Navigating Stress in Healthcare: Review on New Research on SKY Breathing Meditation for Burnout Prevention

Written by: Izabelle Herman

Reviewed by:
Somya Ramrakhyani MD, Healing Breaths Research Specialist
Jordan Zawaydeh BS, Healing Breaths Research Associate

In healthcare, stress can compromise patient care and the well-being of providers. As the healthcare industry exits the pandemic, healthcare workers now face the challenge of increased stress management and burnout mitigation. However, this problem is not insurmountable. This article discusses a study recently published in JAMA Network Open that demonstrates the efficacy of Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) in improving burnout and mental health outcomes in healthcare professionals, and positions SKY as a potential solution to overcome this approachable set of problems.

The Impact of Stress on Healthcare Professionals

Healthcare professionals worldwide bear the mark left behind by the COVID-19 pandemic. They were the warriors on the front lines. They have faced the experience of having an invisible enemy and dealing with its devastating consequences every day. This strain has resulted in necessary efforts to move on from the past few years of significantly increased rates of psychological distress among healthcare workers. A 2023 study on healthcare workers revealed alarming statistics resulting from the pandemic era, with 19.2% of healthcare workers reporting depression, 24.7% battling anxiety, and 13.9% grappling with stress.

This high incidence of depression, anxiety, and overwhelming stress suggests that these three factors have impacted healthcare professionals’ physical and mental health. The stress that healthcare workers have confronted and must continue to heal from isn’t just a personal burden; it affects the quality of care provided to patients. An overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed healthcare worker, dealing with issues from the past, is likely to struggle with providing the high-quality care that patients need and deserve.

Given the current situation, there remains an urgent need for strategies to help healthcare professionals manage stress. Not only will these strategies maintain their well-being, but they will also ensure the continued provision of high-quality patient care. SKY has emerged as a promising tool in the quest for effective stress management strategies. Notably, research suggests that those who regularly practice well-being interventions, like SKY, experience fewer errors and increased professional fulfillment. These findings, some of which are discussed below, indicate that addressing burnout through SKY can not only improve the well-being of healthcare professionals but also enhance patient care quality.

If you think you are experiencing burnout, schedule yourself for one of our upcoming programs to learn the SKY technique.

Sudarshan Kriya Yoga (SKY) for Healthcare Professionals

Originating from ancient yogic sciences, SKY has been shown to have positive impacts on reducing stress, anxiety, and clinical depression in various demographic groups. Previous studies on war veterans, prison inmates, and university students had already demonstrated the positive impacts of SKY, making it a promising candidate for further research in the healthcare sector. Recently, SKY has garnered attention as a high-impact strategy for addressing burnout, professional fulfillment, and many other whole health outcomes in healthcare professionals.  

A 2024 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Network Open examined SKY’s impact on well-being and professional fulfillment among physicians.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the study’s methodology and findings, shedding light on how SKY can be a valuable tool for healthcare professionals in managing stress and preventing burnout.

Study overview and results

In the study, Korkmaz and colleagues provide a comprehensive look at the effects of SKY on practicing physicians. The study, titled Sudarshan Kriya Yoga Breathing and a Meditation Program for Burnout Among Physicians: A Randomized Clinical Trial, involved 129 participants across Turkey, Germany, and Dubai. The participants, aged 25 to 65, were randomized into two groups, excluding those with major illnesses or regular mind-body practice.

Each group underwent either a three-day SKY training or stress management education (SME) training. The SKY program was delivered via online group video conference calls.

After the three-day training, the participants of the SKY group were asked to implement a 30-minute daily home practice, and the participants of the SME group were asked to implement learned points in daily life. Further, both groups attended a one hour weekly follow-up.

Measurements were taken pre-intervention, immediately post-intervention, and 8-weeks post-intervention using industry standard scales, including the Depression, Anxiety, and Stress Scale (DASS-42), Regensburg Insomnia Scale (RIS), and Professional Fulfillment Index (PFI).  Results were striking: those practicing SKY reported substantial improvements in stress, anxiety, and depression, relative to SME controls. Further, the SKY practitioners experienced a notable boost in professional fulfillment and a reduction in work exhaustion, interpersonal disengagement, and overall burnout, relative to the SME controls. Lastly, participants experienced a notable improvement in insomnia symptoms over the course of the 8-week follow-up.

Additionally, participants’ frequency of 30-minute home practice was distinguished as high adherence (three or more times/week) and low adherence (two or less times/week) to explore the effect of frequency on efficacy. High adherence groups showed a pronounced effect on professional fulfillment and reduction in self-reported medical errors, and no difference was seen for measures of depression and insomnia. That is, regardless of frequency of practice, positive effects on depression and insomnia took place.

These findings suggest that SKY may be a powerful tool in combating the burnout epidemic in healthcare settings. Further, it suggests SKY may be viewed as an accessible and high-value activity. 

Looking forward 

As we round the corner and exit the pandemic, SKY and similar tools will become increasingly necessary to foster resilience and combat the challenging environment exacerbated by COVID-19. Ultimately, the healthcare system is focused on patient safety and patient care; by reducing stress and burnout, healthcare professionals can maintain better focus and engagement in their work, leading to improved patient care and safety.

The challenges created by the pandemic are not insurmountable. Thus, similar research and adoption of SKY or similar programs in healthcare institutions can support the utilization and integration of whole health approaches to stress and burnout management. Like SKY, they often are practices that are easy and accessible to many, and if effectiveness is supported by research, may be a lasting and impactful solution to a pressing issue.

SKY provides great hope for combating the downstream effects of the pandemic. By integrating practices like SKY into daily routines, healthcare professionals can make strides towards addressing this issue. Together, we can create a healthcare system that supports not only the physical health of patients but also the mental health of those who care for them.

Healing Breaths self-care and resilience programs have helped healthcare professionals cope with stress. Want to implement SKY Program in your organization? ​​Schedule a call with our wellness account executives or email partnerships@healingbreaths.org.