An in-depth examination of sleep, consciousness and meditation

November 28, 2014 11:16 am | Updated 11:16 am IST - PUDUCHERRY:

More than 300 medical and paramedical professionals and students took part in a workshop in Puducherry.

More than 300 medical and paramedical professionals and students took part in a workshop in Puducherry.

If the term ‘conscious sleep’ is an oxymoron, how would one then explain the principle of ‘yoga nidra,’ where you slip past the waking state but still remain alert?

What are the neurophysiological correlates between sleep, consciousness and mediation and how could one connect the dots between sleep, yoga therapy and disease cure?

More than 300 medical and paramedical professionals and students as well as yoga practitioners and enthusiasts took part in a workshop to understand more about the fields of sleep, consciousness and meditation which are no longer abstruse concepts in the light of clinical evidence of their usefulness in the healing process.

The event was organised by the Department of Physiology and Centre for Yoga Therapy, Education and Research (CYTER), Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute here.

K.R. Sethuraman, Vice-Chancellor, Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth, pointed out that far from being an oxymoron, conscious sleep or yogic sleep, represented a state of deep relaxation in which one left the waking state and went beyond dreaming and entered a sphere of deep sleep even while remaining awake and alert.

“This state of awareness is extremely beneficial, both for releasing stress, and for the joy of spiritual experiences,” he said.

He reminded the audience of work done at the Menninger Foundation in the U.S. in 1971 that provided scientific evidence of the existence of a fourth state of unified, transcendental consciousness, which lies at the junction between the sensory and sleep states which held therapeutic potential.

Harsha Halahalli from the K.S. Hegde Medical Academy, Mangaluru, cited cognitive scientist David Chalmers’ observation “there is nothing that we know more intimately than conscious experience, but there is nothing that is harder to explain,” to expatiate on the neural correlates of consciousness.

These formed the basic brain systems whose activity correlates directly with the states of conscious experience as this is regarded as a starting point to investigate the harder problems of the neurobiology of conscious experience.

Ravindra PN from the Gadag Institute of Medical Sciences, Karnataka, stated that while behaviourally, both sleep and meditation appear to be a passive like state, physiologically they are highly dynamic with multidimensional interactions of neuronal, humoral, autonomic and cognitive mechanisms.

“Though the mechanisms of sleep and meditation are both through efferent and sensory attenuation thus inducing a state of hypometabolism, however it is a natural and spontaneous phenomenon in sleep, whereas during meditation it is a cognitive skill,” he said.

Madanmohan, professor and Head of the Department of Physiology and director CYTER of MGMCRI, pointed out that practice of desirable behaviour needs constant repetition so that the transmission through relevant neural pathways is facilitated.

“As demonstrated by Pavlov (classical conditioning) and Skinner (operant conditioning), learning involves repetition. Hence, conscious desirable behaviour should be practiced repeatedly so that it becomes an automatic response,” he said.

Yogacharya Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani, Deputy Director, CYTER, focused on how many eastern healing traditions have slowly and steadily percolated the health care system worldwide adding value and benefit to therapeutics.

“In fact scientific research in recent times has shown that the physiological, psychological and biochemical effects of yoga and meditation are of an anti-stress nature thus making them a potent antidote to the omnipresent stress pandemic,” he said.

Experts recommended that yoga and meditation be introduced to undergraduate medical and paramedical students as recommended by MCI and that this should be done in the first year itself.


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