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You may hear 'namaste' at this Science Cafe

MUSC researcher will talk about how yoga, including its breathing techniques, are being scientifically studied as possible adjunct treatments for everything from pain to PTSD

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Something as simple as changing the way you breathe may have a scientifically measurable effect on the way you feel.
Helen Adams | adamshel@musc.edu | April 16, 2018

Sundaravadivel Balasubramanian, also known as “Dr. B,” probably won’t be doing any sun salutations or downward-facing dog poses at the April 18 Science Cafe, but he will be explaining his research on the potential health benefits of yoga, specifically yoga breathing. The event will be upstairs at Charleston Beer Works starting at 5:30 this Wednesday evening.

“It will be a half-hour talk, and then a half-hour discussion,” he said.

Balasubramanian is an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Radiation Oncology at the Medical University of South Carolina who studies cell biology. He’s also a nationally known speaker on the benefits of yoga and has done a pilot study looking at the effects of yoga breathing on the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps the body relax. It found signs in participants’ spit — an increase in their nerve growth factor — suggesting the breathing technique was good for them.

Dr. Sundaradivel Balasubramanian

Dr. Sundaravadivel Balasubramanian says a holistic approach to health includes treating the mind as well as the body. Photo by Sarah Pack
Balasubramanian is now getting ready to do more research on both yoga breathing and yoga to see if they have measurable benefits in two studies. One will explore their possible impact on people with the connective tissue disease scleroderma; The other will look at whether yoga and yoga breathing can help veterans suffering from pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“We’ll do certain chair yoga poses and also breathing exercises. It’s split 50-50. Thirty minutes for the chair yoga and the other 30 minutes they’ll be doing the yoga breathing exercises” in the trials, he said.

Most people know about yoga, but the concept of yoga breathing may be less familiar. Balasubramanian explains it in this YouTube video.

He said there’s a need for more hard data on how the ancient practices he studies affect health. “There is only a handful of studies involving a large number of patients,” Balasubramanian said. “That’s why my research is significant, I think. In the past, people have been using qualitative measures, self-reports on the effects of yoga — how do you feel and things like that. But now we have some specific quantitative methods with biomarkers to measure."

Balasubramanian’s Science Cafe talk is the latest in a monthly series featuring MUSC researchers discussing their work in a fun, casual setting. Upcoming topics include the origins of cancer, addiction and lupus. Science Cafes are open to the public, and people have the chance to ask questions.

This will be Balasubramanian’s first time to speak at a Science Cafe. Don’t expect him to lead the group in yoga poses, he said. “Yoga and alcohol don’t go together,” he said with a laugh. “They are going in opposite directions. One is to realize the self, the other is to forget the self, so I’m not going to be mixing that.”


Yogic breathing helps fight major depression, study shows (Science Daily, Nov. 22, 2016)

One simple technique for a healther New Year (MUSC News, Jan. 5, 2015) 

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