Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Does compassion itself benefit the healing process or does the activation of neurophysiological processes, from which the experience of compassion arises, trigger a cascade of physical and psychological changes that support health and well-being? Exploration of the neurological substrates of compassion reveals multiple healing pathways that can be activated by mind-body practices. Furthermore, these pathways affect physical health, emotion regulation, and how we perceive and relate to others.
Physiological states affect the capacity for empathy, compassion and understanding. A state of calm alertness based on sympatho-vagal balance may support such high-level prosocial functions. Evidence suggests that polyvagal-informed mind-body practices, particularly Voluntarily Regulated Breathing Practices (VRBPs), efficiently induce such physiological states and that these same states can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, while improving cardiovascular function, respiratory efficiency, and physical health.
Mind-body practices, such as Coherent or Resonant Breathing can balance, strengthen, and increase the adaptive flexibility of stress response systems, potentially counteracting the detrimental effects of excess stress, neglect, and trauma on emotion regulation, physical health, and the ability to experience love and compassion. Research is needed to support integration of mind-body practices into healthcare systems. The methods being used to study mind-body techniques may be further refined by considering the target symptoms, population being studied, specific parameters of each practice, and methods of teaching subjects.
The current state of global health calls for treatments that can be delivered to large populations by small numbers of healthcare providers under conditions where resources are limited. Slow gentle Coherent or Resonant Breathing and related mind-body practices are low cost, low risk, easily taught, rapidly effective, scalable, non-stigmatizing, and sustainable. At the convergence of neurophysiological research with contemplative and other mind-body practices, we marvel at the possibilities for relieving emotional and physical suffering as well as improving how we relate to one another.
Gerbarg, P. L., Brown, R. P., Streeter, C., Katzman, M., & Vermani, M. (2019). Breath Practices for Survivor and Caregiver Stress, Depression, and Post- traumatic Stress Disorder: Connection, Co-regulation, Compassion. OBM Integrative and Complementary Medicine, 4 (3). https://doi.org/10.21926/obm.icm.1903045
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