Meditation in Health and Diseases
MODERN MAN UNDER STRESS
Prem, a sales executive of a tobacco firm came to see me "Doctor I suffer from palpitation as soon as i enter my office. If the boss calls me, I break out into a cold sweat, my breathing becomes rapid and my legs tremble" he said, wiping the perspiration from his forehead. After giving Prem a thorough check-up I assured him that his heart was normal. His complaint was due to mental and emotional stress, which in turn produce a continuous and excessive orientation response. I told him about the horse (heart) and the jockey (mind). If the jockey (mind) whips the horse (heart) it races, producing palpitation. The case reported by Dr. R.H. Dasture of Bombay is an example of modern man under symbolic stress.
After painstaking experimentation done by Hans Style. the world's premier stress researcher, stress was defined as any diversed stimulus that produced the nonspecific effects and is characterized by an enlargement and increased functioning of the adrenal cortex, a decrease in the size of the thymus and lymphatic organs. In other words, any event that alters the steady state or challenges the adoptive mechanism of the body is known as stress. Although not perfect, the definition is reasonably true. Fear, anger, suspicion, jealousy, worries, anxiety etc., are the forms of psychological stress and they can affect almost any system in the body. Our stomach, heart, kidneys, brain etc., suffer and we develop temporary symptoms of the state which if exist over a period of time can result in permanent damage to the organs of the body.
Diseases starting from diarrhoea to heart attack or cancer can result from mental turmoil. When one worries or becomes anxious the intestines work faster and one can develop diarrhoea.
Anxiety through sympathetic system can reduce the diameter of arterioles which increases blood pressure and in turn can lead to angina pectoris, heart attack and myocardial infraction.
ROUTES OF ACTION
Stress primarily acts on hypothalamus which is related to mental and emotional functions. And through various pathways it affects the bodily organs.
NEUROHORMONAL: Stress activates a preoptic hypothalamic centre to increase the output of ACTH Releasing Substance. This is carried via hypothalamo-pituitary blood vessels to the anterior pituitary where it triggers the secretion of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). ACTH is transported in the blood stream to the adrenal cortex where it stimulates the secretion of corticosteroid hormones. One of its effects is a gradual increase in stomach hyperacidity because of the effect of glucocorticoids on stomach secretion. Over prolonged period of time this obviously could lead to peptic ulcer which is a well - known effect of hypersecretion of the adrenal cortex.
Likewise, activity in the anterior hypothalamus increases the pituitary secretion of thyrotropin, which in turn increases the output of thyroxin and leads to an elevated basal metabolic rate. From these examples, therefore, it is evident that many psychosomatic diseases can be caused by abnormal stimulation of hypothalamus.
AUTONOMIC NERVOUS SYSTEM: Many diseases result due to the hyper activity of either sympathetic or parasympathetic system. Over activity of sympathetic system leads to increased heart rate, increased arterial pressure, constipation and high metabolic rate. Stimulation of vagus nerve causes increased peristalsis in the upper gastrointestinal tract, increased hyperactivity of stomach which leads to development of peptic ulcer. Stimulation of sacral region of parasympathetic system 'is likely to cause extreme colonic glandular secretion and peristalsis with resulting diarrhoea. Emotions affect sympathetic and parasympathetic centers in hypothalamus leading to variety of somatic disorders.
RETICULAR ACTIVATING SYSTEM: Abnormal psychological state can greatly alter the degree of nervous stimulation of the skeletal musculature throughout the body by deranging the function of reticular activating system. In neurotic and psychotic states such as anxiety, tension and mania, generalized over activity of both the muscles and sympathetic system often occur throughout the body. This in turn results in instant feedback from the muscle proprioceptors to the reticular activating system, and the epinephrin circulating in the blood as a result of sympathetic activity directly excites the reticular activating system both of which undoubtedly cause an extreme degree of wakefulness and alertness that characterizes these emotional states. Unfortunately, the wakefulness prevents adequate sleep and also lead to progressive bodily fatigue, further enhancing the inability to go to sleep.
These three routes of action can damage all the systems of our body. Increased level of steroids suppresses the humeral and cellular immunity reducing the resistance of the body to fight against infections as well as increases the chances of malignacy.
HAZARDS OF STRESS
Psychological stress can affect the individual and in turn the society in a number of ways.
SUBJECTIVE EFFECTS are anxiety, aggression, apathy, boredom, depression, fatigue, frustration, guilt. shame, irritability, bad temper, moodiness, low self-esteem, threat, tension, nervousness, loneliness etc.
COGNITIVE EFFECTS: are inability to make decisions and concentrate. Frequent forgetfulness, hypersensitivity to criticism and mental blocks.
BEHAVIOURAL EFFECTS: are accident proneness, drug taking, emotional outburst, excessive eating or loss of appetite, excessive drinking and smoking, excitability, impulsive behaviour, impaired speech, nervous laughter, restlessness and trembling.
PHYSIOLOGICAL EFFECTS : are increased blood and urine amines and steroid hormones to increase blood glucose levels, increased heart rate and blood pressure, dryness of mouth, sweating, dilatation of pupils, difficulty in breathing, hot and cold spells, lump in the throat, numbness and tingling in parts of the limbs.
ORGANISATIONAL EFFECTS: are absenteeism, poor industrial relation and poor productivity, high accident and labour turnover rates, poor organizational climate, antagonism at work and job dissatisfaction.
Apart from these effects numerous diseases caused by the stress in the long run greatly increases the cost of the stress. Therefore one must learn how to manage the stress.
HOW TO MANAGE THE STRESS?
It is a common observation in day-to-day life that some stimuli appear stressful but do not affect some people; others do not appear stressful but do affect some people. Therefore to manage stress one can increase one's psychological powers to resist the stress or one can reduce the intensity of stress.
Now I want to discuss practical method to achieve it, specially focusing the attention on how the teachings of Raja Yoga Meditation is a natural way to attain the goal.
INCREASING THE PERSONAL CAPACITY TO COPE:
To avoid the stressful situation is not the answer because this does not increase our capacity and at the same time leaves us short of achieving our goals and using the full potential.
Relaxation of mind and body can help one to face the stressful situation because it is more difficult to disturb o relaxed person than an anxious individual. Late Dr. David H. Fink, a neuro-psychiatrist of California described the benefit of relaxation in his book: "Relaxation From Nervous Tension" as "Relaxation stops the emotions that prods the interbrain and forebrain into misbehavior. Skill as well as good health depend upon relaxation". From my experience of practising Raja Yoga Meditation for the last Eighteen years I am deeply convinced that Raja Yoga is a natural method of mental and physical relaxation. By its practice one can even overcome unconscious anxieties, fears etc. It also improves one's resistance power to deal with stress. Reduction in the levels of steroid hormones helps humoral as well as cellular immunity. Even the scientific investigations by recording E.E.G. of Raja Yogis have shown the total relaxation and mental harmony they have achieved. Most of the ten Raja Yogis examined produced Alpha or Theta waves not only while meditating but even while performing complicated mental arithmetic.
DILUTING THE INTENSITY OF STRESS
To avoid stress many people in our modern society use anti- anxiety drugs such as alcohol. diazepam and oxazepam. Unfortunately these may not only alter congenitive appraisal but, also decrease actual capability as well. Many people may become physiologically or psychologically dependent on it. Infect this is not an advisable method. The easiest and the fruitful method is to change our attitudes towards the particular stressor. In a similar situation one person becomes anxious and stressful whereas the other may remain calm and cheerful. This subjective difference is just due to their difference in attitudes towards the event. Dr. Fink narrated the importance of attitudes: "Your attitudes are the higher ups, the big shots in your mental life. They are the habits that sit in the driver's seat. When you can boss them, you are in control of your own life. You become invulnerable and nothing can hurt you. "Thus every effort to make our attitudes positive, benefits us to live without stress and tension.
I have found the teachings of Raja Yoga extremely beneficial for developing such an attitude. In various situations one thinks; "I am just an actor in the world drama. I must try to play the role given to me in the best possible manner. I should not become anxious, depressed or worry about the activities of others because they are also playing their roles in the huge world drama. I remain detached and peaceful because I am just an observer of various scenes of the drama. I even observe my own activities. More so because my original nature is peaceful. I am a peaceful soul. I am a child of the ocean of peace the Supreme Being."
The Spiritual knowledge also helps me to see the hidden benefits in every situation however stressful it may seem at its outset. I always think about the positive side of the coin. Hans Style. Canada's most honoured scientist also laid importance on attitudes as "Rather than relying on drugs or other techniques, I think there is a better way to handle stress, Attitude determines whether we perceive any experience as pleasant or unpleasant." Raja Yoga taught by Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University contains ample knowledge helping one to develop this attitude. More than' thinking about it, talking about it, what is needed is to practise the method to develop the positive habit for the effective management of stress.