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  • Writer's pictureJoan Rothchild Hardin

Reduce Inflammation with Yoga, Meditation and Breath Work (Pranayama)

The amount of stress in my life increased significantly when my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer in 1998 and I began making frequent trips from New York City to Florida. She succumbed in April 2000. Then 10 days after her death, my father collapsed from an internal bleed from his own colon cancer. Shortly after my mother’s diagnosis, I realized I could use some emotional support and began attending a Family Support Group at Gilda’s Club NYC. Gilda’s Club also offered free yoga and meditation classes to members. I had been interested in trying these Eastern mind-body techniques for a few years so fortunately had the good sense to take advantage of this opportunity … and profoundly changed my life for the better.  Yoga, meditation and breath work (pranayama) have given me tools to feel whole and centered. And as an added bonus, all three practices have also brought  important health benefits.


Research is confirming what yoga practitioners have long known: that practicing yoga reduces stress and inflammation. (Holland, undated) A study to test the mechanisms underlying hatha yoga’s stress-reduction benefits compared inflammatory and endocrine responses of female novice and expert yoga practitioners before, during and after a restorative hatha yoga session as well as in two control conditions. The study found a lower amount of the cytokine called interleukin-6 (IL-6), an important part of the body’s inflammatory response, in the blood of women who routinely practiced yoga. (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2010) This inflammatory cytokine is part of the chronic inflammation process in the body. (Wikipedia, 2014) The women in the study, both novices and experienced yoginis, showed smaller increases in IL-6 after stressful experiences than women of the same age and weight who did not practice yoga. Inflammatory cytokine blood levels normally increase with age and stress. IL-6 is implicated in the development of heart disease, stroke, Type-2 diabetes, arthritis and many other debilitating age-related diseases. (Kiecolt-Glaser, 2010)


Mindfulness meditation techniques have long been known to reduce unhealthy emotional reactivity.  Now researchers are finding they can reduce post stress inflammatory responses in the body so would be useful in chronic inflammatory conditions such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema – and likely all autoimmune diseases and conditions since they are based in inflammation somewhere in the body. (Kelly, 2013) Mindfulness meditation has also been shown to affect the body at the molecular level, altering activity of genes that control inflammation.  (Nature World News, 2013)

 See also Health Through Meditation. BREATH WORK TO REDUCE INFLAMMATION

Intentional yogic breathing (pranayama) allows you to train your body to breathe more slowly and deeply. Reducing your breathing from its usual rate of about 15 breathes per minutes to 5-6 breathes a minutes has many benefits:

  • A breathing ratio of 1:2 for inhalations:exhalations allows the heart rate to slow and more oxygen to be pumped with fewer breaths. More oxygen in the blood also means more oxygen to the heart muscles.

  •  This reduces wear and tear on all the body’s internal organs.

  • Better functioning of the autonomic nervous system allows the lungs, heart, diaphragm, abdomen, intestines, kidneys and pancreas to do their work more easily.

  • The immune system is strengthened and the body has an easier time removing toxins.

  • This slower rate also lowers blood pressure, relaxes muscle tension and quiets the nerves, making you less prone to anxiety, depression and unneeded brain chatter.

  • The body has more vitality.

  • Many of the ailments associated with aging may be avoided – such as stiffness in muscles and joint pain, rheumatism, decreased lung capacity, hardening of the arteries.  (Daljit, 2010

These ancient claims for the benefits of practicing pranayama are now being backed up by science.  See the interesting review article by Sengupta (2012) here and by The Low Histamine Chef (2012) here.

REFERENCES Daljit. (2010). Benefits of Pranayama and Healthy Heart. See Holland, E. (undated).  Yoga Reduces Cytokine Levels Known to Promote Inflammation. See Kelly, J. C. (2013). Mindfulness-Based Meditation May Help Reduce Inflammation. See Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. et al. (2010). Stress, Inflammation, and Yoga Practice. Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine, 72, 113-121. See Nature World News. (2013). Mindful Meditation Reduces Stress by Altering Gene Expression, Study Finds. See Sengupta, P. (2012). Health Impacts of Yoga and Pranayama: A State-of-the-Art Review.  International Journal of Preventative Medicine, 3:7, 444-458. See The Low Histamine Chef. (2012). Yogic (Pranayama) Breathing Lowers Histamine. See Wikipedia.  (2/4/2014). Cytokine. See © Copyright 2013-2014 Joan Rothchild Hardin. All Rights Reserved.

DISCLAIMER:  Nothing on this site or blog is intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.


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