by Deborah Charnes
Stress is everywhere. In your car. At work. At home. At the store. We cannot deny it. It surrounds us. It is a factor in five of the six leading causes of death, and is usually the trigger for almost nine out of 10 doctor visits. Dr. Howard Cutler, a psychiatrist who has interviewed the Dalai Lama many times, says of stress,
“Since stress lowers the threshold for what may trigger anger, the first step is preventative. Cultivating an inner contentment and calmer state of mind, as recommend by the Dalai Lama, can definitely help.”
Each of us can take steps to create more inner contentment and a calmer state of mind. This is no secret to the followers of ancient practices like yoga, meditation, tai chi and qigong. But, it has taken the Western world longer to understand the benefits of mind-body approaches to cultivating calmness and reducing stress.
Fortunately, more and more health care practitioners are now pointing to yoga and other mindbody practices, as the benefits of such practices are beginning to be backed by scientific study. The health and wellness website Medical Daily (www.medicaldaily.com), for example, last year reported on an Ohio State University study, conducted by researchers in the school’s Wexner Medical Center. The study focused on medical personnel in a surgical intensive care unit who regularly found themselves in high-stress, high-pressure situations as part of their jobs. Study participants were exposed to interventions at work that included yoga, meditation, gentle stretching and listening to music. The group that received the interventions showed a 40 percent drop in stress levels.
Even the Mayo Clinic website (www.mayoclinic.org) lifts up yoga as a way to “fight stress and find serenity.” An article by the Mayo Clinic Staff states, “Yoga can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve heart function. And almost anyone can do it.”
Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, Ph.D., has incorporated yoga into his life for many years. As an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, he has conducted and analyzed research on the positive side effects of yoga. His findings from analyzing study after study conclude that yoga postures, breath work, relaxation and meditation can not only lower the blood pressure, but increase brain GABA levels. The practices can also lower perceived stress and back pain at work, and produce “enhanced expression of genes associated with energy metabolism, mitochondrial function, insulin secretion and telomere maintenance, and reduced expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stressrelated pathways.” Using brain scanners, Khalsa takes before-and-after images of the brain to see how meditation affects the limbic and paralimbic systems.
While his processes are very scientific, his conclusions are quite clear. Of meditation, he says, “It turns on genes that are good for us. It’s happening at the very core of ourselves. We are changing our brains and our bodies.”
A registered yoga teacher and yoga therapist, Deborah Charnes carries additional certificates in Reiki, Ayurveda and acupressure. Working in the corporate world since 1981, she understands living and working in a stressful environment that can be remedied through yoga. Charnes has created a series of Chill Out workshops to help others help themselves through yoga and meditation. Learn more at www.thenamastecounsel.com or 210-381-1846.