Monday, November 30, 2009

Dr. Richard Brown Presents “Breath-Mind-Body” at Alumnae/i Meeting

Dr. Richard P. Brown (second from left) with Alumnae/i Association vice president
Candice Goldberg, president Brenda Shrobe and faculty liaison David Kezur

An enthusiastic capacity crowd filled the Ackerman Institute Library on Friday, November 20th for a two-hour lecture/workshop on “Breath-Mind-Body” presented by Dr. Richard P. Brown, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University. The author of How to Use Herbs, Nutrients and Yoga in Mental Health Care, Dr. Brown teaches Aikido (4th Dan), yoga and meditation, and integrates psychopharmacology and CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) in his work.

While using various breathing techniques in therapy requires a significant amount of expertise and practice, Dr. Brown told the audience that their participation in the workshop would serve as a good introduction. He said that clients come to therapy very stressed and the therapist often absorbs a lot of that stress. Audience members offered several definitions of stress, including “a tightening feeling” and “a refusal to accept what is.” Dr. Brown defined stress as “any change that happens” and, he added, “change happens all the time.”

Our systems are good at buffering us against change, Dr. Brown explained. The human stress response system consists of two parts: activation and inhibition. Most people are in stress overdrive, he continued, and only recharge once in a while. People can learn to turn the stress down and recharge to achieve balance.

The simplest way to accomplish this is through breathing, Dr. Brown said. He added that yoga is even more effective at recharging the system and qiquong even more effective than yoga, but these other techniques require an investment of time that may not be available. Breathing techniques are more readily accessible.

Focusing on breathing, Dr. Brown noted that a normal person takes 15 to 18 breaths per minute. If a person is able to slow that down to five to six breaths per minute, their heart and brain systems will quickly begin to resemble those of a baby (no stress).

The human body likes comfort and regulation, Dr. Brown said. The mind, however, likes action and stimulation and the heart likes connection. As a result, people are often going in three very different directions at the same time and only rarely are all these directions synchronized.

Dr. Brown commented that our minds are not usually totally in the present; part of the mind is often in the future (resulting in worry) or the past (resulting in regret). Movement, breathing and meditation in sequence can relieve stress and also contribute to general good health. Dr. Brown said that breathing, meditation, yoga, herbs and nutrients can play a key role in the treatment not only of stress, but also of depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, mass trauma, schizophrenia, cognitive disorders, traumatic brain injury, attention deficit disorder and other conditions.

During the second hour of his presentation, Dr. Brown led the group in a series of breathing and movement exercises.

After the lecture, many of the participants expressed their enthusiasm for the subject and presenter.

“I wanted to learn how to approach bringing breathing techniques into my work and get some tools and tips about how to stay centered myself,” one participant said. “This lecture really helped with both.”

Dr. Brown will return to the Ackerman Institute on Friday, April 16, 2010 to lead a full day (10 am to 4 pm) workshop: BREATHWORK AND MEDITATION FOR THERAPISTS: Integrate Stress-Reduction Techniques into your Practice. The tuition for this workshop is $125; participants can earn five CE credits. For more information or to register contact Suna Elmas at 212 879-4900, ext 111 or email