Health Notes: December 2016

By Rachel Silverstone

Breathing, good light and a solid sense of self make everything better.

As we draw closer together for warmth and companionship in this winter season, it’s also time to tend to our inner fires. Whether your fire is best sparked by yoga, biking, skiing or an early morning run or brisk walk, we’ve got to stay moving, or the whole ship is at risk of freezing. This includes the spark within your heart and mind. Feeling a little dull is something to pay attention to. Jump into action and remember these wise words…

[mantra for the month]

“If there were a one-word therapy, it would be: BREATHE.” – Dick Olney


As if you didn’t already know yoga feels good, a new study by researchers at Penn Neuropsychiatry showed Sudarshan Kriya Yoga improved depressive symptoms as an adjunct treatment for patients who were not fully responding to antidepressants.

The study showed improvement in symptoms of depression by an average of 10.27 points on the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, after participants underwent an eight-week multi-component yoga program, featuring Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY).

The low-cost and low-risk practice of SKY has mounting scientific evidence in the U.S., as well as in India, to support its benefit as an adjunct treatment of depression, anxiety and other mood disorders. SKY has been studied most extensively in India. Studies show regular practitioners have lower oxidative stress and higher natural killer cells in cancer patients, which may increase immunity and prolong life. SKY is a simple breathing practice composed of long and deep breaths with constriction at the throat to induce the sensation and awareness of breath on the throat (Ujjayi – “victorious breath”) followed by short, forceful and energizing breaths through the nose accompanied by arm movements (Bhastrika – “bellows breath”), done for minutes a day.

Next step: to conduct a larger study evaluating how Kriya yoga practice impacts the brain structure and function in patients with major depression.

The full study was published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry Kriya yoga in SLC: offered through The Art of Living Foundation USA. Midweek meditations at the Utah Pride Center; January volunteer training; 607.229.2700.


Seasonal Affective Disorder is one type of depression that occurs as a result of reduced exposure to sunlight, primarily during the winter. Rarely seen in people under age 20, incidents increase with age. One theory holds that there is a genetic link—a mutation that makes a person with SAD less sensitive to light. The most common treatment of SAD, besides antidepressants, is light therapy.

For the mildest case, you might arrange your space so that you are exposed to a window, or go for a long daily walk outside. With artificial light therapy, a person sits in front of a light box that emits a full-spectrum light, as does sunlight (though 13 times less powerful at 10,000 lux). The Mayo Clinic recommends using it within the first hour of waking in the morning for about 30 minutes at a distance of about 14 inches with eyes open, but not looking at the light. Your  SAD lamp should filter out most or all UV light to avoid eye damage. Therapy lights usually run from $25-$250. (You can find them at Costco and online.)

Some cases have shown that a vitamin D deficiency can underlie SAD. CATALYST advisor Dr. Todd Mangum, MD recommends a daily supplement of 2,000 IU vitamin D3 for most Americans, as 70% of us are deficient. More severe cases may require an even higher dosage. Consult a physician before attempting light therapy or taking more than the recommended dosage of vitamin D3.

For more useful practices in managing SAD, see the University of Utah Health Care website:


So, how’s your lateral non-reward orbito­frontal cortex doing?

Researchers in the United Kingdom and China say this space in the brain becomes active when a person does not perceive an expected reward, resulting in depression. On the other hand, a reward activates the medial reward orbitofrontal cortex.

Two things were observed in the 421 clinically depressed participants compared to the 488 control subjects: A pattern in the connectivity of the depressed participants’ brains showed that not getting rewarded was more strongly connected to their sense of self. Additionally, depressed participants were not as easily able to recall happy memories of getting rewarded.

This study took place in China. It would be interesting to see results from a test conducted in our more social media-driven culture, in which it is easy to become dependent upon outside rewards for self-worth.

What does it mean? We don’t know, except it’s a good bet the condition could be improved by breathing, the one-word therapy.

Read the full study in Brain, ‘Medial reward and lateral non-reward orbitofrontal cortex circuits change in opposite directions in depression’


Rachel writes the monthly Health Notes column of CATALYST. Her plan for staying happy and warm this winter is by practicing kriya yoga through a snorkel while skiing the Wasatch powder she is currently praying for.

This article was originally published on November 30, 2016.