Stress is no stranger to any of us. It is an inevitable part of life. From dawn to dusk, stress presents itself in different forms and keeps us company.
For many of us, the day begins with a mountain of chores, children crying or phones ringing. Amidst it all, we get ready for the day’s work. Once we are out on the road, we endure traffic and the cacophony of honking vehicles. Upon reaching the workplace, deadlines beckon and the day only gets more stressful. Perhaps, to temporarily escape the grind, some of us indulge in alcohol, cigarettes or drugs in the evening. Seldom do we realise that these substances too cause stress to the body.
Stressors–factors that cause stress–are ubiquitous! We cannot seem to escape them, so we try to manage stress instead. But does it make sense to manage stress at all? Muses mystic Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev in his blog How to get rid of stress: “In my understanding, we manage things which are precious to us–our business, our family, our money, our wealth, our children. Why would anyone manage stress?” Sadhguru further goes on to explain that stress is simply an inability to manage our inner situation.
So, what we should be doing to alleviate stress is manage our inner selves better. However, this is easier said than done. Often, we are bogged down by a huge load of emotions and thoughts that are a result of our external circumstances. One way to deal with this load is to distance oneself from the source of stress. And this can be done through spiritual practices. They help us establish a deep connection with ourselves. By keeping us grounded, they aid in balancing our mind, body and spirit. Stress is then automatically eliminated and our overall wellbeing improves.
Soulveda explores a few ways to walk the spiritual path–not merely to manage stress, but to better manage our inner selves.
Being around nature
Be it a blade of grass or a grain of sand, a bumbling bee or a fellow human, respecting every creation is perhaps the first step towards spirituality. “My definition of religion is: To be in tune with nature,” writes Osho in his book Ecstasy: The Forgotten Language. “If you can trust nature, by and by you become quiet, silent, happy, joyful and celebrating–because nature is celebrating,” he adds.
Nature can restore our mind-body-spirit balance. Perhaps, that is why it has always been intricately linked with spirituality. This idea is backed by science as well. A study conducted at Stanford University has found that being amidst nature significantly reduces stress by curtailing unnecessary brooding. Yet another study by the US-based Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences has even found a relation between reduced interaction with nature and increased mental health issues.
Not many of us may know it, but perhaps the easiest way to walk the spiritual path is to unleash our inherent creativity. The world has seen countless creative people who were also spiritual–legendary painter Van Gogh, writer Leo Tolstoy and Buddhist poet Wang Wei are some. They walked the spiritual path by expressing themselves through their art.
By enabling us to create, art forms like music, dance and writing allow us to vent our innermost feelings. This way, they effectively reduce stress as well. Says Mangala Karthik, a Carnatic musician, “During my college days, I used to sing more during exam times because music relieved me of stress. Even today, music often puts me in a different state of mind. It helps me connect with my true self.”
By consciously practising a certain posture or following a certain breathing technique, we can change the way we feel, think and experience life.
We may have noticed that our body posture and breathing vary depending on our mood and state of mind. Interestingly, the converse is equally true. By consciously practising a certain posture or following a certain breathing technique, we can change the way we feel, think and experience life.
Out of the infinite postures, our bodies can make, certain postures have been identified as yoga asanas. Similarly, certain ways of breathing have been found to be beneficial and are called Pranayama. These practices help us become more aware of our body and channelise our energy effectively throughout the body. Besides setting us on a spiritual path, yoga is also known to reduce stress by rewiring our brain over time.
In a video titled The Science of Yoga, neuroscientist, and yoga teacher Dr Mithu Storoni explains how yoga is like a workout, not only for the muscles but also for the brain. It helps us strengthen the logical side of the brain and control the emotional side. It thus strengthens our ability to respond to stress in a constructive manner. Over time, a new circuitry is created which changes the way thoughts are formed and channelised, Dr Storoni says.
The power of prayer
Several faiths have chanting mantras and hymns as rituals. The religious believe such modes of praying, either individually or in a group, connect us with a higher power. Take homemaker Vanaja Radhakrishnan for example. She recites shlokas and conducts pooja at home every morning. And this practice helps her, especially during turbulent times in her life. “When I say a little prayer or visit a temple, I cast my problems onto God. I then feel lighter and more hopeful,” she says.
Interestingly, prayer is not merely for the religious. Even those who don’t believe in god sometimes engage in prayer, simply as an exercise in self-affirmation. This, in turn, relieves them of stress. A study conducted by the University of Hong Kong has found that prayer and chanting help the bereaved cope with distress. Their EEG records indicate relaxation and increased mental health. The study also states that having faith in a higher power and uttering a prayer can have a healing effect on late-stage cancer patients. But even if one is not religious, chanting and praying ensures that one does not spiral down into negative emotions when faced with adversities.