Effects on the Cerebral Cortex and Central Nervous System

The importance of the cerebral cortex to the human organism is now fully recognized. It controls the whole of the central nervous system (C.N.S.), directing and coordinating the different functions of the body according to input received from both inside and outside the body. If the cerebral cortex becomes over-excited or exhausted, then its functions become disordered. The various functions of the body suffer from this decline in control and regulation sometimes to the point of pathological symptoms developing, that is, illness. Likewise, illnesses, as malfunctions of particular parts of the organism, send harmfully stimulating signals to the cerebral cortex, placing a further burden on it, which will again influence the whole body. The major aim of the Standing Pole Exercise and indeed all Qigong meditation, is to break this cycle, providing the cerebral cortex with beneficial stimulus, causing it to relax into a protective inhibitive state. This reduces stimulation from chronic illness, giving the cerebral cortex adequate rest and recuperation, allowing it to gradually recover and maintain its normal functioning capacity, and thereafter strengthen it. This inhibitory 11quiet” state is contributed to by three main actors. First, relaxation and concentration of the mind and thoughts. By relaxing the mind as much as possible while maintaining a focus of concentration, one shuts down most of the excited areas of the cerebral cortex allowing it a degree of rest and recuperation and breaking the cycle of harmful reoccurring excitation. A specific method of concentration is generally used, since it creates a new, pleasant focus of concentration to replace the old, pathological ones, though there is the danger here that the new focus will also be too strong, causing excess control or overburdening of the cerebral cortex Clearly, for health purposes, the more gentle, pleasant and relaxing this focus the better. Second, the improved blood circulation combined with deeper respiration increases the supply of oxy-hemoglobin to the cells. This helps to produce a very relaxed sensation, which in turn provides a beneficial stimulant to the cerebral cortex The greater this stimulation, the deeper the inhibitory state achieved, helping to disperse the focuses of harmful reoccurring excitation. Third, stimulation from posture. When practicing the Standing Pole Exercise, one must first assume the required posture, then hold it for some period of time, thus producing in the cerebral cortex a focus of stimulation for its maintenance. Since there is no change in the outer form, beginners who have not yet, or have just, established this conditioned reflex will gradually see a reduction in input from the external perceptive organs. At the same time, the internal receptors (muscles, ligaments, joints, etc.) will not be accustomed to the new stimulation and respond accordingly, making it difficult to relax the processes of the cerebral cortex at once. Thus, in the early stages of practice one will be disturbed by the physical reactions, giving rise to more random thought activity. Hence the usual need to employ a suitable mental activity which may help to rid one of anxieties, troubling thoughts and also contribute to physical relaxation. The reactions of, the muscles and the general changes undergone during practice will create numbness, aching and other reactions. These changes are called “new stimuli” and they cause the muscles to become excited. This excitation is transmitted through the nerve fibers to the cerebral cortex There they undergo analysis and signals are released to see if the ache/numbness has changed for the better or if any other reaction has occurred. This reflex is called the “probing reflex.” It is transmitted to the affected part, and maintains the posture. If the “new stimuli” signals continue unabated from the same place at the same level and quality, owing to the increased endurance of the muscle fibers and the nervous system becoming accustomed to the signals, their peculiarity declines and the “probing reflex” is no longer emitted. Thus the aches, numbness and pains will gradually disperse and will be followed by a warm, slightly numbing but very comfortable feeling. This feeling is a most beneficial stimulus to the cerebral cortex The deeper it becomes and the longer it lasts the more it will promote the relaxation and concentration of the cerebral cortex and the inhibitory state developed. The necessity of daily practice, perseverance and patience to get through this early period of pains and troubles thus becomes obvious.
This inhibitory state is only restricted to certain cortex cell groups, and the depth of the “quiet” achieved depends on its distribution in the cerebral cortex. If it is limited solely to the upper layers it is only a “shallow” state, while if it extends deep into the layers, then a “deep” state has been achieved. Electroencephalogram investigations have demonstrated this state to be quite different from sleep or hypnosis. It is characterized by the appearance of beta wave in the front portions of both hemispheres, which increases in amplitude and expands towards the back of the hemispheres as practice progresses and the inhibitory state deepens. The alpha wave, however, undergoes little change, though sometimes exhibiting a slight increase in amplitude, cycle extension and a trend towards a gradual slowing of rhythm. Investigations into relaxed sitting and lying postures show a reduction in reflex, muscular, blood-vessel and skin electrical reactions, demonstrating a general inhibition of the C.N.S., especially the Sympathetic Nervous System, beneficial to rest and recuperation of the cerebral cortex This is largely felt to be due to direction of concentration away from external stimulation, since concentrating on a mathematical problem produced much the same initial phenomenon, Investigations by Dr. Xu Yingdou of the Beijing Co-operative Hospital suggested, as one might expect, that the change in the inhibited state in the C. N. S. and cerebral cortex took longer in the practice of a standing posture than a lying or sitting one.

Shaolin Qigong