Background: The rapid pace of life, eating habits, and environmental pollution have increased stress levels and its related disorders. The complex molecular response to stress is mediated by stress genes and a variety of regulatory pathways. Oxidative stress is internal damage caused by reactive oxygen species. Increasing evidence suggests that chronic psychosocial stress may increase oxidative stress, which in turn may contribute to aging, and etiology of coronary diseases, cancer, arthritis, etc. Psychophysiological concomitants of meditation have been extensively researched, but there are very little data available on biochemical activity leading to relieving stress by causing a relaxation response by Sudarshan Kriya (SK). SK is a breathing technique that involves breathing in three different rhythms. It is preceded by Ujjayi Pranayam (long and deep breaths with constriction at the base of throat) and Bhastrika (fast and forceful breaths through nose along with arm movements).
Methods: Forty-two SK practitioners and 42 normal healthy controls were recruited for our study. The practitioners had practiced SK for at least 1 year. Selected normal healthy controls did not perform any conventional physical exercise or any formal stress management technique. Whole blood was used for glutathione peroxidase estimation and red blood cell lysate was used for superoxide dismutase activity assay and for glutathione estimation. White blood cells were isolated from fresh blood and assayed for gene expression using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction. The parameters studied are antioxidant enzymes, genes involved in oxidative stress, DNA damage, cell cycle control, aging, and apoptosis.
Results: A better antioxidant status both at the enzyme activity and RNA level was seen in SK practitioners. This was accompanied by better stress regulation and better immune status due to prolonged life span of lymphocytes by up-regulation of antiapoptotic genes and prosurvival genes in these subjects.
Conclusions: Our pilot study provides the first evidence suggesting that SK practice may exert effects on immunity, aging, cell death, and stress regulation through transcriptional regulation.