know the beauty that surrounds him when he’s at the top. No matter how many days he spends on Google and to try and find out.

    • Nikhil says:

      Dimitri: I hope you go deeper into your “online research” and find out the many service initiatives being taken up by the “gimmick” you call The Art of Living.
      The idea is simple. The organization generates funds through it’s workshops, and through these funds it supports its service activities! Telling you this as a person who was a big doubter myself, and has actually seen the fieldwork. Over 50 free tribal schools, health hygiene hunger addressing programs in villages, programs in prisons to help the inmates relieve stress and help them transform their lives, and what not.
      Art of Living has partners such as World Bank and United Nations to drive it’s service projects worldwide, not only in India.

      Drive your research deeper my friend! Hopefully you aren’t basing your judgement on opinions of others don’t know the full extent of the work that The Art of Living is doing.

  3. Outstanding article! Thank you so much for sharing this!

  4. Wonderful article… indepth analysis…. feel a choosen one who knows how to do SK&P… Thanks Sri Sri….

  5. Prashanti says:

    Thanks! Will ad to the subjects I teach.

  6. Arun says:

    Wow! Great information. I know how good I feel after Sudarshan Kriya…now its good to know what’s happening with the nervous system. Feeling Grateful.

  7. Dr Minni says:

    Dear Author

    May I request you to kindly send me links of published work on SKP as mentioned in the article. That would make it much better to make scientists understand the beautiful and deep effects of SK.

    I will be grateful.

    Minni Singh
    (India)

    • Anonymous says:

      Send me your email address (go to my website ‘above’ and go to the contact page) and I will send you the research.

      Frank

      • Dear Frank,
        May I request you to also kindly send me links of published work on SKP as mentioned in the article. I am writing my dissertation on PTSD from a metaphysical point of view and this fits right into the research I am working with. I thank you in advance for your wonderful help in creating drug-free approaches to a major problem.
        Thank you,
        Dene’ Ballantine

        Business@deneballantine.com

  8. Anshul says:

    Great information on Sudarshan Kriya. Very useful!

  9. Anshul says:

    Outstanding article. Very informative.

  10. Vithal Pai says:

    Excellent Article describing the effects of Sudarshan Kriya on brain & nervous system. It gives us awareness & calm alert state. If you look at your emotions or bad habits with the awareness, you will be able to get rid of it.

  11. Surinder says:

    I have tried for 18 years (Pranayam) and sure it works like magic.

  12. sridevi says:

    Thank you so much for this article.Provides valuable information.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Can you learn Sudarshan Kriya without paying money anywhere?

    • VK says:

      YES! But I sincerely hope you do not end up in any such place. S.K. is taught to people free of any fees, charge or donation in jails almost all over the world, and the inmates there have reaped huge benefits and have improved their lives to the extent never thought possible before.

    • S In Canada says:

      Not Sudarshan Kriya, but equally as effective or better, in my opinion, is a book called The Healing Power Of The Breath. The paperback version has a CD so it is more beneficial than the Kindle version.

  14. jgd

    wonderful, there are no words to express about sudarshan kriya, we can only experience it. nothing more than that.

    jgd

  15. sindhusadasivan says:

    great information.thank you so much

  16. tushar says:

    Thanks for sharing this wonderful information with us.
    Dear VK,U need not to worry about the manufacturing defects like Anonymous…:P

  17. Ultimate Facial Review says:

    Very good article. I will be experiencing a few of these issues as
    well..

  18. WILLIAM DACEY says:

    HI,

    INTERESTING ARTICLE FOR SURE BUT REALLY PRETTY HARD TO FOLLOW FOR MOST AND WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION TO DIGEST IN ONE READING..

    WE ALL KNOW PRANAYAMA IS BENEFICIAL AND CERTAINLY THIS KRIYA WOULD FALL INTO THAT CATEGORY..AND IS HIGHLY EFFECTIVE, BUT ALL THE OTHER ” STUFF,” BOGGLES THE MIND AND IS NOT GETTING ACROSS THE TRUTH OF WHAT A SIMPLE TECHNIQUE CAN DO FOR YOUR HEALTH

    BREATH IN CARBON, OXYGEN, NITROGEN, AND HYDROGEN…BREATH OUT CARBON, OXYGEN, NITROGEN…HOLD IN THE HYDROGEN BY THINKING OF HOLDING IT IN AND LET IT CIRCULATE THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE BODY..

    DO IT A FEW TIMES AND FOCUS ON DIFFERENT PARTS OF THE BODY EACH TIME.

    DONE!

    NAMASTUM,
    WILLIAM

    • caro says:

      oh simple dude. love it. cheers x.

    • Karren Jack says:

      I don’t know if I’m doing this right or not. I am dying with COPD will this breathing help me? Through the years I have been diagnosed with all of the symptoms on the first page of this article. About six years ago I walked into a convenient store and they were cleaning with ammonia and bleach. That was the beginning of major problems. I am grasping at straws. How do I learned this technique.

  19. Abhay says:

    I do see difference in myself over the last 10 years since I started practicing Sudarshan Kriya. I have attended the course many times to refresh myself and always find myself in company of happy and friendly people on the last day of the course. I have recommended it to my friends and they did thank me for suggesting this course. I thank this organization for bringing this yogic knowledge in this format to me.

  20. jastine lewis says:

    Hi,
    Very impress with the information,I will follow up,my situation:bipolar,diabetis2,Neuropathy,
    Where can I get hold of a practice that give these therapy?I’m from SA (South Africa)Cape Town

  21. Colleen says:

    I am a Crystal Healer. Would you know of any crystal or other healing modality such as Reiki, that would help to heal this nerve when damaged?

    Thank you.

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