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Consultant Neurophysiologist holding Science degrees in Psychology and Physiology, with a research based Honours degree in Physiology, completed at The Centre For Sleep Research at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in South Australia. He explores the effects of Meditation and Relaxation practices on the heart, brain and autonomic nervous system and runs seminars, retreats etc around Australia and overseas on various aspects of Health and Well-Being.
Certified Yoga Teacher, Life Member and Fellow of the "World Society For Clinical Yoga" (Lucknow, India) with over 30 years of experience in classes, personal tuition & clinical counselling in Yoga, Meditation, Relaxation and Stress Management (M.B.T.I. Accredited). Post-Graduate Certificate and Clinical Training in Mind-Body Medicine from Harvard Medical School in Boston, USA. Currently teaching and tutoring at Monash Medical School (Dept of General Practice) while completing research exploring the neurophysiological and neurohormonal effects of meditation techniques, pranayamas, and yoga breathing techniques for less stress and better sleep with industry support from Compumedics Australia. see www.compumedics.com.au
Personal Consultations, Education and Training in Health and Well-Being
in four main areas: "Better breathing", "Better sleep", "Understanding
and dealing with Stress" and "Gentle Yoga & Stretching". The work that I
do involves education for the public, health and other professionals,
various corporate and private clients on the neurophysiological
mechanisms that help understand stress, sleep, illness, well-being,
recuperation, health-management, etc. The techniques used are specific
breathing and gentle yoga based interventions that most anyone can use
to assist them at working and in life to get better sleep, less stress,
more relaxation and better general health.
Telephone (03) 9589 2108
By Philip Stevens, BSc (Psych, Physiol); BSc (hons) (Physiol); MWSCY; FWSCY.
For more information or if you wish to help out in any way, please email email@example.com
Research equipment has been developed specifically for this research using Compumedics Siesta EEG and PSG software that can be taken to various places around Australia to enable various people to participate in the experimental trials. See www.compumedics.com.au
Pranayama helps us to discover the great life-force, (prana) that exists both within and around us. It is prana that gives us energy and life. By learning to control your breath, you can gain control over your emotions and other mental states as well Becoming aware of our breath, we gradually become more sensitive to our mind and to the flow of energy throughout the body and a stronger energy awareness develops within us.
How you breathe also affects the heart, brain and nervous system, with a direct correlation between the breath and anxiety or well-being. When stressed, the breath is shorter, more frequent and quite shallow. This breathing pattern maintains a level of arousal. Slower and deeper breathing results in a more relaxed state via autonomic reflexive stimulation and decreases the partial pressure of carbon dioxide in the lungs and bloodstream. With a corresponding increase in the pH of the blood, it becomes less acidic and more effective blood oxygen synthesis occurs. There are also benefits in metabolism and brain function. For example, levels of noradrenaline, a compound that functions as a hormone and as a neuro-transmitter in the nervous system, actually increase with a deeper breath.
Although some yoga teachers don't even teach breath control, many teach specific breathing techniques that go with specific physical or mental practises, while others use more generalised breathing techniques in more general situations. Anecdotal and subjective feedback indicates that different patterns of breathing are promoted as being beneficial, sometimes with various esoteric and medical claims being ascribed to these techniques. While some yogic breathing and pranayama practices have been scientifically investigated, no study to date has fully described and cross-correlated the differential effects on the brain and cardiac-autonomic nervous systems of the all the main breathing techniques commonly practised in yoga classes today. We hope to uncover techniques that may be of use or perhaps even avoided in the treatment of certain illnesses.
For example, Nadi Shodhan pranayama (alternate nostril breathing) affects brain hemisphericity by alternately stimulating the right-brain and then the left-brain. This process is brought about by the action of the air flowing through the nostrils that stimulates the contra-lateral (opposite) side of the brain via nerve endings just underneath the mucous layer inside the nostrils. Each side of the body is governed by nerves originating in the opposite side of the brain, and so stimulating airflow in one nostril increases nervous activity in the brain on the opposite side to that nostril (Stancak, 1994). Because each side of the brain specialises in different activities and processes, the autonomic nervous system is also correspondingly stimulated and relaxed via this pranayama.
Increasing the flow of air in the right nostril stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and increases the heart rate, produces more sweaty palms, dilates the pupils and opens up the lungs - the fight or flight reaction. Increasing the flow of air through the left nostril however, stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system and increases digestion, lowers the heart rate and relaxes the body (Shannahoff-Khalsa-DS, 1993). So by practising Nadi Shodhan pranayam, we are helping to balance both of these systems in relation to each other as well as balancing brain activity.
“Nadi Shodhan is a powerful practice that may be taught incorrectly by teachers that are unaware of the subtle nature of this practice” says researcher Philip Stevens who has researched the physiology of this practice and traveled widely running seminars educating people about the neurological effects of various yoga practices above and beyond the physical benefits. Many yoga teachers teach this practice in a manner that is handed down from teacher to student without questioning the validity of the technique. For example, people are often taught to press the nare (side of the nose) into the septum in order to block the flow of air in that nostril. The problem is that pressure on the nerves inside the nostrils competes neurologically with the effect that the flow of air is meant to have on the nerves in the opposite nostril. Consequently, some people can even feel sick from the stimulation and competition to both branches of the autonomic nervous system which co-stimulates and perturbates the enteric nervous system in the gastrointestinal tract, which causes the nausea.
It is far better then, to block the flow of air by occlusion (by gently blocking the outside of the nostrils) like the Tibetans do. If done correctly, Nadi Shodhan can be the panacea of all brain balancing practices. It has been shown to be effective against stress and particularly good for men to practice in order to help balance cerebral hemisphere activity. Women already have a greater balance between the hemispheres (from more fibres in the Corpus Collosum) and will certainly benefit from Nadi Shodhan as well, but men have the most to gain as they are usually more imbalanced towards the left hemisphere.
The practice of forced unilateral nostril breathing (breathing through one nostril only) can bring about measurable changes in the parasympathetic and sympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system (Telles S, 1994). For example, changes in blood glucose levels can be induced with effects on both brain hemisphericity and autonomic activity. A practical use of this yogic technique is to use unilateral ( i.e single sided), right-nostril breathing to directly decrease intra-ocular (eyeball) pressure in both open and closed-angle glaucoma. Lateral-right recumbent posture (Lying on the right side) (or the use of a Yoga danda under the right arm) can also be used to shift autonomic activity and associated nasal airflow dominance to significantly increase melatonin levels at night (Stevens et al, 1993).
Another pranayam called Bhramari (Also known as the Bumble Bee breath or the Humming breath) has been said to vibrate the brain, in particular the pineal gland to produce more melatonin. In experiments conducted by this author on Bhramari and melatonin, this has not found been to be true. Bhramari does, however produce measurable benefits in health and well being in pregnancy and childbirth. This has been shown in Indian studies with several hundred women having less complications, less episiotomies, higher birth weights and less interventions overall (Singh, 1995). Another Indian study showed numerous benefits in surgical patients with shorter healing times, less infections, less anaesthetic and less post operative problems overall (Singh, 1994). There is ample evidence that Bhramari works as a stress reducer and is very effective for stressed business people and corporate high achievers. There is just no evidence to show that Bhramari works by vibrating the brain, however it does affect the heart by slowing it down and having a calming effect on stressed people.
The pranayama study being conducted by the Swan Research Institute (inc) NSW will, for the first time, catalogue and describe the range of various yoga and breathing techniques in common use today. Using special biomedical recording equipment invented by Philip specifically for this unique project, concurrent EEG and ECG recordings can explore the relationship between certain pranayamas and their effects on the heart, brain and autonomic-nervous-system.
Philip is a Consultant Neurophysiologist holding Science degrees in Psychology and Physiology, with a research based Honours degree in Physiology, completed at The Centre For Sleep Research at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in South Australia. He explores the effects of Meditation and Relaxation practices on the heart, brain and autonomic nervous system and runs seminars, retreats etc around Australia and overseas on various aspects of Health and Well-Being. A Certified Yoga Teacher, Life Member and Fellow of the "World Society For Clinical Yoga" (Lucknow, India) with over 30 years of experience in classes, personal tuition & clinical counselling in Yoga, Meditation, Relaxation and Stress Management (M.B.T.I. Accredited). He is currently teaching and tutoring at Monash Medical School (Dept of General Practice) while completing PhD research exploring the neurophysiological and neurohormonal effects of meditation techniques, pranayamas, and yoga breathing techniques for less stress and better sleep with industry support from Compumedics Australia.
His work involves Education and Training in Health and Well-Being in four main areas: "Better breathing", "Better sleep", "Understanding and dealing with stress" and "Lifestyle Medicine". He speaks at conferences, provides seminars, talks, public speaking, corporate training, classes and workshops as well as retreats in Australian and overseas.
You can contact him directly by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
REFERENCES AND FURTHER READING
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