Is Sudarshan Kriya Safe?
One of the recurring themes across these blogs concerns the safety of Sudarshan Kriya, the breathing technique which is the centerpiece of Art of Living’s Basic Course.
Through their teachers and through information on various websites which they control, Art of Living make a great many claims as to the benefits that Sudarshan Kriya purportedly gives, and in fact all too often they try to sell it as a panacea, something which is effective in curing nearly all illnesses.
Some of the specific claims that Art of Living has made about SK include that it can cure cancer and AIDS, be used as a treatment for drug addiction, treat depression, improve sleep, improve focus and concentration, and that it is effective in reducing stress.
Of greatest concern to many people following these blogs is not so much the benefits, if indeed there really are any, but rather the dangers associated with practicing SK. Indeed, whilst Art of Living take pride in flaunting the various alleged benefits of Kriya, they do very little if anything to warn prospective practitioners of any of the risks associated with practicing the technique. In fact, not only do they not warn participants that they may experience adverse side effects, they actually go so far as to deny that these side effects even exist. The following was taken directly from an Art of Living website, and in fact is what most people in Art of Living are led to believe:
Is Sudarshan Kriya Safe?
Sudarshan Kriya is completely safe and side-effects (if any) are only positive.
Throughout these blogs there have been hundreds of comments left by those who have practiced Sudarshan Kriya and who have reported that they suffered various ailments including headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, fatigue, abnormal changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar levels, development of various allergies, uncontrollable muscle spasms, and feeling faint to name but a few.
The following are a small handful of comments left by various contributors which particularly concerning:
i was a teacher. i have had a student pass out during sk. as adviced by aol, i made her smell the flowers that are offered to ravi’s picture. this is said to revive them. it did not happen. then as instructed, i placed a shawl that ravi had given me, as that is also divine, since ravi had been wearing it all day, before giving it to me. i was relatively new teacher at that time….i was told not to panic as grace will work it’s magic ( cant imagine that i was that dumb). anyway, we did all that and the student never came around. almost an hour later, she stirred and finally got up. i did have to call the doctor, who arrived after she had woken up. that incident really freaked me out. this was the severeist incident, with many smaller ones, which had people react abnormally. this was all karma clearing. so i do not beleive sk i for evetone.
I did the kriya for several years. I also taught. I developed allergies which I never had, to dust, mites, pollen. I began getting bronchitis very often, and even had pneumonia twice (when I was teaching)! I no longer do the long Kriya, and rarely do even the short one at home because of my lung difficulties that came from the practice. If I get a cold, it immediately goes to my lungs. I’ve seen a pulmonary specialist as a result (I’m way too young for all this junk to be happening, btw) and he tested me and said “you have lungs 15-20 years beyond your age….” and showed me all sorts of awful looking stuff on my xray. I know my lungs were normal before because I had a mandatory health physical for work before learning the Kriya, and was told I was in excellent health. It included a chest xray. I have a cough that never goes away, now, and sounds deep and hollow. The doctor has recommended an inhaler, and stated that I have asthma (didn’t have it before the Kriya). So go figure. I think Kriya is bad for health, especially if one is a teacher and does more long Kriyas.
A very knowledgeable yogi, whom I met at the ashram (he was visiting), observed the SK and later told me this:
He had not seen such unhealthy looking people as those doing the practices. He said that this type of breathing practice is indicated for those living in pristine, clean environments, such as the Himalayas, and living a particular, austere lifestyle, which no worldly people would be interested in living. Otherwise, he said, these SK would cause health problems of all sorts, in his opinion, and his observations of the group, he felt, supported his opinion. I stopped the SK after that conversation, and did leave AOL. My health improved immediately, slowly returning to normal after about a year of not doing SK.
The heart palpitations started a week after I started doing the sudarshan kriya and unfortunately I never thought it was due to this practice and continued this practice. I never had any pre-existing conditions and being 24 years of age I have always been in good health. I later came to know that it was a direct result of doing this so called wonderful technique. The aol teacher had no clue about this always spoke some rubbish about cleansing and grace and negativity.
After three months of practice my health only worsened and became eractic. One day I fainted at work and was adviced bed rest. When I went through the treadmill/ECG my heart condition did not show any abnormality. The doctor who was very perceptive asked me about my work and other activities. When I told him about all and even the breathing practice that I do, he suggested maybe I should rethink and stop doing it. It was at that time I realized the actual causal relationship between sudarshan kriya and the heart palpitations. Whenever I stopped this practice for a couple of days the palpitations and discomfort in the heart area reduced.
I fortunately met some very good yoga teachers from the Bihar school of Yoga who made me understand the dangers of practicising improper Pranayama like how they teach in AOL. I was provided a tailored yoga sadhana routine which made me come back to normal and back in to good health. I was able to clearly see how my body got abused due to the AOL pranayama and kriya practice. And the other thing I clearly saw was how the AOL teachers were clueless, insenstive and even subtly abusive towards any one who do not corroborate their false claims of the benefits. I was also surprised to find in internet blogs that anyone who questions AOL gets abused by AOL trolls like yourself. When I first encountered this blog a few days ago I felt that I should share my experience in this post that more people become aware of these dangerous and help them deal with the suffering which can come to them due to AOL as it happened in my case.
There are many comments of a similar nature to these across the blogs, and I have added some links to various useful posts at the end of this post. Yet Art of Living have to date not publicized a single issue that an individual practicing Sudarshan Kriya has experienced. They do nothing to warn practitioners of any dangers related to the practice, and in fact generally tell those who report unpleasant side effects as a result of Kriya that toxins are being cleansed/released from the body as a result of the practice, and even that “bad karma” is being removed, and as such they should expect to feel slightly unpleasant experiences.
Many have actually noted the similarities between the fast breathing cycle of Sudarshan Kriya and hyperventilation, and in fact looking at the effects produced by hyperventilation (see here) the similarities between the two are striking. It is especially worth noting the tingling sensations and muscle spasms which result from hyperventilation, as many people experience this during Kriya and are led to believe that it is actually the flow of prana moving towards their fingertips and feet.
One Art of Living devotee posted a link on this blog (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10708840 ) detailing some very rudimentary medical research which had been done on SK to treat depression. The Abstract of that report clearly states that “Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) is a procedure that involves essentially rhythmic hyperventilation at different rates of breathing.” So clearly this confirms that it is in actual fact a type of hyperventilation.
The effects and dangers of hyperventilation are well-known and well-documented, so why aren’t Art of Living making any effort to warn the public of the dangers of practicing hyperventilation? Why is it in fact that many teachers go so far as to deny that Sudarshan Kriya even is a form of hyperventilation?
Lack of Consistency
We have come to realize that Sudarshan Kriya is taught differently by different teachers. Some emphasize quiet, gentle breathing, whilst others teach a more forceful breathing. It is very concerning that there is no consistency in the way this technique is taught, which casts further doubts as to how safe it really is. Most people will have noticed that during Long Kriya follow-up sessions, each participant is practicing the kriya in their own way, and the teacher does nothing to correct anyone on their technique.
Traditional pranayams which in some cases are thousands of years old are taught by teachers who in many cases have spent years studying and practicing yoga, and who are aware of all risks associated with practicing these pranayams. They are taught to look out for various signs that a practitioner is having difficulties, and if they feel it necessary they will advise that practioner to cease practice completely, especially if they believe that a particular pranayam is not suited to them.
In particular, the teachers of traditional pranayams are taught about any contraindications associated with each pranayam, conditions which if present in the practitioner would indicate that they should avoid practicing that particular pranayam. They are also taught to tailor particular practices to each individual, ensuring that they understand the needs of the individual before recommending certain practices.
In Art of Living, however, teachers spend only 3 weeks in TTC which they can take in as little as a year after their Basic Course, and by all accounts hardly any of that time is spent in learning how to teach Sudarshan Kriya. They are certainly not taught about any of the dangerous side effects or contraindications, nor are they told to advise participants to discontinue practicing the technique if they encounter any issues with it. On the contrary teachers actually tell participants that Sudarshan Kriya should be practiced even when the participant is suffering from illnesses, especially colds. Teachers of traditional yoga pranayams, on the other hand, will warn practitioners to avoid practicing any pranayams when they have a cold as they generally tend to aggravate the cold.
Indeed when one Basic Course participant who complained to the teacher that they had a cold and were feeling nauseous and as such felt that practicing bhastrika would exacerbate their condition, the teacher insisted that on the contrary it would help them. That individual’s condition dramatically worsened overnight and their cold ended up lasting several weeks. That bhastrika helps colds and flu is something which many teachers believe, and it is just plain wrong.
One further thing is that of the traditional pranayams, many of these are only suited to advanced practitioners who have spent years preparing their bodies to practice these particular pranayams. They certainly aren’t techniques suited to beginners. And just as was mentioned in the final comment quoted above, practitioners of these techniques are told to only practice them in suitable environments such as the Himalayas where the air is suitable for the specific practice. Traditional schools such as Sivananda and Bihar offer advanced courses, usually for their teachers, in conditions such as these. They also warn their participants not to practice the techniques when they return to their everyday environments, especially if they live in big cities where pollution is abound.
Lack of Research
Sudarshan Kriya may have some benefits, however very little independent research has been carried out to verify exactly what these benefits are, as well as to determine all its side effects and contraindications. Drug companies spend millions of dollars on research before a particular drug is allowed on the market, and in particular long term effects of usage should also be adequately researched. This is another issue with Sudarshan Kriya, as a great many people who practiced the technique for many years actually found that their health deteriorated considerably. After seeking medical advice and being told to stop their practice, it was only then did that their health began to improve again.
Stopping the Practice
Many who have stopped practicing Sudarshan Kriya have also reported improvements in memory, concentration and energy levels, which ironically are the very things which Art of Living claims SK can help with. It is quite possible that many of the benefits which practitioners believe they gain from SK actually come from the preparatory exercises such as the 3-stage pranayams, bhastrika, the mudras as well as the Sahaj Samadhi meditation.
If you are having any issues with your practice at all, please consult a doctor about it. Don’t just accept the standard Art of Living response that you are detoxing, but rather listen to your body as it is most likely trying to tell you that you may be suffering and that you should seek a professional opinion. If required, it may actually be worth you stopping the practice altogether and see if this makes a difference to your health.
Reason for Concern
All of these things are extremely concerning, especially for anyone who practices this technique on a regular basis. Moreover for those who are Art of Living teachers, not only is it important that they be made aware of these risks for their own safety and well-being, but also because they have a moral obligation to warn each and every person they teach this technique to of all the side effects of practicing the technique. Failure to warn participants of the risks can result in them coming to great harm, and as such in many countries the teacher can be held directly accountable for this and can even be prosecuted. Depending on whether or not the teacher has a contract with Art of Living, the organization may actually be indemnified from any liability.
One more thing which needs to be mentioned here concerns the manner in which the Uddiyana bandha is taught during the Advanced Course. Traditional yoga textbooks all teach that this technique should be practiced by first exhaling and then contracting the stomach muscles. However during the Advanced Course participants are actually taught to first inhale and retain the breath, and to simultaneously contract their stomach muscles. This is very strange indeed as the diaphragm has already expanded outwards and downwards when the breath is retained, so contracting the stomach muscles is actually creating a counter force against the diaphragm. This actually makes it extremely difficult to retain the air, puts undue pressure on both the diaphragm and the stomach muscles, and can produce symptoms such as lightheadedness and dizziness when combined with the other locks. It is highly recommendable to do as much independent research on these bandhas as you can, and find others who teach them to see the differences in how they are taught, especially as practicing them incorrectly can lead to irreparable damage.
This also adds to a common belief that various techniques taught by Art of Living including Kriya are actually done with the intention of inducing a high in its practitioners, and may not after all be yielding any benefits whatsoever.
Myths Surrounding the Kriya Tape
Basic Course participants are led to believe that not only will the tape not work at all in the absence of a teacher being present to conduct the Kriya, but also that various “bad things” have happened to those who have tried playing it on their own. Additionally, those who sign up for TTC are told that one of the main purposes of TTC is to prepare the participant to receive “Guruji’s Grace”, and that it is actually “Guruji’s Grace” which is channelled through the teacher when they conduct the Kriya session and which is responsible for the benefits which those who are present receive.
Many of us who are not teachers have tried the Kriya Tape in the comfort of our own homes with no teacher present, and have discovered that we have the same experiences irrespective of whether or not a teacher is actually present. In fact, it is far more convenient to practice this in one’s own home as they don’t need to waste any time in travelling to and from their local Art of Living center.
We have also noted that nothing bad has happened to any of us as a result of trying the tape out on our own. These things have led us to believe that everything Art of Living tell people about the Kriya Tape is a complete lie, and is most likely done to protect the tape and to make people repeat long kriya sessions by creating a dependency on the tape and ultimately on Art of Living, and so that they can be marketed further courses. And of course to market the Art of Living TTC course to those who believe that they will earn the tape if they are successfully chosen at the end (not everyone who does TTC is chosen to become a teacher.)
Summary and Conclusions
The intention of this post is not to put people off from doing Kriya altogether, but rather to raise awareness of the various issues which those who have practiced kriya have experienced in the past and to give people a more balanced view of the effects of Kriya, something which once again Art of Living don’t want the public to know about.
It may be true that Kriya does actually have some benefits, or at least that the practices around the Kriya give practitioners various benefits. Indeed across these blogs, many have commented that they did in fact derive benefits from their practice, at least initially. It was only after carrying out their practice over long periods of time that many reported the various side effects noted above.
The main issues surrounding Kriya are that Art of Living doesn’t warn the public of the potential health risks they may suffer if they practice it, teachers aren’t made aware of these risks and instead are made to believe that unpleasant experiences are the result of detoxing and are to be expected, they are also led to believe that “Guruji’s Grace” will take care of everything in case anything does go wrong, they misinform practioners who have various illnesses that practicing bhastrika or kriya will help them to heal, insufficient research has been done into the effects of practicing kriya, especially in the long term, and that there is no consistency in the way the kriya is taught by different teachers.
That a single breathing technique can be a cure for everything is extremely unlikely, and even more unlikely that it is suited to all practitioners, especially as no pranayam can make this claim. The fact that no traditional pranayam is the intellectual property of any one single school of yoga or other institution is also noteworthy here. Art of Living effectively have a monopoly on Sudarshan Kriya and keep the technique a very closely guarded secret.
We really have to question, are these things really what one would expect of a benevolent organization interested in removing stress from society, and in putting a smile on everyone’s face?
Dangers of Practicing Sudarshan Kriya
Further Evidence of The Dangers of Sudarshan Kriya
Sudarshan Kriya: FREEING or FRYING the mind?
Stupid or Relaxed? Part 1
Stupid or Relaxed? Part 2
So Ham, So Fake
Long Kriya – Home Version
Does Kriya Cure AIDS?
Heart Problems Caused By Sudarshan Kriya
Refuting “Scientific Research” on Sudarshan Kriya