The formation of ions begins when enough energy acts on a gaseous molecule to eject an electron (negatively charged particle). Most of this energy comes from radioactive substances in the earth's crust and some form the cosmic rays in space. The displaced electron attaches itself to an adjacent molecule which becomes a negative ion; the original molecule then becomes a positive ion. Then natural gas or water molecules cluster about the ions to form small ions of four types, namely H+, H3O+, O2 and OH - (O is oxygen, H is hydrogen). Thus the four types are the hydrogen ion, the hydroxyl ion (H3O+), the oxygen molecule (O2) and the hydroxide ion (OH-). Associated with these reactions in each case, is the formation of a small number of water molecules.
In the normal clean air over land, there are 1,500 to 4,000 ions per cubic centimetre. However, negative ions are more mobile, and the earth's surface has a negative charge. So negative ions are repelled from the earth's surface. Thus the normal ratio of negative to positive ions is 1.2 to 1.00.
Often we live in areas with a very low concentration of ions. In modern cities the ratio of positive to negative small air ions is decreased. There have been many studies done of ion measurements in offices, hospitals, factories, etc. In one study it was found that in an office with four people, the average ion count per cubic centimetre was only fifty-four. Compare this to the clean fresh air count of 1,500 to 4,000. In this case, as with many other similar studies, the number of physiologically inert large ions rose considerably, since the small ions (H+ and OH-) react with dust particles to form large ions.
People who travel to work in polluted air or who spend eight hours a day in offices or factories inescapably breathe ion-depleted air for substantial portions of their lives. There is now a large amount of scientific evidence that ion depletion leads to discomfort, enervation, lassitude and some degree of mental and physical inefficiency. This condition appears quite different from the direct toxic effects of the usual atmospheric pollutants. It also occurs in the absence of such pollutants in rural schools and libraries where there may be special factors which remove icons, e.g. stray electric fields.
Evidence is also growing that substantial increases in ions can have highly beneficial effects, from relieving burn pains to helping the growth of plants. Negative ions have been shown to promote healing rates of animals with skin lacerations, burns and postoperative discomfort. High doses of positive or negative ions have been shown to be lethal to bacteria. Low concentrations of positive or negative ions are known to produce fewer alpha frequency brainwaves in human beings.
There is also a most interesting relationship between small air ions and a hormone called serotonin. This is the hormone secreted by the pineal gland, the ajna chakra or the 'third eye' of the yogi. Serotonin is known to be intimately connected with emotions, perceptions, sleep wakefulness and orientation to conventional reality. Serotonin makes these aspects of our consciousness possible, and scientists are trying to discover the exact mechanism by which this very important hormone affects our consciousness.
It has been found that in experiments with mice, positive ions raised the levels of serotonin in the blood and in the brain. Negative ions depress them and are also known to help in speeding up plant growth and increasing resistance to influenza.
Much research has also been done in connection with the way in which atmospheric ionic conditions affect human behaviour and emotions. For example, Israeli research has demonstrated that the famous winds such as the mistral in France, the sirocco of Italy, the zonda of Argentina, the chinook in Canada, give rise to high positive ion concentrations in the atmosphere and symptoms such as sleeplessness, irritability, tension, migraines, nausea and vomiting have been noted from individuals who live in those regions. These symptoms resemble the effects of a large production of serotonin. They have been shown to be quite independent of other factors accompanying the winds such as rise in temperature and decrease in humidity.
Conversely, when the air's negative ion density is relatively large, such as near a waterfall, the general effect of the local environment is tranquillising and conducive to good health. For this reason, many people install negative ion generators in their homes. This helps to maintain the normal electrostatically balanced atmosphere, and to breathe that air is like suddenly being out in the crisp, clear, clean air of the high mountains.
Electromagnetic phenomena also play an important part in the ecology of consciousness and are very relevant to yoga practices. The earth has its own magnetic field which is very weak (about 1,000 times weaker than the field of a small horseshoe magnet). This field extends around the planet like a large doughnut, and it is probably created by the flow of molten metals in the earth's core. The average intensity of the field is 0.5 Gauss (a horseshoe magnet has a field strength of about 500 to 600 Gauss). This field also pulses like the blood in our veins and arteries. The predominant frequency range of these magnetic pulses is know as the Schumann resonance and is around seven and a half cycles per second. Researchers have suggested that this resonance has various effects on the human nervous system and even on the consciousness itself. Let us consider the following. The seven and a half cycles per second brain wave frequency, measured by the electroencephalogram, is the boundary between alpha and theta waves. If that frequency predominates in our brain, you are said to be in a condition which is on the border of being awake and falling asleep. The theta wave is often observed in the EEG patterns of experienced meditators who pass through the Schumann resonance portal without falling asleep. This interesting point is a valid explanation for the phenomenon which most beginners in meditation experience, namely the problem of sleep. Often just as the meditation starts to increase, sleep intervenes. This is due to the brain wave frequency reaching that of the Schumann resonance, which is equal to the boundary between the waking and the sleep state. It is only by an effort of mind that one can remain awake with the frequency remaining stable. This is also why it is said that meditation is best whenever one is not completely awake, but just on the borderline between waking and sleeping. We may say that this is the best frequency for gaining access to the subconscious mind.
On the basis of his research, Professor Michael Persinger of the Laurentian University Psychophysiology Laboratory, hypothesises that extremely low frequency (ELF) Schumann waves may serve as carriers for information connected with psychic phenomena (psi information), as it is nearly impossible under normal circumstances to shield oneself against such waves. He based his hypothesis on the following main facts concerned with ELF waves.
ELF waves propagate more easily between midnight and four in the morning. They are easier to transmit from west to east than from east to west. When he surveyed ESP (extra sensory perception) literature he found that telepathy and clairvoyance have a tendency to rise strongly around four a.m. and that they were easier to transmit from west to east than from east to west. He also observed that comparatively few psychic experiences were reported whenever there were disturbances in the geomagnetic (earth's magnetic) field, because such disturbances also impair the propagation of ELF waves.
Another noted researcher, Sister M. Justa Smith, Ph.D. in New York, has shown that strong magnetic fields affect the reactivity of certain enzymes in the human body. These enzymes can act as catalysts to speed up the body's natural healing processes. Much research has also been done in India into the healing effects of magnets, with similar findings. Dr Sister Smith made the observation that psychic healers exert a non-magnetic effect on enzymes similar to the magnetic field. Scientists now are firmly convinced that magnetic fields play an important role in the body's healing and immunological processes.
In deep space (one sixth the distance to the moon) the magnetic field intensity is near zero, and scientists are now investigating how, and if, this will affect the consciousness of astronauts. So intrinsically linked are the earth's magnetic lines of force and the human consciousness that any disturbances in the earth's geomagnetic field are immediately reflected in human behaviour. These geomagnetic disturbances are particularly correlated with solar storms (you may have seen pictures of these storms taking place around the outer layer of the sun) which displace large clouds of ionic plasma. These waves generally impinge on the earth's magnetosphere about two days after the solar flare causing polar lights, radio interference and a compression of the earth's magnetic lines of flux. (The earth has lines of flux just as a magnet has lines, which can be made visible by iron filing sprinkled on paper place over the magnet.) A definite correlation has been shown to exist between these solar storms and rates of heart attacks, lung diseases, eclampsias and the activity of microbes. Epidemics of diphtheria, typhus, cholera and smallpox have also been associated with solar activity. Several other correlations have been shown to exist, e.g. the geomagnetic disturbances affect the behaviour of patients on a psychiatric ward, also the number of road accidents and mining disaster increases.
Magnetic and particularly electromagnetic fields have enormous implications for our understanding of consciousness. All objects in our universe with a temperature above absolute zero (OºK) emit electromagnetic radiation. In the view of two pioneers of the electrodynamic theory of life - Prof. S. Burr, Professor of Anatomy at Yale University and Leonard J. Ravitz, a psychiatrist - electromagnetic fields guide the growth and repair of living protoplasm. This discovery of the field they called the Life-field or L-field.
According to Prof. Burr, L-fields are detected and examined by measuring the difference in voltage between two points on or close to the surface of the living form. L-field voltage can be measured by placing one electrode on the forehead and another on the chest or hand. Alternatively the index finger of each hand can be dipped into bowls of salty solution connected to the voltmeter. The important point to be clarified is that these voltage readings have nothing to do with the alternating electrical currents which doctors find in the heart and in the brain. They are pure voltage potentials which can yield only an infinitesimal amount of direct current. This is why L-fields could not be detected before the invention of the vacuum tube voltmeter which requires virtually no current for its operation. In comparison, the normal voltmeter needs so much current to swing the needle that it would drain away the L-field potentials and make any reading useless if not impossible.
According to Prof. Burr, doctors could easily be trained to take measurements of the L-fields of patients and through the readings obtain advance warning of future symptoms before they are evident. Such readings have been used extensively to forecast psychological and psychiatric troubles as well as numerous physical events. For example, the exact moment of ovulation in a woman can be predicted by the measurement of voltage gradients. This is possible as ovulation is preceded by a steady and substantial rise in voltage which falls rapidly to normal after the egg has been released.
Wounds, abrasions and cuts, even a small cut on the finger, will change the voltages in the L-field. As the wound heals, these will return to normal.
The L-field measurements can be used not only in diagnosis of local conditions but also in assessing the overall state of the body. A remarkable fact is that the L-field can be measured at a distance from the affected organ, that is, not in physical contact. This indicates that it is a true field and not just some surface potential.
Prof. Burr quotes numerous experiments, case histories and theories which are most interesting and of great use to the serious student of yoga. Burr's theory of an electrodynamic organising matrix ties in very closely with the way in which prana is believed to function in the body. Burr states that if we meet a friend of ours after six months, there is not one molecule in his face that was there when we last saw him. There is a constant turnover of the materials in our bodies and brains; all the protein is renewed every six months. How do we recognise our friend after six months if he has changed so much? It is due to the controlling L-field, says Burr. The new molecules have fallen into the old familiar patterns and we can recognise his face. This is a way to explain scientifically how we 'keep in shape' through ceaseless metabolic and material changes. The electrodynamic field of the body serves as a matrix or mould which preserves the shape or arrangement of any material poured into it, however often the material may be changed.
According to the ancient rishis and yogis and seers, the ten pranas function as just this type of organisational matrix. It is a good way to understand the functions of prana in the body.
From time to time we shall be mentioning further lines of research into many realms of the mind which are especially relevant to the scientific understanding of the main tenets of yoga. This is the chief direction in which all scientific research seems to be heading.
Yoga is not only the culture of tomorrow; it is the future leader of the sciences.