Original Neurophysiological Research

by Felicitas Goodman, Ph.D.

NOTE: The following is the original research into the effects on the human physiology during the practice of ritual postures.   Here is an excerpt from her book  ”Where the Spirits Ride the Wind” by Dr. Felicitas Goodman, the founder of the Cuyamungue Institute. Some minor revisions and editing was required.

I did follow up on my early interest in exactly what happens in the body during the religious trance. The first opportunity for doing the medical research needed arose in 1983, at the Department of Psychiatric Neurophysiology at the Psychiatric Clinic and Pol­i-clinic of the University of Munich,5 under consultation with the head of the department, Professor Johann Kugler. Working with the most modern equipment, we tested four volunteers during the religious trance. The findings were the first comprehensive scientifically obtained body of laboratory data anyone had ever discovered about this type of trance. Other researchers, e.g., Neher (1961 and 1962), concentrated exclusively on processes in the brain.

The instruments registered dramatic changes. In the blood serum, the compounds indicating stress, namely, adrenalin, noradrenalin, and cortisol, dropped, and at the same time, there was evidence that the brain started syntheSizing beta-endorphin, the miracle painkiller of the body, which is also responsible for the intense joy felt after a trance. The EEG exhibited not the famous alpha waves, so well known from meditation, but a steady stream of the even slower theta waves, in the range of 6-7 cps, usually seen only in bursts shortly before a subject goes to sleep, or in deep Zen meditation. Most puzzling, blood pressure dropped, and simultaneously, the pulse started racing like a runner’s during a hundred-meter dash. Under ordinary conditions, I was told, physicians see this kind · of paradoxical behavior of the body only under extreme conditions, such as when a patient bleeds to death or is about to die.

Differences in posture did not affect the results, by the way. The experiments were carried out using two different postures, yet all the parameters examined remained the same. It was gratifying that here at last was the con­sistency I had been looking for in the underlying trance event. But as to the effect of the postures, the message clearly was that while our instruments could certainly reveal something about somatic processes, this was after all what they were designed to do; they were unable to penetrate the mystery of the ecstatic experience.

In the spring of 1987, I had the good fortune to be able to participate in some additional neurophysiological research. When the behavior was ap­proached from a different angle, its results once more demonstrated the truly magnificent modification the nervous system undergoes during a religious trance. The investigation concerned the extent of the negative charge of the direct-current potential of the brain during the religious trance, and was carried out under Professor Giselher Guttmann at the laboratory of the Department of Psychology of the University of Vienna. With EEG equipment available at only a few laboratories worldwide, which works with direct rather than alternating current, it is possible to amplify a weak signal that the brain gives off during tasks requiring intense attention. Peak values during learning tasks found to date amounted to at most 250 microvolts. With volunteers from my workshops experienced in the religious trance, much higher values, rising to an astounding 1,500 to 2,000 microvolts, were achieved. At the same time, the stream of theta waves continued unabated (Guttmann et aI., 1988).6 Again, however, the results remained unchanged when the posture was varied.

2015 Editors Update:

This key research was done some thirty years ago, with important strides in the field since then. The Cuyamungue Institute is in discussions on ways to further the scientific research into the physiological shifts that occur naturally, within safe limits, during the practice of the Cuyamungue Method. We hope to have news on our progress on this project in the near future. If you would like to advise, join the committee, or otherwise get involved, please contact us at [email protected]

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