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HOPE on the Other Side


Jul 26, 2018

Today we look at yoga exercises including breathwork as a way to achieve and maintain balance for the caregiver of a loved one living with schizophrenia. Guru Simran discussed her early introduction and involvement with yoga practice.

Next, the host reviewed his experience in the early years of the NIH National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Yoga was studied by NIH as a method of caring for caregivers of those with chronic illnesses. This leads to an explanation by Guru Simran about the history and meanings of yoga in Indian Hindu culture and religion. Her perspective is to keep yoga primarily as a spiritual practice. Traditionally, yoga has had reproducible effects on the practitioner, that is to say a scientific basis, and we discussed the set of exercises known as a kryia.

In the past, the interview guest and the host have experienced centering exercises during the beginning of business seminars, and these chants, breath work and postures always result in noticeable benefits. Guru Simran tells how even a brief practice can be of benefit to listeners when faced with anxiety, fear or sadness when they are caring for a loved one living with schizophrenia. She leads the audience in a detailed particular “audience participation” breathing practice, one of the pranayama practices. This is for cleansing, for relaxing, energizing and mental clarity. It involves slow belly-breath in, then expanding the lungs, with a pause, followed by an exhalation starting with the top of the lungs and ending with the belly pushed inward toward the spine. The name in English for this 3-minute exercise is “Long Deep Breathing.” The mental component is to think of the following: 1) on the inhalation, breathe in strength, faith, peace; and 2) on the exhalation, breathe out weakness, fatigue, fear, tension, anger.

The NIH / Center for Complementary and Integrative Health did a pilot study done in 2010 to benefit the caregivers of a family member living with dementia. Schizophrenia is, of course, different from dementia, but they are both chronic conditions affecting the thinking and behavior of the person. The caregivers practiced a particular Kirtan Kriya daily for 8 weeks and were compared to caregivers who did not. That small study showed a significant decrease in the mild depression and cognitive functioning problems in the caregivers who practiced this.
Guru Simran discussed these types of exercises herself. There are hand movements in that system. The kirtan system gives meanings to the fingers of the hand as follows: Index finger corresponds to the planet Jupiter, representing wisdom; the middle finger corresponds to Saturn, representing patience; the ring finger corresponds to the Sun, representing vitality, the pinky finger is associated with planet Mercury, representing communication; and the thumb represents the personality, the ego. She recommends searching for and watching YouTube videos posted on Kirtan kryia.

Another NIMH researcher in Bangalore, India, showed benefits of pranayama practices in stress, anxiety, depression and the symptoms associated insomnia. The onset of schizophrenia can and often does include the loss of former life directions, former dreams, and goals which can lead to a kind of grief and sadness. This is true for both the family member caregivers and for the person living with schizophrenia. His review showed sustained improvement in depressive symptoms at one and three months after an initial 3 month period of practicing the breath techniques daily. Guru Simran suggests finding for yourself a yoga teachers both locally and also to use her services and classes over the video internet software, such as Zoom.

Finally, she recommends to start your day with a routine centering practice that resonates and makes sense to you and actually helps you as the caregiver. Self-nurturing is key to avoid burn-out, and to keep yourself nourished on a daily basis as a graceful, sensitive, compassionate caregiver.