Have you ever noticed that every emotion has a corresponding rhythm of breath? When you’re nervous or anxious, you tend to hold your breath. When you’re stressed, you might let out a long exhale or sigh. The rhythm of our breath indicates what’s going on in our nervous system. A smooth, light, and fine rhythm of breath means the mind is more at peace. In the midst of your workday, stop sometime, close your eyes, and notice the rhythm of your breath. A few minutes spent like this can do wonders for your nervous system.
I come from a corporate background that was very demanding. It wasn’t until I started studying the Sudarshan Kriya breathing technique that I noticed how often I was holding my breath. What I learned is that when our negative emotions—fear, loneliness, anxiety, anger, or shame—don’t have a release valve, it’s like having a kink in the hose. Water can’t flow right and things can get backed up in a hurry.
Daily breathwork, whether it’s Sudarshan Kriya (SKY) or some other practice, has a number of positive benefits. I’ll share those benefits, along with my story of approaching this practice as a slight skeptic, but let’s first dig deeper into the SKY technique.
Quite simply, the SKY breathing technique involves rhythmic circles of breath that have a positive impact on the body, mind, and spirit. In fact, the translation from Sanskrit makes it obvious the impact of this technique. “Su” means proper, “darshan” means vision, and “Kriya” means purifying action. To put it all together, Sudarshan Kriya provides “ a proper vision of one’s self through a purifying action,” which is the breath.
This breathing technique brings harmony and balance between our body, mind, and spirit, while safely releasing those negative emotions discussed earlier. The physical benefits alone are numerous: it lowers the cortisol levels in our brain (the stress hormone), enhances brain activity, lowers blood pressure, and strengthens the immune system.
Our breath is our main source of energy. A breathing technique like SKY is designed to increase our prana, or life energy, which can become depleted with chronic stress, too much thinking, unhealthy food, and a lack of sleep. Increasing the prana in our system makes us feel more alive, more energized, healthier, more self-aware, and more connected with ourselves and others. It flushes out the stress and toxins that accumulate and returns us to the natural rhythm of our body, mind, and spirit.
Before learning the SKY technique, I had a long career in corporate America. After several years, I was feeling burned out and disillusioned. When a close friend died and I went through a tough divorce, the time had come for me to make a change. I was tired of spending so much time working just so I could pay the bills and have a vacation now and then. I felt strongly that there had to be much more to life than such a mundane level of existence.
As I later told people, I took a downgrade in my career to upgrade my quality of life and moved to Colorado. I was meeting with a client one day when she handed me a flyer for a workshop that would be teaching the SKY breathing technique. I’ll be the first to admit that I looked at a weekend workshop with some skepticism. After hundreds of training workshops during my years in corporate America, that was not my idea of fun.
What convinced me to sign up was the work I’d been doing on my own to manage my migraines through long slow and deep circles of breath. The migraines had been running my life for years, and seeing how breathing in a specific rhythm had helped to minimize that pain, I thought I’d give the workshop a try.
The first night of the course I was still a little on guard. But the next day, when I experienced the SKY breathing technique, I felt a state of rest, peace, joy, and clarity I’d never known. I was raised to approach the difficulties in life with an attitude of “buck up and keep going,” which was helpful in one regard, but it had also served to stifle my emotions. As I learned to breathe, I safely let go of the grief I had held onto for years over my friend’s death, my divorce, and also doubts about myself.
I thought I’d been dealing with that grief, but all along, it had been carving out a hole in my heart. The SKY breathing technique helped me to finally fill that hole. Coming out of that workshop, I felt strong, clear, and resilient. I realized that I didn’t want to be a hamster on the wheel anymore; I wanted to realize more happiness, more peace, more dynamism—just more in life. The SKY breathing technique shifted my perception about a lot of things and helped me to realize the truth about what was important to me. It quickly improved my quality of life.
A few months after I learned this technique, I had a challenging product launch with a difficult boss. Without warning, things started going in a direction I didn’t anticipate. It wasn’t the smooth experience I had been hoping for, and previously, that would’ve led to disharmony in the office, some panic, and undoubtedly some late nights.
Thanks to the SKY technique, I was able to step back again and again, from the heat of the moment, and make good decisions with a clear intellect. My mind was much more often in the present moment due to regular breathwork, which improved my thinking and intuition and gave me the ability to express myself with strength, conviction, clarity of mind, and connection with others. That bump in the road during our product launch—with all the people, personalities, and moving parts swirling around me—showed me that it was possible for me to move through life like water flowing around a rock. It worked out well for everyone, including me.
That’s when I truly realized two things. First, that something had changed in me. My approach to that issue was 180 degrees different from how I would’ve handled it in the past. Second, the benefits of the SKY breathing technique were living up to what my teachers had described. I knew I had to start sharing this technique with others.
The Sudarshan Kriya breathing technique must be learned in the presence of a teacher over three days (just like my experience), but that doesn’t mean you can’t start a daily breathing practice right now. In this video, you’ll see how stopping for just a few minutes, closing your eyes, and breathing in a particular pattern can settle your consciousness and your body. I start my day with a regular routine of breathwork and meditation, but you can do this technique now.
As I always say to my students, “Be your own scientist.” Observe your breath and get to know its rhythms. Are you holding your breath? Is your breath heavy? Is it light? Is it shaky? Sit for three minutes (or longer if you want) and just observe. When you open your eyes, you’ll find that your outer experience has changed for the better.
PATTI MONTELLA has been a pioneer, risk taker, and leader her entire life. She built a thriving career on the cutting-edge of travel technology before leaving it all behind to dedicate her life to uplifting society. The skills she sharpened in the business world have served her well as an international speaker and inner transformation coach who’s taught tens of thousands of people worldwide—from CEOs and government leaders to royalty and college students—over the past twenty-five years. Through her work in key leadership roles with the Art of Living Foundation and the International Association for Human Values, Patti has become an internationally recognized happiness expert and a powerful agent of change.