Health Team

Indians angry at yogic breathing technique's 'Western rebrand'

Posted January 30, 2019 11:33 a.m. EST

— For many living on the Indian subcontinent -- and anyone who has been to a yoga class -- inhaling for a couple of seconds and then slowly exhaling is practicing a technique known as pranayama, Sanskrit for "breath control."

The ancient practice, which originates from yoga, was "the first doctrine to build a theory around respiratory control, holding that controlled breathing was a way to increase longevity," according to a Scientific American article published on January 15.

But that story became the focus of a raging online debate after Scientific American tweeted a picture of a man who appeared to be doing the pranayama exercise of Nadi Shodhana (also known as alternate- nostril breathing) with the caption, "Cardiac coherence breathing exercises can stabilize the heartbeat and have a powerful ability to dampen anxiety."

Some Indians have accused the magazine of cultural appropriation, giving an ancient Indian technique a Western rebrand.

"Another case of turmeric latte," Twitter user Renuka Govind wrote, referring to the popular drink sold in cafes across America.

"Pranayama of yoga called as 'Cardiac Coherence Breathing'. Next thing we know, it will be patented and sold back to us terming it as superior way of living," she added.

The article looks into how controlled breathing can aid relaxation, with a focus on "one popular technique -- cardiac coherence -- (which) offers more detail about the ways that breathing exercises promote relaxation."

It charts how cardiac coherence has been shown to stabilize a person's heartbeat, dampening "anxiety powerfully."

"A typical cardiac coherence exercise involves inhaling for five seconds, then exhaling for the same amount of time (for a 10-second respiratory cycle)," it says.

Prominent opposition politician and author Shashi Tharoor called the piece a "detailed description of the benefits of the 2500-year-old Indian technique of pranayama, dressed up in 21st (century) scientific language."

One Twitter user said she was glad the West was recognizing the benefits of pranayama techniques but urged scientists to "stick to their original names."

CNN has approached Scientific American for comment.