Dr. Richard Brown is an Associate Clinical Professor in Psychiatry at Columbia University. He has taught and worked as an integrative psychiatrist for over 30 years, and is also a certified teacher of Aikido, yoga, Qigong, and Open Focus Meditation. Throughout his career, Richard has developed novel treatments—herbs, nutrients, mind-body practices, and other technologies—for people who didn’t respond to conventional medicines. He has authored and co-authored numerous books and publications, including “How to Use Herbs, Nutrients, and Yoga in Mental Health Care” and “The Healing Power of the Breath.”
In this interview, Richard first discusses his background, the work he does, and how he got into it. He talks about the various mind-body techniques that he’s learned over the years, and how he incorporates them into his practice. He also describes the five ways that our lives change when we adopt a spiritual practice. Richard then goes into more detail on meditation and breathing. He discusses some of the research that shows the physical and mental benefits of meditation and breathing practices. He also talks about the different people and groups that he’s worked with throughout his career.
We ask Richard how breathing and meditation help people deal with the traumas that they acquire. He explains how emotional traumas take us out of the present, and how breathing and meditation increase presence. Richard then discusses how the nervous system works, and how we carry stress in our bodies. He describes the stress response or sympathetic branch of the nervous system, and its two components: the stop/look and pleasure/reward system. He also talks about how long-term stress affects the nervous system.
Next, Richard explains how neurochemicals such as dopamine and endorphins are released, and how they affect us. He talks about how exposing the body to a range of challenges tones up the nervous system, and references Scott Carney’s book “What Doesn’t Kill Us.” He then describes the soothing/bonding or parasympathetic branch of the nervous system. Richard gives some examples of activities that release oxytocin in the brain. He also explains what the vagal nerve is and how it functions. He discusses how breathing practices enhance the soothing/bonding system and improve our stress response.
Richard goes on to reveal the rate of breathing that has an optimal effect on the body and mind. He references a few studies that show the incredible benefits of a long-term slow breathing practice. He then describes the three phases of how PTSD develops. Richard explains how stress interferes with our ability to relate and work with others. He also talks about how breathing improves heart rate variability, and why heart rate variability is the single best predictor of health. He describes what coherent or resonant breathing is, and walks us through how to practice it.
Richard discusses how breathing synchronizes our body, mind, and spirit, and how this enhances cognitive function. He shares a story about a client who overcame multiple addictions and transformed his life after developing a consistent breathing and qigong routine. Chris then talks about acquiring traumas, having a breakdown, and using mind-body techniques to heal himself and gain clarity. Finally, Richard expands on the analogy of thinking of your mind as a tablecloth. He emphasizes the importance of practice, and reminds us that it takes time to build up these skills, but they are life-changing in the long run.
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