Ever wondered, what causes us to age, resulting in death ofour body cells over the years, develop heart disease leading to plaque in theartery, or suffer from cancer causing cells to mutate and grow erratically? Theanswer may be simpler than we think.
Some researchers say the common denominator in all these conditions is theantioxidant status — the level of chemical process that takes place in ourcells and genes. Like we measure our cholesterol level, researchers argue, wecan measure our antioxidant status and determine how vulnerable we are todiseases.
In a pilot study, biochemists at AllIndia Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) studied the effect of SudarshanKriya on the antioxidant status of individuals. Sudarshan Kriya is a well knownrhythmic breathing technique promoted by the Art of Living workshops.
It is preceded by Ujjayi Pranayam orlong and deep breaths with constriction at the base of throat and Bhastrika orfast and forceful breaths through the nose along with arm movements.
Before we talk about their findings, let’s step back into our biochemistryclass and understand what antioxidant status means. According to thefree-radical theory, the cells in our body are being constantly damaged anddestroyed by oxygen radicals, similar to what dirt and rust do to our cars.Oxygen radicals are different from oxygen gas in that they are molecules thatare highly charged and detrimental byproducts of cell reactions.
Our body has an antioxidant defense system that constantly searches anddestroys these oxygen radicals, much like our immune system, which polices ourbody for foreign agents such as bacteria and viruses and eliminates them. Ifthe antioxidant defense system of our body is weak, then the number of oxygenradicals increases, causing our cells to die quickly. This results ininflammation and plaque within our heart vessels or prompts the cells to mutateinto cancer cells. If we reduce the number of oxygen radicals, we improve theantioxidant status in our body, and we live longer and lead a disease freelife.
It is important that we try to reduce the level of oxygen radicals andstrengthen our defense system. We can increase our antioxidant levels throughour diet. A healthy diet of vegetable and fruit increases our intake ofimportant antioxidants such as Vitamins A, C, E, and beta caroten. Some initialstudies have shown the benefit of higher antioxidants in our diet, but largerstudies have not detected the benefit — so the jury is still out. Smoking,alcohol and chronic psycho-social problems like work and family pressures, canincrease oxidative stress. This stress affects our complex molecules and genes.Yoga and meditation can relieve this stress. Will Sudarshan Kriya have asimilar effect?
A team lead by Dr Neeta Singh and Dr Vinod Kochupillai, former chief of IRCHand Head of Medical Oncology at IRCH ( Institute rotary cancer hospital) atAIIMS, tested the blood of 42 persons who were practicing Sudarshan Kriya forover 1 year and compared it with the blood of 42 healthy individuals who werenot practicing any form of physical exercise or stress management techniques.What the researchers found was thought provoking. Clearly, the cellularactivity between the two groups was different.
The Kriya practitioners had a better antioxidant status at the enzyme and thegene level. Also they had less DNA damage and cell aging. It is difficult toknow if this change will lead to longer life span, decrease rates of cancer, orlessen heart disease, but “we should practice some type of breathing techniqueonce a day to reduce stress,” said Dr Neeta Singh, who herself does it twiceeveryday. Though biochemical science and spirituality may seem miles apart, itis heartening to see ancient practices and modern science converging in man’sendeavour to live a richer and healthier life.