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 Qigong and Taiji: Nervous System 

5. Brain Hemisphere Dominance
Thousands of years ago the oriental practitioners of self care disciplines intuitively developed an awareness of an alternating cycle of the predominance of body activity from the right side of the body to the left side. One particular Qi Gong practice, Tai ji, is founded on a constant, flowing of the limbs in circular motions, alternating from right to left. The side of the body that bears the weight is planted, stable, and associated with the Yin. The side that is free to move and kick is active and associated with the Yang. Constant alternation of right and left side activity are thought to balance the forces of yin and yang in the body. Focusing on the right and left sides alternatively activates, and reputedly balances, the right and left motor centers in the brain.

The channels or circuits that conduct the human resonating energy field, according to yogic medicine, are called nadis. Ida nadi and Pingala nadi associate with right and left brain activities.(72,73) In addition this association effects right and left nasal passage activity as well as the physiology of the right and left body. These channels alternate in their predominant activity over a 2-3 hour cycle causing the dominant nostril to be clear and the non-dominant nostril to swell and become congested.(73) This phenomena was not noted in the Western world until 1889 when the German physician R. Kayser recorded his observation of the "nasal cycle". (74) Much of the research on this phenomenon up through the 1980's was motivated by the quest to develop pharmaceuticals for nasal congestion. (72)

It has been demonstrated that the nasal cycle is coupled with the alternating lateralization of cerebral hemispheric activity. (73) It was found with research subjects, that when a shift occurred in either nasal dominance or brain hemisphere dominance there was an associated shift, within moments, in the other as well. The right nasal cavity, associated with pingala nadi tends to be more open and the left more congested when the left hemisphere of the brain is more active. This is associated with the active phase of the BRAC and increased general sympathetic tone.(72) In contrast the right brain hemisphere is more active when the left nostril is open and dominant and the individual is in the resting phase of the BRAC or the para-sympathetic mode.

A number of different physiological states have been found to be associated with the dominance of one or the other nostril.

  • deep sleep is initiated more quickly with left nostril dominance.
  • appetite and digestive ability are enhanced during right nostril dominance.
  • sexual intercourse is most satisfying when the man is dominant in the right nostril and the woman in the left.
  • left nostril, right brain dominance is more conducive to recieving new ideas, while right nostril, left brain dominance is an advantage during discourse.
  • it is possible to alter the pattern of "thought waves" by consciously alternating nasal dominance by exercising the congested nostril by forced nostril breathing.(75)

A specific Qi Gong and Yoga breath technique which has been practiced for centuries is the right and left singular nostril breathing. Dr. Shannahoff-Khalsa of the Salk Institute has done extensive research with this technique, originally prompted by his work with the Kundalini Yoga tradition. The studdies done by he and his associates has shown that forcing the breath through the constricted nostril can increase the EEG amplitude of the contralateral hemisphere of the brain.(76) It has been demonstrated that certain psychopathologies are brain hemisphere specific.(77,78) It may be possible, therefore, that the use of single nostril breathing may be applicable as therapy in cases where lateralized dysfunction has been found.

It was discovered that there is a direct correlation between nasal dominance, brain dominance and the lateralized biochemical activity in the peripheral body parts. Recent studies of the nasal cycle comparing plasma catecholamine levels in the venous circulation of the right and left arms found that levels of norepinephrine alternated with the rhythm of sympathetic dominance of the nostrils.(79)

6. Induction of alpha/theta brain wave activity
The intention to relax and deepening of the breath are the classic initiating actions that trigger the relaxation response(RR). Research with practitioners of Yoga(3) and Qigong(4) has shown that during practice brain wave frequency tends toward the alpha range and in certain cases theta frequency brain activity is achieved.

Alpha level brain function is a result of relaxation and is conducive to healing. The slowing of heart rate, reduction of blood pressure and elevation of skin temperature are common physiological features of the alpha state. Theta is a deeper trance like state that has been found in research with individuals with extraordinary capabilities to be associated with paranormal skills like sitting on beds of nails and immediate wound healing without bleeding.(3)

In Qigong and Yoga it is a goal to bring the lowest frequency of brain wave activity to the practice. In the quiescent Qigong, where there is no movement, deep states of consciousness with low frequency brain waves are more easily attained than in the dynamic (moving) Qigong. Similarly, in Yoga, there are methods involving movement and methods that primarily involve stillness. The pure meditation state lends more easily to the theta range of brain activity.

EEG studies from China have concentrated on the quiescent state, meditation with no movement (80,81,82). However, it is very likely that the dynamic or moving methods are most effective if the alpha or theta state can be simaltaneously achieved. In both Qigong and Yoga it is a primary focus to "allow the body and energy to sink and relax" and to "relax into the posture".

7. Neuroreflex Stimulation
Pressing points, holding reflex areas or thumping and stroking "energy pathways" are all aspects of health maintenance systems of ancient cultures. The ususal explanation for the mechanism of these effects involves what were originally called Head's zones named for Dr. Head who originally researched the relationship between sensory areas on the surface of the body to organ function.(83) In a similar and more current approach to a like idea, dermatomal zones are the segments on the surface of the body that are innervated by sensory neurons from specific segments of the spine which also have links to the autonomic ganglia. For example, the dorsal aspect of the foot is innervated from the 5th lumbar spinal nerves and the central area of both the dorsal and palmar aspect of the hand are innervated by the 7th cervical spinal nerves. The spinal nerves from the 2nd thoracic to the 1st lumbar innervate the dermatomes directly adjacent to their areas of the spine on the front, back and lateral aspects of the chest, abdomen and pelvis.(24)

A stimulus at the dermatome is carried to the the spinal segment where it has the oportunity to effect, through a reflex arc, neurons from the autonomic ganglia.(84) Surface stimulus may effect organ function through this neuroreflex mechanism. This mechanism has been cited as a rational for how acupuncture works. (54)

In Qigong especially, and to a certain extent in Yoga, there are numerous techniques for massaging, thumping and stroking the surface areas of the body. When twisting to loosen the spine and warm up to do Qi Gong the practitioner hits the hands against the lumbar space in the back and the lower ribs in the front. This is done to stimulate the function of the kidneys, liver and spleen. It is likely that one mechanism through which this may occur is the neuroreflex mechanism.

Certain methods of Qigong practice focus totally on techniques of self applied massage or stimulation of channels and reflexes. One method called Mei Yin Jian Shen Gong is comprised primarily of self massage gestures. In another method the hands stroke near the acupuncture channels: up the inside of the legs, out the inside of the arms, along the outside of the arms and on to the head and finally down the lateral side of the torso and legs to the lateral aspect of the feet. In the western model this would be referred to as reflex stimulation. However, in the oriental energy model this method is referred to as a form of "Qi" circulation.

8. Interface of Neuro-endocrine Structures of the Brain
In both Qi Gong and Pranayama a primary goal is to circulate the "energy" to the crown of the head. In Qigong this is referred to as the "point of one hundred gatherings" (Bai hui, GV or Du 20). In Yoga/Pranayama this point is the target of the kundalini energy and is known as the Crown Chakra or "thousand petaled lotus". This area has had recognition in the christian tradition through the halos of angels. In the Jewish tradition this same area is where the men wear the yalmuka.

Science has corroberated the significance of this region with its identification and investigation of several anatomical structures thought to be the primary hierarchy of neurological and endocrine function. These include the pituitary gland, pineal gland, hypothalamus and third ventricle of the cerebrospinal fluid system.

In the ancient traditions it is suggested that these structures function as antenae-like conductors for the electrical, magnetic and subtle energy bio-fields. It may be premature to agree with this theory but it is very clear from the current literature that the hypothalamus and the pituitary are structures that participate in the subtle endocrine modulation of many physiological and emotional processes.(3,60)

Earlier we explored the research that links cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), the lymph and immunity. The CSF has the richest mixture of neurochemicals in the whole body. It interacts directly with the hypothalamus whose lateral walls and floor comprise the third ventricle, an important resevior for CSF. Research has found over 60 neuropeptides or neurotransmitters. Candace Pert and her team at the National Institutes of Mental Health demonstrated that there are 40 times more neurotransmitter receptor cites in the hypothalamus than in any other location of the brain or nervous system. (85, 86)

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 About The Author
Roger Jahnke OMDRoger Jahnke has been in the health field since 1967 beginning with body therapies, herbal medicine, Tai Chi, Yoga and meditation. He turned his attention seriously to Oriental medicine in 1972 with study at the North......more
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