I’ve been going through some saved articles in my reading folder, and this one came up:
It’s a comprehensive review of research and papers on Yoga breathing techniques – Pranayama – published in 2019 by Saoji et al.
It’s quite a read, but if you are interested in what research says about Pranayama then it’s worthwhile.
A few points jumped out at me:
First, the authors stated “The practice of Pranayama is generally considered safe and we could find only one case report reporting an adverse effect of yogic breathing during our review of literature”. They went in to report that one adverse effect was from Kapalabhti, which non coincidentally is the one technique I am cautious around teaching – it’s got a lot of benefit, and it’s a near daily practice for me, but it’s a difficult one to learn and not for beginners.
Second, and again quoting the authors “We observed that, most yogic breathing techniques are found to have profound effects on autonomic functions. Most yogic breathing practices lead to parasympathetic shift of the ANS activity, except high frequency Yoga breathing (Kapalabhati)”. It could be generalised that autonomic regulation – the shift between sympathetic and parasympathetic activity is impaired in many people, certainly it is in many clients I work with, and likewise many people experience sympathetic dominance, and hence Pranayama presents many simple opportunities to improve wellbeing.
Finally, it’s gratifying to see in one place the weight of evidence supporting the benefit of Pranayama, and the number of conditions that can be assisted, although to those of us working in Yoga Therapy it is no surprise. The authors do note, as is often the case with Yoga research, limitations in the quality of some of the papers.
It is worth quoting directly from the authors conclusions:
“Pranayama or yogic breathing practices were found to influence the neurocognitive abilities, autonomic and pulmonary functions as well as the biochemical and metabolic activities in the body. The studies in the clinical populations, show the effects of yogic breathing in modulating cardiovascular variables in patients with hypertension and cardiac arrhythmias, relieving the symptoms and enhancing the pulmonary functions in bronchial asthma, as an ancillary aid to modify the body weight and symptoms of pulmonary tuberculosis, to enhance mood for patients withdrawing from cigarette smoking, to reduce the reaction time in specially abled children, to manage anxiety and stress in students, to modulate the pain perception, improve the QoL and sympathetic activity in patients with diabetes, reduce the cancer related symptoms and enhancing the antioxidant status of patients undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy for cancer. Thus the cost effective and safe practices of yogic breathing could aid in prevention and management of various non-communicable diseases. They may also play a role in management of communicable diseases such as pulmonary tuberculosis.”
Full access to the paper is available via this link:
Quotations taken from paper under principles of fair use, (c) acknowledged