Impact of Om Chanting for Stress Reduction and Stress Control




Impact of Om Chanting for Stress Management

Here, Sri Amit Ray explains how Om Chanting can improve our state (short term) and trait (long term) stress management.  Om chanting changes our emotional reactions and responses to external stimuli and internal experiences in a positive way.

Dr. Ray explains how low frequency Om chanting can reduce our daily stress, strain, anxiety and tensions.  Under various pressure conditions such as before examination, before public speaking, before important sports events and during critical challenges of life Om chanting can enhance confidence and eliminate stress and anxiety.  Om chanting improves the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex is the key to stress control. 

Seven Benefits of Om Chanting

Low frequency seven step deep Om chanting increases gamma wave in the brain. The gamma brain waves are known as “feeling of blessings”.  The seven step deep Om chanting and meditation is supposed to be practiced for 20 minutes, two times per day. Dopamine, Oxytocin, Serotonin and Endorphins are the four key hormones generated in the body during low frequency Om meditation and these four hormones have huge impact on regulating both state anxiety as well as trait anxiety. Om chanting is not simple. It is a series of step-by-step process. Om chanting is a scientific art but it should be learnt properly to get its benefits. The seven main benefits of Om chanting are as follows:

1. Om Chanting and Parasympathetic Nervous system

The autonomic nervous system has two components, the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system that is affected the most by anxiety, tension, fatigue and depression. The sympathetic nervous system that drives a “fight or flight” response that helps us survive and perform.  The parasympathetic wing of our nervous system is the antagonist to the sympathetic in that it helps our body to relax, digest food and heal. People with anxiety are in a state of sympathetic dominance where they are in a near constant state of fight or flight.  With the low frequency seven step Om Chanting, parasympathetic nervous system takes over, allowing us to relax and recover from the stressful event. 

2. Om Chanting and Nasal Nitric Oxide (NO)

Nitric oxide (NO), a free radical gaseous molecule has been shown to be involved in diverse healing functions in human body.  NO plays vital role in many biological events including regulation of blood flow, platelet function, immunity, and neurotransmission. Within the HPA axis areas, NO is plays a key role in modulating and controlling  the release of the stress neurotransmitters. Nitric oxide also plays a key role in DNA damage repair. NO is a highly reactive, short-lived, lipophilic molecule with a half-life of a few seconds, which makes it very difficult to measure it.

Our research group have studied the effect of low frequency seven step Om Chanting on nasal NO.  Several other studies confirmed that patients nasal NO levels increased when the patients improved following treatment with antibiotics. Nasal NO activity has primarily been linked to immunity and anti-inflammatory effects. Bhramari Om Chanting is an effective tool to control nasal NO activities and immunity control. 

3. Om Chanting and Vagus Nerve Activation

Vagus nerve is the longest nerve of the autonomic nervous system in the human body. There are two vagus nerves. One vagus nerve on each side of your body, running from your brainstem through your neck to your chest and abdomen.  The right and left vagus nerves exit from the brainstem, and they course through the neck, upper chest, lower chest and diaphragm, and into the abdominal cavity. During this course, branches enervate various structures such as the larynx, pharynx, heart, lungs, and gastrointestinal tract.  It transmits information to or from the surface of the brain to tissues and organs elsewhere in the body. 

Vagus nerve is the information superhighway carrying information from the body to the brain. In the brain, the vagus helps control anxiety and depression. In the gut, it increases stomach acidity, digestive juice secretion, and gut flow. The vagus nerve is connected to your vocal cords and the muscles at the back of your throat.  Om chanting, singing Om, humming Om, chanting Om can activate these muscles and stimulate your vagus nerve.

4. Om Chanting and Prefrontal Activation

Human brain is made of an estimated 86 billion nerve cells—called neurons. Neurons communicate with one another through chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. Some neurotransmitters are inhibitory—they try to reduce neuronal functions. Others are excitatory, meaning that they stimulate neuronal function, priming it to send signals to other neurons. 

Neurons are organized in clusters that perform specific functions (described as networks or circuits). For example, some networks are involved with thinking, learning, emotions, and memory. Other networks communicate with muscles, stimulating them into action. 

The brain has many regions that are interconnected with one another, forming dynamic networks that are responsible for specific functions, such as attention, language, perception, self-regulation, reward, emotion, and movement, stress management along with many other functions.

The three regions that are the key components of networks that are intimately involved in the stress development, elimination and management. They are  basal ganglia, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.

Prefrontal part of the brain region has been associated with creativity, intelligence, leadership, planning complex cognitive behavior, personality expression, decision making, and moderating social behavior. We found quantitative changes in activation patterns in the prefrontal part of the brain region during our seven step low frequency Om chanting. An increase in oxy-hemoglobin and a decrease in deoxy-hemoglobin were observed during Om chanting in the frontal cortex. Experimental data indicate a role of low frequency Om chanting and  Om meditation for the prefrontal cortex in normal sleep physiology, dreaming and deep sleep levels. 

5. Om Chanting and Amygdala De-activation

The extended amygdala and its sub-regions, located beneath the basal ganglia, regulate the brain’s reactions to stress-including behavioral responses like “fight or flight” and negative emotions like unease, anxiety, and irritability. This region also interacts with the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that controls activity of multiple hormone-producing glands, such as the pituitary gland at the base of the brain and the adrenal glands at the top of each kidney. These glands, in turn, control reactions to stress and regulate many other bodily processes.

6. Om Chanting and Basal Ganglia Dopamine

Dopamine neurons located in the midbrain (basal ganglia) play a key role in motivation that regulates human behavior. Activation and inactivation of dopamine neurons regulate mood and induce reward and aversion, respectively. High, moderate and low concentrations of dopamine induce euphoric, seeking and aversive mental states, respectively.  Experimental data demonstrate that low frequency Om chanting can regulate basal ganglia dopamine, which is involved in emotional reactions and responses.

Basal ganglia is the main area for controlling dopamine. the key hormone for stress management.   Basal ganglia is located near the center of the brain. This is strongly interconnected with the cerebral cortex, thalamus, and brainstem, as well as several other brain areas. The basal ganglia are associated with a variety of roles such as motor learning, executive functions and behavior, and emotions. The main function of Basal ganglia is reward processing and building habit patterns.  

7. Om Chanting and the HPA Axis: The Stress–Response System of the Body

The body has inbuilt stress–response system. The hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis is our central stress response system. The stress–response system takes action by speeding up your heart beat to increase blood flow, speeding up your breathing to take in more oxygen, and slowing your digestion to store away fat and sugar for energy. HPA axis is an abbreviation for a subsystem in your body called the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis. The end-product of HPA axis stimulation, cortisol, has a profound influence upon behavior, health and emotion. 

The job of the hypothalamus is to wake up the pituitary gland. Although the pituitary is only about the size of a small pea, it has a mighty job. The pituitary releases hormones, which are the messengers in the stress–response system. These hormones travel out of the brain to the adrenal glands. The adrenal glands sit on top of the kidneys. The adrenal glands release cortisol. Cortisol is known as the stress hormone. Cortisol is a messenger that sets other organs in the body into action. It is like the superpower of the stress response system. Cortisol helps the brain to think clearly, sends energy to important muscles, and increases blood flow, heart rate and breathing. Stress is a normal physical response to events that make a person feel threatened or upset their balance in some way.

Dysfunction of HPA-axis the key problem. The HPA-axis is hyperactive in depression, due to genetic factors or due to aversive stimuli that may occur during early development or adult life. By switching into chronic stress mode, elements of our hormone system get altered resulting in many possible imbalances, including adrenal depletion, thyroid over or under function. Persistent stress and epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes. 

Research suggests decreased HPA-axis activity leads to a lowered cortisol response to stress in chronic fatigue syndrome. Cortisol is one of the main stress hormones.  Healthy HPA axis functioning is key to health, happiness and well-being. 

However,  moderate exercise, proper sleep and regular low frequency Om Chanting can normalize the cortisol level.  Om Chanting helps induce structural changes to your brain, and reduce stress. 

Summary

Near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) is an optical technique with high temporal resolution and reasonably good spatial resolution, which allows non invasive measurement of the blood oxygenation of various tissues. The current work is focused in assessing and correlating brain activation, connectivity and cortical lateralization of the frontal cortex in response to Om chanting, using NIRS. 

Om chanting is an ancient scientific art but it should be learnt properly to get its benefits. Om chanting is not simple. It is a series of step-by-step process. We observed  low frequency Om chanting reduces both trait (long-term)  anxiety and state (short-term) anxiety. Om chanting improves the connections between the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. It is key to stress control.

However, more longitudinal, randomized, and actively controlled studies with larger sample sizes are necessary to deepen our scientific understanding of Om meditation and Om chanting of how people with different personality traits changes their behavior positively with the practice of deep Om meditation.

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