The neurophysiological processes that underlie our capacities for connection, self-regulation, compassion and cooperation are subject to positive and negative influences.

Adverse childhood events, stress and trauma can impair these capacities and are associated with increased risk for many diseases of aging. Mind-body practices can actually activate and strengthen neurophysiological processes that counteract the detrimental effects of excess stress, neglect, abuse, war, disasters and political upheaval.

Physiological states affect the capacity to respond to people and situations with empathy, compassion and understanding. A state of calm alertness based on autonomic sympatho-vagal balance may be ideal for supporting these high-level prosocial functions. Specific Voluntarily Regulated Breathing Practices (VRBPs) and related mind-body practices efficiently induce such physiological states.

VRBPs have rapid, widespread effects on critical neural pathways that orchestrate the stress response and social engagement networks, and that upregulate innate healing processes (reducing effects of stress, free radical damage and inflammation). Evidence suggests that certain mind-body techniques focused on VRBPs have the potential to enhance our capacities for connection, self-regulation, compassion and healing.

Furthermore, these states of flexible, adaptive sympatho-vagal balance significantly improve mental and physical health by a multiplicity of synergistic mechanisms, including: reduced oxidative damage and inflammation; improved cardiovascular function; and increased respiratory efficiency and oxygenation. Such processes are relevant to the prevention and treatment of common diseases of aging.

Excerpt from “Breath Practices for Survivor and Caregiver Stress, Depression, and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Connection, Co-regulation, Compassion” by Patricia L. Gerbarg, Richard P. Brown, Chris C. Streeter, Martin Katzman, and Monica Vermani. Integrative and Complementary Medicine OBM, April 2019. 

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Richard P. Brown, MD

is Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University and a graduate of Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Brown is a co-author of more than 100 scientific articles, books and chapters and is a certified teacher of Aikido (4th Dan), qigong, yog  and meditation. He gives 100+ lectures and courses every year. 

Patricia Gerbarg, MD

is a leading researcher on herbs, nutrients and mind-body practices for anxiety disorders, depression, and PTSD. She has co-authored (with Richard Brown) 23 articles, 14 book chapters and several award-winning books, including How to Use Herbs, Nutrients, and Yoga in Mental Health Care, Non-Drug Treatments for ADH and The Healing Power of the Breath.

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