Is there any science in shirodhara?

How effective are Ayurvedic therapies? Is there a scientific basis for them?

Research at IIT Madras looked at Ayurvedic relaxation therapy shirodhara, which is recommended for patients with stress (depression or anxiety or hypertension), insomnia, headaches, and several types of psychosis. Treatment involves the low velocity impact of a medicinal liquid falling on the forehead from a specific height, at a controlled temperature, for 30 to 60 minutes, for a defined number of days.

An IIT team from the Department of Applied Mechanics and the Department of Technical Design is attempting to scientifically characterize shirodhara therapy along two axes: fluid impact and neurological feedback.

The general conclusion of the former is that when a fluid impact force is applied to the forehead, a very small displacement is observed. And the electromechanical response indicated that this produces a current measured in microvolts.

This is in accordance with the principles of Ayurveda, according to which a liquid falling on the forehead produces a vibration which generates electromagnetic waves. These are transferred to the cerebral cortex and hypothalamus, which impacts the brain and central nervous system. This could reduce stress and, therefore, hypertension.

The study included the characterization of shirodhara using an electroencephalogram (EEG, which records electrical activity in the brain). Various physiological parameters such as systolic and diastolic blood pressure and heart rate have been studied. Psychological factors such as depression, anxiety and the Stress Index Scale-21, the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Index, the WHO Well-Being Index-5, and the mood were assessed.

EEG tests on four healthy female student volunteers at Sri Jayendra Saraswathi Ayurveda College and Hospital in Chennai showed good results for alpha waves, which are primarily responsible for calm and relaxation of the brain. Due to shirodhara, maximum EEG waves were produced between the alpha and theta bands in the range 6-10.5Hz. This is considered to have a calming influence.

Physiological tests showed a decrease in heart rate of 6.75 BPM (beats per minute) and improvement in blood pressure (9.25 mmHg for systolic and 4 mmHg for diastolic). Psychological tests showed that respondents maintained quality sleep and that depression levels were reduced.

Shirodhara is a non-invasive brain relaxation therapy, comparable to the effects produced by yoga and meditation. However, unlike the other two, it does not require any effort on the part of the patient.

The IIT researchers plan to expand their research and have submitted proposals to the AYUSH Ministry and the Department of Science and Technology. They hope to receive funds for it.

The research team includes Swathika Meenraj, Lakshmana Rao Chebolu, Venkatesh Balasubramanian, Yogeshwar Dasari, and Anita Teladevalapalli.

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