What is Stress?
Stress is a response of the human mind and the body to a perception of the gap between what we want and our reality on the ground. The perception of this gap is mental in nature and therefore our mind is where our stress originates. Stress originates as a mental distress.
Mental Stress causes Physical Stress
The brain is the physical tool of the mind through which the mind interacts with the body. This interaction happens through our nervous system which transmits the control signals to the various parts of the body and feedback signals back to the brain. These signals are electro-chemical in nature. The distressed mind thus distresses the body.
Mostly all body functions run automatically. Breathing is one of the few physical functions that can run automatically or under conscious control. When the mind is stressed, it has the brain affect the body through the nervous system in many ways. One such way makes the breathing process fast, shallow and arrhythmic.
Physical Relaxation causes Mental Relaxation
One can take conscious charge of the breathing process and make it slow, deep and rhythmic. Doing so relaxes the body. The body then feeds back to the mind through the nervous system and the brain about its relaxed state and that feedback relaxes the mind.
Stress: A Barrier to Being Spiritual
Learning to be spiritual involves instruction in how to keep one's personal stress at a low level. High levels of stress keep us focused on our stressors which are invariably of selfish nature. Spirituality involves caring for others. It is obvious that if we are focused on our selfish concerns, we cannot simultaneously be truly unselfish. Stress management abilities to keep our stress at a low level is a necessary prerequisite for spiritual growth and spiritual behavior, although by itself it may not be a sufficient condition.
Stress prevents insight necessary for learning in general and learning new modes of behavior in particular. It is an established fact that stress also makes us unhealthy, both physically and mentally. Our ability to keep stress at a low level through stress management techniques thus enhances our physical health and mental health also as it enhances our learning ability considered essential for spiritual growth.
Spiritual development is a matter of learning through personal insight. High levels of stress inhibit focused thinking necessary for personal insight. Instruction in stress management is therefore an important component in teaching in general and in teaching spirituality in particular.
It is worthy of note that there are many approaches to stress management.
Deep Breathing For Stress Management: A Physical Technique
Deep diaphragmatic breathing is a physiological technique for stress management based upon the observation of the natural breathing rhythm of new born babies. Babies are relatively free of stress. On observing their breathing process, you notice that their breath is rhythmic, slow and diaphragmatic. Observing a child lie on its back, one notices that its belly rises on breathing in and falls on breathing out. As babies go through growing pains, their pattern of breathing changes. Their breath becomes arrhythmic, fast and shallow. This happens due to stress resulting in the growth process.
The use of deep breathing in stress reduction is based upon the observations in the above paragraph. If stress leads to shallow, fast and arrhythmic breathing, then deep, slow and rhythmic breathing will lead to a lower level of stress. This in fact is found to be the case.
Conscious deep breathing therefore provides a direct physical technique of opening oneself to learning in general, learning about spirituality and how to be spiritual in particular .