What is Cerebro Spinal Fluid(CSF)?
Cerebrospinal fluid is a clear, colorless body fluid very similar in chemical composition to blood plasma and seawater. These constituents render battery fluid like properties to CSF. It flows primarily within and around the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) .
Functions of the CSF
CSF supplies nutrients and eliminates the waste products. It provides the liquid cushioning effect and thus physically protects the brain and spinal cord. On account of its highly current conducting property, it serves as a medium for the flow of energy and information. It is the most conductive fluid in the body.
The CSF contains large concentration of Neuropeptides. Neuropeptides (nerve-proteins) are the informational molecules that are produced mostly in the brain. They are found primarily in the cerebrospinal fluid, and secondarily in the blood. They are called “messenger” molecules, because they transmit and distribute electrical/electrochemical information throughout the body, and thus coordinate practically all life processes on a cellular level.
All the systems of the body (digestion, respiration, elimination etc.) are made up of glands (adrenal, mammary etc.), and organs (heart, liver, lungs, etc.). Glands and organs are comprised of tissues, (fat, bone, muscle etc.), and tissues are composed of cells. Cells, therefore, are the fundamental functional (physiological) and structural (anatomical) parts of the human body which require proper information required for carrying out the cellular function.
Neuropeptides are one category of the essential body chemicals called “ligands (from the Latin word ligare, “that which binds”). Ligands are natural or man-made substances that bind selectively to a specific receptor site on the surface of a cell. For example, if we consider its analogy with a golf ball, the tiny depressions on the surface would be receptor sites. However, unlike the number of dimples on a golf ball, each human cell has hundreds of thousands of receptor sites for Neuropeptides, and nerve cells do have millions of them.
It is the function of ligands to transmit a message to the cell that coordinate body functions such as metabolism, (digestion and elimination), and respiration on a cellular level. These cellular processes in turn bring about dramatic functional changes in tissues, glands, organs, and entire body systems.
The life of the cell, and hence in a large part the life of the individual, is determined by the actions of Neuropeptides. The scientists have discovered almost one hundred Neuropeptides circulating within the body. Almost all-physical activity, behavior, even our emotions are defined by microscopic physiological (functional) changes on a cellular level involving Neuropeptides. These physiological changes result in changes in our mental emotional state in a cyclical process, where changes in our mental-emotional state also produce changes in our physiological state.
Candace Pert, Ph.D., an eminent, world-renowned neuroscientist, calls Neuropeptides as the “molecules of emotion”. In Dr. Pert’s ground breaking book by the same title, she uses the analogy of the cell as an engine that drives all life processes, where the receptor sites are the buttons on the control panel, and the Neuropeptides is the finger that pushes the button and starts everything. Dr. Pert feels the standard scientific key fitting into a lock analogy, (where the Neuropeptides is the key and the receptor site the lock), is too static an image for this dynamic process. She uses the description of two voices, ligand and receptor site, hitting the same note, and resulting in a resonance that rings the doorbell of the cell to open it.
An example of the interplay between ligands and receptor sites would be “endorphins”, which are Neuropeptides in the opiate group. Endorphins are natural body chemicals produced in the brain in response to pain. They are a “pain-relieving” Neuropeptides that raises the threshold of the mind-body to pain. A mentally or emotionally stressful condition may prevent endorphins from reaching their opiate receptor sites on the cells to relieve pain. Under these conditions a man-made substance, such as heroin or morphine, can also function as a ligand, and bind with the opiate receptor site and relieve pain.
The circulation of cerebrospinal fluid is of paramount importance because it contains the greatest concentration of the “messenger molecules” (Neuropeptides) as they circulate throughout the body. The largest volume of cerebrospinal fluid in the body is found within a space between the layers of the meninges – a very thin, saran wrap-like, multi-layered covering of the brain and spinal cord. The recent scientific research suggests the CSF also flows outside the brain and spinal cord in the peripheral nervous system, and within a micro-circulatory system in the neuroglical connective tissue of the body. Connective tissue is aptly named because it “connects” and supports literally everything in the body.
As per the recent hypothesis, the Neuropeptides, circulating in the cerebrospinal fluid, reach their cellular destinations via the central and peripheral nervous system vis a vis CSF filled connective tissue tubules within the nervous system called neuroglial cells.
“Glial” is from the Greek word meaning glue. This is quite a misnomer because Glial cells (the largest number of cells in the brain) are much more than a supporting structure for the nervous system. They also serve a nutrient function. Many physiologists claim that they form a communication network of their own, which could serve as a transportation system for the all-important Neuropeptides.
Although some Neuropeptides also circulate in the blood, the cerebrospinal fluid is the major medium utilized by the “messenger molecules”. Neuropeptides can travel the nervous system thousands of miles over the Glial cell/CSF network to bring about dramatic changes in the mind-body on a cellular level. Consequently, as the major pathway of Neuropeptides, the unimpeded flow of cerebrospinal fluid is of paramount importance to the optimal functioning of the mind-body.
Another aspect of CSF circulation and the beneficial effects of Pranayama , involves substances called electrolytes. Electrolytes are substances that conduct electricity when in a solution, and the CSF contains two such substances, sodium and potassium. These electrolytes in the CSF maintain an electrical balance that controls the functioning of the nervous system. It is an established fact the nervous system behaves as per the principle of flow of electricity. The nervous system regulates and coordinates all the body’s systems. Therefore, the optimum functioning of all body parts is directly related to the proper balance and circulation of the aforementioned electrolytes in the CSF.
Circulation of CSF
Cerebrospinal fluid is circulated around the brain and spinal cord by two pumping mechanisms at the top (cranium) and the bottom (sacrum) of the spinal column. The diaphragmatic breathing practiced in Pranayama activates the CSF sacral pump at the bottom of the spine. This occurs as dome shaped diaphragm muscle contracts down on the sacrum on inspiration (breathing in) pumping cerebrospinal fluid up around the spinal cord into the brain. As the Pranayama practitioner concentrates on breathing diaphragmatically, it evokes a succession of contractions and relaxations of this powerful muscle pumping CSF through the rhythmic movement of the sacrum which is the foundation of the spine.
This flexion and extension (forward and backward movement) of the sacrum also affects all the spinal bones above it. The connecting joints between each spinal bone and vertebrae, (aptly called “articular pillars” because they look like pistons), move in an up and down motion in coordination with the diaphragmatic contractions and relaxations. Thus the sacrum pumps, due to the action of the piston-like joints between each vertebra, also pump cerebrospinal fluid up into the cranium.
How Pranayama Helps in Effective Circulation of CSF?
Other types of Pranayama such as alternate nostril breathing and Kriyas (advanced Pranayama) affect the other CSF pumping mechanism within the cranium itself. In alternate nostril breathing (Anulom-Vilom) as the practitioner inhales and exhales, the diaphragm muscle pumps CSF via the sacrum. Also as the nasal passages fill up with air, the spheo-basilar cranial bones behind the nose (the cranial pump) are activated, and oscillate in a rhythmic motion. This movement propels the CSF down the spine through the hollow vertical tube of the central canal of the spinal cord within the spinal column.
Pranayama-The Most Powerful Technique of Enhancing Circulation of CSF
Kriya Pranayama effect both the sacral pumping mechanism and the to and fro oscillations of the spheno-basilar bones. Kriya breath stimulates the spheno-basilar bones to vibrate propelling CSF down the spine, and also activate the sacral pumping mechanism. Thus, as the Kriya Pranayama enables working of both the cranial and sacral pumps, it is the most powerful technique of enhancing circulation of CSF around and within the brain and spinal cord.
Another aspect of Pranayama that facilitates CSF circulation occurs as the practitioner gently holds their breath for brief interludes (kumbhakas), or breathes in a circular pattern up and down the spine (called the Sushumna breath). Temporarily holding the breath (kumbhaka) or doing Sushumna breathing increases pressure within the chest cavity as the lungs fill up with air. This enlarged air volume in the chest area, caused by the expanded lungs, exerts a slight pressure on the CSF flowing around the spinal cord and thereby facilitates circulation. Temporarily holding the breath, or doing Sushumna breathing also causes Neuropeptides to quickly release in to the CSF from the respiratory centers at the base of the brain.
How to Enhance Our Ability to Maximize Our Potential as Human Beings Physically, Mentally and Emotionally
Serotonin is a natural body chemical, which enhances mood and our feeling of well-being (euphoria). It is released from the cells that line the walls of the ventricles, two cavities within the upper part of the brain where CSF is produced. It is also secreted from the supraependymal cells that line the central canal of the spinal cord, the major pathway of CSF. As the cerebrospinal fluid flows more freely around the brain and spinal cord, it stimulates the above-mentioned cells to release serotonin.
When endorphins are released from the brain into the CSF, the result is a feeling of euphoria, bliss and expanded consciousness. Therefore, the combined effect of these two body chemicals circulating more naturally in the CSF creates physical feelings of joy and well being as well as a sensation of expanded consciousness.
When the cerebrospinal fluid is circulating freely we are truly “in the flow”, as the Neuropeptides are able to go where they need to go to coordinate life processes on a physical and emotional level. This enhances our ability to maximize our potential as human beings physically, mentally and emotionally. Pranayama Yoga works because it facilitates the circulation of the “fluid of life”, “the liquid light” called cerebrospinal fluid, and thereby enhances the functioning of the all-important Neuropeptides.