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Stress is the main disruptor of the body’s coherence and, consequently, our unhealthy lives.
Stress increases the risk of heart disease by 40 percent, the risk of heart attack by 25 percent, and the risk of stroke by 50 percent. Three out of four doctors’ visits are for stress related ailments, and stress is the basic cause of 60 percent of all disease and illness.
What is stress (and why are there so many misconceptions)?
Stress is something we need to define more fully so we understand how we can best overcome it. Conversationally, we may speak of “the stress of the job” or “the stress of a divorce,” using the term “stress” to refer to external events that are potentially stressful. More accurately we should reserve the term for the internal bodily reactions to those situations that disrupt the body’s naturally coherent state. The external events that are potentially stress producing in the body are known as “stressors” or just stressful situations, to which individuals react very differently.
How stress is typically eliminated.
The rest we gain during sleep is an important requirement for allowing the body to heal itself by gaining a measure of coherence during sleep. However, while we have naturally eliminated a lot of stress through sleep, the statistics on stress related disorders tell us that most people are not winning their fight against stress and have come to accept being stressed as “normal.” And today, natural remedies have gained popularity for relieving stress and addressing almost every disorder. One website advocates almost a dozen natural ways to alleviate stress, including exercise of almost any kind, which can increase endorphins and put us in a better mood; massage to eliminate toxins; warm baths to increase circulation; aromatherapies to soothe the mind; talking to someone about your problems; keeping a stress diary; organizing your environment; and mindfully coping with your anger. Some of these strategies may be beneficial, while others will likely do nothing for your stress.
Stress is an internal condition, something physical, so it should be obvious that talking about your problems, keeping a stress diary, organizing your environment, or even practicing being mindful of your anger can’t heal an existing physical disorder. It is not that these things can’t be helpful in some ways—but they don’t change the abnormal level of chemicals or other physiological disorders, the internal abnormality that we call stress.
Coherence is the opposite of stress.
Physical anti-stress strategies such as exercise, yoga, massage, and aromatherapy can have a significant effect in healing when done properly. They have a physical effect and, therefore, can work because stress is a physical abnormality. The Vedic health strategies (Ayurveda) recommend exercise, yoga, and aromatherapy. However, in the ancient Vedic system of health, for centuries the paramount strategy for human development, and for overcoming what we now know of as stress, is meditation, revived in this age as Transcendental Meditation (TM).
Allowing the mind and body to gain a coherent state is the antidote to stress because the coherent meditative state is the opposite physiologically of the disordered stressed state.
We should expect that if the brain and body are gaining a coherent state, many disorders would be prevented before they become serious health problems. But this is ordinarily hard to measure scientifically. There are, however, several important prevention studies. One small study by medical researchers in Spain was published in 2014 in the International Journal of Yoga. It studied 19 subjects who regularly practiced TM, and they were compared to 16 healthy subjects who were not practicing any form of meditation or relaxation technique. The laboratory tests showed the TM meditators had significantly more of the white blood cells known as T-cells, which destroy virally infected cells and tumor cells and are sometimes likened to soldiers who search out and destroy targeted invaders.
Perhaps the most important studies on TM and the prevention of illness were those conducted by Drs. David Orme-Johnson and Robert Herron. Orme-Johnson, a psychologist associated with Maharishi International University, conducted an extensive five-year study that looked at insurance data to determine the medical visits of over 2,000 TM meditators as compared to non-meditators of comparable age, gender, and profession, who had similar health insurance policies. Over the five-year period, the TM meditators had significantly fewer incidents of illness in 17 medical treatment categories, including 87 percent less hospitalization for heart disease, 87 percent less for nervous system disorders; 73 percent less for nose, throat, and lung diseases (including virus caused diseases), 65 percent less for metabolic disease, including diabetes, and 55 percent less for cancer.
Overcoming job burnout and the stress of growing up.
Work doesn’t have to be the stressor it is. Josh Griffith, mentioned earlier, went from being burned out on the job to having the enthusiasm of a new hire. Josh was the head writer for the popular daytime TV shows “Days of Our Lives” and “The Young and the Restless.” In 2013, he was having serious stress issues at work, and he started looking into meditation practices. Author Jay Marcus interviewed Josh in early 2016 after he had tried other techniques and had been practicing TM for a year. Josh said:
“I saw a celebrated doctor on television and decided to try a meditation he said would help. It was kind of helping, but then the work issues got worse and I was still feeling the same way that I had before.”
Then Josh saw an interview about TM on television, and he decided to try it. He said:
“In the world of daytime TV, you’re having to create five shows a week. As head writer [The Young and the Restless] I was responsible for all the stories that aired. I walked away from it a few years ago because I felt burned out. It was too much. It was too much of an output, and I didn’t feel the quality of the output was something I could be proud of. It was taking such a toll on me that I walked away. Then I started doing TM. I thought I was a meditator before starting TM. Boy, was I wrong. I was offered the head job on Days of Our Lives, and I agreed to take it because with TM I already felt sort of a creative energy bubbling back inside of me. So, I stepped back in and it was sort of the case where I felt like ‘I’m back at the beginning of the career.’
I felt like I had the energy that I had when I first started doing daytime. I was able to come in and the ideas flowed nonstop, whereas before I didn’t know if I would be able to finish this. TM allowed me to generate so many story ideas that it was, in a way, sort of like a rebirth. You know I’ve had a 30-year career. And the changes happened within a month of practicing TM. I feel like I’m starting [my career] now. I feel like a 25-year-old again.”
Excerpt from The Coherence Effect by Robert Keith Wallace, PhD, Jay Marcus, and Christopher S. Clark, MD