Dr. Joel Kahn: Managing Stress with Breath in These Challenging Times

March 05, 2021, 8:01 AM

Twice-monthly health columns are written by a practicing cardiologist, clinical professor at Wayne State University School of Medicine and founder of the Kahn Center for Cardiac Longevity in Bingham Farms. He's an author and has appeared on national TV, including "Dr. Oz" and "The Doctors Show." 

By Dr. Joel Kahn

(Photo: DepositPhotos)


For many people, 2020 may have been the most stressful year of their lives. The Covid19 virus, the lockdowns, the isolation and the fractured economy were dominant. Although we are beginning to see signs of hope and resolution this year, stress is still palpable, and so we need a simple coping method. 

Caregivers of the ill are known to be at an increased risk of depression and emotional distress and have served as a test group for identifying effective methods of managing stress.

The UCLA Center for Health Policy Research found that 30 percent of caregivers say emotions interfere with their chores and 33 percent say their emotions have gotten in the way of their social lives. Caregivers may experience their own health decline.

Further, up to half of caregivers taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease develop psychological distress. Lessons from research on reducing stress in caregivers may be of wider value.

The answer was teaching caregivers about the power of the breath to calm the mind and balance the nervous system to promote a healthier, more favorable state. UCLA's psychiatry department studied 49 people who were taking care of a relative with dementia.

Rhythmic breaths and chants

Dr. Joel Kahn

Caregivers were divided into two groups. The test section was taught a simple breathing and chanting meditation called Kirtan Kriya, done daily for 12 minutes. The other group was asked to relax with their eyes closed for 12 minutes a day while listening to instrumental music. They were not taught the chanting meditation.

By the end of the eight-week study, researchers found that in the Kirtan Kriya meditation group the majority of participants had a reduction in mental stress recorded on testing and an improvement in mental health. Their outlook was more optimistic, and they reported being calmer. The improvements were double those reported in the group that spent the 12 minutes listening to music alone. 

It is impressive that just a dozen minutes a day of a simple breathing and meditation practice that is easy, requires no equipment and has no expense, doubled the mental health of the caregivers. It is likely it can do the same for you.

In 2021, the greatest gift to yourself and your family may be to learn a simple tool for stress management -- your breath.

The Kirtan Kriya used in the research at UCLA is a tool that can be learned online in minutes (click here).  

Share it with others to enhance their lives.  

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