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For Better Well-being, Just Breathe

It can save your sanity

was a graduate student in Manhattan having breakfast on my rooftop on Sept. 11, 2001, when I witnessed planes demolish the Twin Towers. For months afterward, I shook with anxiety every morning. Unwilling to medicate, I tried everything else. Mindfulness meditation induced panic attacks. Hot yoga built muscle but did nothing for my anxiety. I went to talks by Buddhist monks and meditation teachers hoping to attain inner peace, to no avail. Finally, I attended a SKY Breath Meditation class, which involves a 20-minute breathing regimen in different postures and rhythms. Though I went in skeptical, I came out calm. Two decades later, I haven’t missed a day of my breathing practice, not even when I gave birth.

I’ve also devoted part of my research career to studying the benefits of breathing for mental health and well-being. Seven years after 9/11, I was working with veterans returning from war with post­-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Traditional treatments had failed many of them, so my colleagues and I ran a randomized controlled trial to test the effects of SKY breathing (which the nonprofit Art of Living Foundation teaches to the general public and Project Welcome Home Troops offers to veterans and military).

Compared with the control group, veterans practicing SKY every day for one week saw their anxiety drop to levels typical of the general population. Even though most did not continue to practice, they maintained the benefits a year later. In fact, many veterans in our study no longer qualified as having PTSD. A larger study at the Palo Alto, Calif., veterans hospital found that SKY had similar benefits to cognitive processing therapy, the current gold-­standard PTSD treatment. Veterans who practiced SKY also showed more physiological improvements than those who just had therapy. For people who don’t want to revisit or discuss painful memories, or devote the time and costs necessary for therapy, breathing practices are a nice alternative.

Please select this link to read the complete article from TIME.

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