Stress Management/Meditation

Hippocrates said that a patient should be at the helm of his own healing. Herbert Benson, Harvard cardiologist went on to say, "Ideally medicine should be a three-legged stool, with the legs of surgery and pharmaceuticals balanced with spiritual self-care, such as meditation or prayer. But often this third leg is missing."

Benson asserts that 60 to 90 percent of all illness is brought on by stress. Surgery and pharmaceuticals do little to curtail stress. "Reciting a prayer, focusing on a particular image, word or physical motion (like the heel-to-toe rocking that Orthodox Jews do during worship) is a balm for an amazing number of ailments" according to Dr. Benson.

Stress-related disorders are benefitted by spiritual practice. During prayer, breathing is long and deep, and the heart beats slower. Breathing is a natural stress-buster. Breathing is simple. You do it all day and night. You may not 15,000 times each day. But run after a bus, or swim the length of a pool under water. Then you realize how breathing, or the lack thereof, can affect every cell in your body.

Shallow, rapid breathing can trigger the fight or flight response. Breathe like a Zen monk and you will relax.

Practice your breathing anywhere, anytime. Breathe naturally and deeply from your diaphragm. Instead of squeezing your tummy within the confines of a tightly notched belt, relax a little and belly breathe from your abdomen. Your lungs take in more oxygen.

A variety of breathing gurus teach different skills and drills. One strategy teaches you to breathe in through one nostril and out the other. Another instructs you to focus on the temperature and vibration of the air as it passes through your nasal passages. Breathing is a first step in your mind/body connection.

Breathing is useful but faith in God is associated with increased health and longevity. There have been more than 300 studies on the effects of faith on healing. Seventy five percent of those have shown that believing in God or a higher power is good for your health. Deeply religious people exhibit a longer life expectancy, quicker recovery, better quality of life, lower rates of depression and substance abuse. Every culture has a belief in some sort of higher power. Belief is empowering. A study at Dartmouth College revealed the best predictor of heart bypass survival rates was whether patients believed in God. Six months after surgery, twelve percent of non-believers died. One hundred percent of believers were still living.

A 1996 study at Salem College showed that spiritual practice had a more significant effect on blood pressure than whether the patients smoked, drank, or ate a high fat/calorie diet.

A Gallup survey found that 90 percent of Americans believe in God. Between 60 and 70 percent contend that faith can help people recover from illness.And 41 percent say their faith has healed them of mental or physical problems.

Although doctors rarely discuss religion with their patients, 99 percent of physicians surveyed responded that faith or meditation aids in healing. Eighty percent of M.D.'s think that spiritual concepts should be part of a doctor's training. Therefore, one-third of American medical schools offer courses in spirituality and healing.

When you are anxious, your body prepare for a crisis. Blood is quickly transported to your muscles for fight or flight. Your blood pressure increases and so does your heart rate. And to exhale carbon dioxide more quickly, you breathe faster.

To get the oxygen you need, without thinking, you breathe erratically from your chest. Exhaling carbon dioxide too quickly disturbs your blood pH. This keeps your blood from efficiently getting oxygen to your brain, muscles, and organs. Some estimates suggest that 60 to 90 percent of medical ailments are stress related.

When you inhale-exhale impulsively, you hyperventilate. And if you are anxious all day long, you may be in a constant state of hyperventilation. You may be hyperventilating at this very moment. The lower lobes of your lungs lie below your chest. Breathe deeply and allow air to fill this area. This is diaphragmatic breathing.

Muscle tension, especially tight abdominals, constrict your diaphragm. So does holding your stomach in to appear svelte. Wearing a tight belt teaches you to breathe improperly too. Take a deep breath from your belly. This short circuits your sympathetic nervous system and lessens your stress reaction. Automatically your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Focus on your breathing. Simply take your mind off of the distressing situation. Breathing occupies your thoughts. Just by altering your attention, you decrease your anxiety. There is no room for negativity. Pain patients use breathing techniques to lessen their discomfort and increase relaxation.

Your lower lungs inflate with less effort than your upper lungs. But you probably do not take advantage of this. Count your inhalations. You probably inhale about 20 times per minute. Try taking in more air with each breath. Fill your lungs. This allows you to breathe slower. Breathing smoothly helps stabilize your blood pH. Belly breathers average 8 to 14 inhalations per minute.