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DISCUSSION

The present study was conducted on male subjects to avoid any possible effect of menstrual phase on RT as reported by earlier workers (8). In our subjects, pre- mukh bhastrika ART was significantly shorter than VRT and this is in agreement with previous reports (1, 6, 8). After mukh bhastrika also ART was significantly shorter than VRT. Although Madanmohan et al (1) and Malathi et al (6) have reported that yoga training produces a significant reduction in VRT and ART, to the best of our knowledge there is no report on the immediate effect of pranayam on RT. Kapalabhati, a yogic breathing practice utilizing abdominal maneuvers and bellows type breathing that is similar to mukh bhastrika, has been reported to increase mental activity (16) and induce a calm and alert state (17). This type of ‘ready’ state can explain the mukh bhastrika-induced shortening of RT in our subjects. Hatha yogic practices like agnisar, nauli and bhastrika have been shown to induce EEG changes around the somatosensory and parietal areas of the cerebral cortex suggesting an affective arousal (13, 14). As these practices utilize forceful abdominal contractions similar to mukh bhastrika and bring about EEG changes through strong stimulation of somatic and splanchnic receptors (13, 14), we suggest that mukh bhastrika results in shortening of RT through similar mechanisms. The faster reactivity of our subjects after mukh bhastrika can also be explained on the basis of generalized alteration in information processing at the primary thalamo-cortical level that has been reported during concentrated mental exercise of pranayam breathing (7). 

Mukh bhastrika involves active and rapid expiratory efforts and it is interesting to note that hyperventilation has been found to selectively depress motor cortical inhibition in humans (18). This release of motor cortical inhibition may be one of the mechanisms by which mukh bhastrika results in shortening of RT. However an important difference between yogic bellows-type breathing like mukh bhastrika or kapalabhati and hyperventilation is that prolonged hyperventilation produces abnormal EEG changes whereas there are no abnormal EEG changes even after 10 minutes of kapalabhati (16). The present study shows that mukh bhastrika produces an immediate reduction in RT. A decrease in RT indicates an improved sensory-motor performance, which can be explained on the basis of enhanced processing ability of central nervous system. Mukh bhastrika may be improving this processing ability by i) greater arousal and faster rate of information processing ii) improved concentration power and/or iii) ability to ignore or inhibit extraneous stimuli. Greater arousal and faster information processing can be explained on the basis of mukh bhastrika-induced alterations in afferent inputs from abdominal and thoracic regions, which in turn can modulate the activity at ascending reticular activating system and thalamocortical levels. 

This shortening of RT is of applied value in situations requiring faster reactivity such as sports, machine operation, race driving and specialized surgery. RT has been reported to be altered in trainable mentally retarded children (19). On the basis of the present study, we suggest that yogic techniques like mukh bhastrika may be used as an effective means of training to improve the RT in such children. It has also been reported that older soccer players perform poorly on measures of conceptual thinking, RT, and concentration (20). We suggest that yogic techniques like mukh bhastrika may be used as an effective means of training such players.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 

We gratefully acknowledge the financial support from the Central Council for Research in Yoga & Naturopathy (CCRYN), New Delhi.

 
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