Neuroscience chat with Urvashi Hawkes
We invoked you (Urvashi – PhD candidate in neuroscience and Certified Teacher of Dancemeditation) yesterday morning at the Advanced Group here in NYC. I need to describe what we were doing.
We were using the inward Shafi. (Arabic: to Heal, to Cure)
We inhaled, then did a narrow quick breath (breath of fire) for a period of time with the sound moving quickly on the inhaling-exhlaing; then a larger exhale and a few normal breaths to recover before working that pattern again.
We focused our attention during the quick breathing at the junction going straight back from the bridge of the nose and above the occiput.
This spot of was an intuitive choice and not based on any information about brain structures. Of course it is pretty easy to feel this area simply from the passage of breath, but I almost wondered if it acted as a massage of sorts to a particular brain structure.
So here are my questions:
– Can proprioceptive targeting of specific brain areas have an effect?
– I think that I can feel (have sensation in) different areas of my brain. Is this possible?
I will think about the practice you have described and try it myself.
How do I look at the brain and body? Well, after all this training I see them as groups of specialized cells that cooperate to sustain and create the experience of our lives. Further, cells are cities built by intelligent molecules, so at all levels of our being we are the result of cooperating entities.
As for feeling events happening in the brain, when I have mentioned to some of my friend scientists that I can sense things happening in my brain, they reflexively state there are no pain receptors in the brain. My response is, the sensations of brain activity I’m referring to aren’t pain, they are sensations of activity. So, I too have those sensations, so yeah, I think people can sense parts of the brain at work. Can most people? I don’t know. That being said, what is the mechanism by which we target specific areas of the brain? Are we guided by these sensations or does the very act of doing things that require and stimulate those parts of the brain produce the sensations we later report? I can’t answer that yet.
AND MORE FROM URVASHI:
The short answer is yes, you can directly target different parts of the brain via actions. Those areas experience plasticity (learning) as a result of those actions. Over time, you will get better at those actions because of molecular level changes in the tissue subserving those actions.
With regard to breathing, the brainstem is involved in normal respiration. So, one region you may be targeting is the group of cells in the brainstem that monitor and stimulate normal respiration. Maybe.
It is as likely that you are targeting the anterior and posterior serratus and abdominal muscle groups that assist inflation and deflation of the lungs. This means the motor regions in the cortex are addressing relevant motoneurons in the spine, thus overriding signals from the brainstem that would normally recruit these muscles for respiration.
There have been a few scientific studies directed at understanding just what the patterned respiration in yoga is doing to the brain and body. No studies have been done on Sufi practices, to my knowledge (yet ;). It is clear these practices cause plastic changes in the cardiovascular and nervous systems. The exact mechanism of these changes is unclear. I will dig around and see if I can find copies of these papers to send you. It is probable that cell groups in the basal ganglia and forebrain that subserve executive attention control are driving conscious control of respiration, but I haven’t seen any studies on this question. That doesn’t mean they aren’t out there. Must run now! More later!