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Home » The Science of Yogic Breathing: Sundar Balasubramanian (Transcript) 

The Science of Yogic Breathing: Sundar Balasubramanian (Transcript) 

Sundar Balasubramanian at TEDxCharleston

Full text of author Sundar Balasubramanian’s talk: The Science of Yogic Breathing at TEDxCharleston conference. In this talk, he explains what breathing does give and do to your body. He says a deep breath relaxes and creates significant beneficial changes in physiologically relevant biomarkers.

Best quote from this talk: 

‘Mind is a monkey. It’s not a normal monkey. It’s a drunken monkey, stung by a scorpion!’

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: The Science of Yogic Breathing by Sundar Balasubramanian


Sundar Balasubramanian – Radiation oncology researcher

Hello, Vanakkam!

I’m a Cell Biologist trying to study Ancient Science, using modern biological techniques.

You may be laughing if I ask you how many of you are breathing. I certainly hope you all are.

But do we really pay attention to how we breathe? Do we know how to regulate our breathing?

Because regulated breathing has a lot of health benefits. There are so many ways to regulate breathing. Yogic breathing or pranayama is just one of them.

If you all could join me for one long humming! Please sit up and take a nice deep breath. Fill your tummy. Fill your chest and Hum!


Thank you.

Isn’t it wonderful!

Now you learnt one yogic breathing technique and you are one step closer to your better health. By the end of this talk, I will convince you that yogic breathing is good for health.

I’m from India, from the state called Tamil Nadu. We speak a language called Tamil. Tamil is also an ancient culture and civilization. We practice a natural medicine called Siddha medicine. I was born in a small village called Karambakkudi.

My grandmothers were medical practitioners. We practiced Siddha medicine. My grandmother served as midwives as well. They helped young women deliver babies and take care of their young infants.

Our grandfathers were medical practitioners as well. When I was little, my father and uncle would teach me yoga. As a child I didn’t like it, just like my children right now.

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When I was in high school, my father would send me to one of my uncle’s Siddha clinics. As soon as you enter into the clinic, you can smell the wonderful aroma of cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom and so many herbs! It’s a wonderful aroma!

One side you will see freshly squeezed leaf extract; the other side you will see the boiling decoction of barks and roots.

My uncle is a very wise man. He would feel the pulse of a patient and then would ask a question: ‘How long have you been having this tummy ache?’

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Or, ‘How long is the chest pain bothering you?’

Then he would give them those natural medicines. I was so fascinated by this. I was wondering what is in these natural compounds that make them feel better.

I vividly remember we were always often visited by one grandfather. He would talk about yogic breathing. And he would just show the sky and he’d say ‘I’m going to drink milk’. And then start inhaling!

It looked strange to me at that time.

But I was wondering what is in the air that nourishes him. I wanted to understand the chemistry behind it.

I took my Chemistry from my Bachelor’s degree. I was fortunate to go to a college where I can do yoga, meditation, chanting and get a degree in Chemistry. Later I applied that Chemistry into biological systems. Did my Masters and PhD in Biochemistry. Came to this country to do research in Cell Biology.

All these years I’ve been carrying yoga with me. During tough times I found a lot of relaxation from yoga.

I was wondering what is in yoga that changes me? How is it good for me?

One important clue came from one of my visits to India. I bought this book called Thirumantiram written by Saint Tirumular several centuries ago.

There was one chapter I was fascinated to. It was on Yogic breathing. I found one song or poem or sutra on how to do the yogic breathing. I decoded the meaning of it. I devised a method to practice it.

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After some time of practice one fine morning, I found there was small salivary stimulation. I was surprised, maybe it’s just one day.

But every time I practiced there was more salivary stimulation. I thought ‘Wow! This is a great way for people with dry mouth conditions.’ Say Sjögren’s syndrome, radiation therapy, aging and so on.

As a biochemist, I also know that saliva has so many compounds. It is not just a digestive fluid. It has proteins, hormones, growth factors and so on. One of them was nerve growth factor. As the name says it is a protein that helps the nerve cells/the neurons to grow, survive, withstand stress and live longer.

And nerve growth factor is reduced, found in lower levels in Alzheimer’s patients. So nerve growth factor is administered as a therapeutic agent to those patients.

I was thinking that this may be a great way to treat or prevent Alzheimer’s disease. So I went to an eminent scientist in this area. I told him my idea. He said, ‘I like this idea. I trust you but I want to verify it!’

You probably are familiar with the term ‘trust’ and ‘verify’.

So I went home. Did the yogic breathing exercise, brought the sample to the lab. Tested it. Yes there was more induction of nerve growth factor. Or maybe it’s just me.

So I called my son 10 years old by then. I asked him to do the exercise. And he looked at me and said, ‘You want me to spit in this tube? Yeww’ Well that’s what fathers do to their children.

He did the exercise and gave me the sample. And then I tested it. Yes there was more nerve growth factor in his sample also.

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