Therapeutic mechanisms of ASC involve parasympa-thetic dominance, interhemispheric synchronization, and limbic-frontal integration (Winkelman, 1992, 1996, 1997, 2000). These physiological processes facilitate healing through a variety of mechanisms, including: inducing physiological relaxation and reducing tension and stress; regulation and balance of psychophysiological processes; reducing anxiety and phobic reactions and psychosomatic effects; accessing normally unconscious information; enhancing behavioral-emotional-cognitive integration; enhancing social bonding and affiliation; and regulating emotions, self, and social attachments.
The parasympathetic dominant state evokes the relaxation response, a generalized decrease in sympathetic nervous system activity, and enhanced alpha and theta brain-wave activity. The relaxation response has therapeutic value in addressing stress-related physical and psychological conditions. Rapid collapse into a parasympathetic dominant state can have therapeutic effects involving erasure of conditioned responses, dramatic changes in beliefs, and increased suggestibility, enhancing placebo and positive psychosomatic effects. ASC activate typically unconscious processes, integrating into the conscious mind material that is normally inaccessible. These repressed dynamics are sources of conflicts that affect emotions, behavior, and physiological responses. ASC enhance expression of repressed aspects of self by reducing habitual screening processes and giving expression to non-verbal information.
ASC evoke paleomammalian brain or limbic system functions that manage autonomic nervous system balance, emotional mentation, self and social identity processes, bonding and attachment, and the integration of information. These contribute to healing, producing an integration of personal and social consciousness. The theta wave entrainment characteristic of ASC produces integration across hierarchical brain levels, an integration of pre- or unconscious functions into conscious awareness. ASC and ritual enhance integration of cognitive and emotional processes and information from different functional systems of the brain, providing optimal conditions for learning, attention, memory, and adaptation to novel situations (Mandell, 1980).
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