SKY meditation is growing in popularity. Perhaps the stress of living through a pandemic has caused us problem-solving humans to seek new ways of reducing anxiety and depression. S-K-Y makes up the acronym for Sudarshan kriya yoga and is Sanskrit for 'proper vision by purifying action.' The practice was discovered by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living. SKY is a practice with breathing techniques used for relaxation, stress management, and control of brain states. It is also associated with increasing prolactin, decreasing cortisol, improving concentration, learning, success, and productivity, according to Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., science director at the Stanford Center For Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.
Our psychophysical states come with their own breathing patterns; when we're happy, we breathe in a particular pattern. When we are calm, another pattern, when our flight or fight responses are triggered, called the sympathetic nervous system, our breathing rapidly increases to yet another pattern. Science has shown that we can reverse this cause and effect pattern, meaning we can choose the breathing pattern for the feeling we are looking to attain. In the case of SKY, we're looking for a reduction of anxiety, stress, and depression, which means using breathing techniques to tap into our parasympathetic nervous system. The one thing missing from the many studies, articles, and videos on SKY is the direct relationship these nose breathing techniques have on our nitric oxide levels. Breathing meditation and nitric oxide reside in the same wellness house. Let's explore how that works.
What is inhaled nitric oxide?
Unlike how it sounds, nitric oxide is not inhaled from an external source; it is instead created in the body. Therefore, we don't inhale the gas; instead, when we breathe it in through our nose, and when we do so, nitric oxide is produced inside our paranasal sinuses and travels through our sinuses airways all the way to our lungs.
Why is inhaled nitric oxide important?
Before we dive deeper into how SKY meditation works on wellbeing, let's understand the importance of nitric oxide on health and how our breathing choices (yes, choices) impact nitric oxide levels. Most people who know about nitric oxide know that we increase our production levels through the nitrate-rich foods in our diet and exercise - what are called nitric oxide dumps. You can learn more about the basics of nitric oxide here, but the bottom line everyone should know is that:
1 - Nitric oxide is a cell-signaling molecule that many doctors have deemed an indicator of good health and wellbeing.
2 - With age, nitric oxide production levels sink by 10% every decade (that means at least a 50% decline in nitric oxide production by middle age).
Keeping our nitric oxide levels up is more than eating the right foods or exercising. It's a lifestyle that includes being mindful of how we breathe.
How do SKY meditation breathing techniques increase nitric oxide?
Take a moment right now to notice your breath. Is your mouth open? Are you breathing in through your nose or your mouth? Is your breathing heavy, medium, or slow? Before we go on, let's reset your breath with a SKY technique: Breath in through your nose for a count of four, 1-2-3-4. Now, hold in your breath for a count of four, 1-2-3-4. And release slowly for a count of eight, 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8. Feel good? Feel free to repeat a few times. BRAVO! You just increased your paranasal nitric oxide levels.
Anytime you breathe through your nose, your paranasal sinuses are producing nitric oxide. When you breathe through your mouth, you are not producing nitric oxide. A few other benefits of breathing through your nostrils:
- improves lung capacity
- slows down breathing
- increases airflow to arteries, veins, capillaries, and nerves
- increase oxygen uptake and circulation
This brings us back to SKY breath meditation techniques. When you practice SKY, you're improving more than your mental health. You're improving your endothelial health, brain health and overall health, and it's all connected to having and maintaining healthy nitric oxide levels.
What are some SKY breathing meditation techniques?
There are four main SKY breathing meditation techniques documented by research. The Ujjayi, the Bhastrika, Om, and Sudarshan Kriya.
1- "Ujjayi or "Victorious Breath": This involves experiencing the conscious sensation of the breath touching the throat. This slow breath technique (2–4 breaths per minute) increases airway resistance during inspiration and expiration. It controls airflow so that each phase of the breath cycle can be prolonged to an exact count. The subjective experience is physical and mental calmness with alertness."
2- "During Bhastrika or 'Bellows Breath,' air is rapidly inhaled and forcefully exhaled at a rate of 30 breaths per minute. It causes excitement followed by calmness."
3- "Om is chanted three times with very prolonged expiration."
4- "Sudarshan Kriya is an advanced form of rhythmic, cyclical breathing with slow, medium, and fast cycles."
Humming boost 20X more nitric oxide production
As if free nitric oxide boosting couldn't get any better, research now shows that adding a humming component to breathing techniques amplifies the experience and increases nitric oxide levels 15 to 20 times. Participants of this study were broken up into groups that exhaled by humming and a control group that exhaled silently. Measurements of nitric oxide showed that the group that exhaled with a hum had remarkably higher nitric oxide levels in their nasal pathways. Researchers believe that the vibration of humming increases air circulation and the capacity for the paranasal sinuses to create more nitric oxide.
Meditation as a part of a nitric oxide lifestyle
In addition to SKY meditation, Loving-kindness meditation and Zen Meditation have also been linked to producing higher nitric oxide levels. So whatever your extra-curricular breathing preferences are, making a conscious effort to practice breathing is beneficial to your health.
It turns out there are many ways to increase nitric oxide levels, and when we take daily action on the rainbow of practices, our overall health wins. In addition to a plant-based diet supported by nitrate-rich foods, Beet Boost, exercise, meditation, and breathing techniques are a great way to boost nitric oxide between meals and workouts. It's the simple, thoughtful actions that help us stay healthy, both mentally and physically.