Obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, affects millions of people around the world and is one of the most common psychiatric conditions. Conventional treatments include therapy and medication, but two studies suggest that the meditation techniques of Kundalini yoga provide an effective alternative that reduces the anxieties and compulsions of OCD.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder. Its characteristics, according to the National Institutes of Health, include intrusive thoughts, or obsessions, accompanied by ritualistic and repetitive behaviors, or compulsions. Often, people with OCD engage in compulsive behaviors to suppress their obsessions. Examples of compulsions include repeated washing of hands because of an obsession with germs.
The Center for Addiction and Mental Health reports that OCD affects approximately 1 adult in 40, affecting men and women at an equal rate. About two-thirds of people with OCD develop the condition as adolescents or young adults. Kundalini yoga practitioner David Shannahoff-Khalsa, citing other research, writes that OCD is the fourth-most common psychiatric problem.
Conventional treatments for OCD include therapy and medication. Shannahoff-Khalsa, who also heads a research group in mind-body dynamics at the University of California, San Diego, writes that these approaches do not offer quick relief to reduce anxieties and compulsive actions. He wrote that conventional treatments can take two to four weeks or even longer to show improvements.
In a 2004 article published in the "Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine," Shannahoff-Khalsa wrote that Kundalini yoga techniques can produce quick relief and long-term improvement in patients with OCD. A Kundalini yoga practitioner since 1974, he reported the results of two studies that used the practice to treat OCD. Kundalini yoga strives to access and raise dormant, cosmic energy, or Kundalini, through sequences, or kriyas, that combine physical exercises, meditation and structured breathing techniques. During his training as a Kundalini yoga teacher, Shannahoff-Khalsa learned a breathing meditation technique specific for treating OCD.
Shannahoff-Khalsa wrote that the Kundalini technique for OCD requires the patient to sit with a straight spine, either cross-legged or in a chair. The patient then blocks the right nostril while breathing deeply in and out of the left nostril. Citing Yogi Bhajan, who introduced Kundalini yoga to the West in 1969, Shannahoff-Khalsa wrote that practicing this technique for a maximum of 31 minutes a day for 90 days, at a rate of one breath per minute, will eliminate obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
In a pilot study, five patients who followed a Kundalini yoga program that included the OCD-specific technique showed an average improvement of more than 50 percent in their scores on the Yale-Brown Obsessive Compulsive Scale, or Y-BOCS -- higher than the 20 to 35 percent range that indicates a significant change in symptoms. Shannahoff-Khalsa followed the pilot study with a randomized comparison study in which one group used the Kundalini yoga protocol, while a second group used relaxation response plus mindfulness meditation. The Kundalini participants showed greater improvements on their Y-BOCS scores and other measures. The authors concluded that Kundalini yoga holds great promise in treating OCD but conceded that the study was small and that confirming the results would require a larger experiment.