The coronavirus-induced lockdown has sent many of us spiraling into loneliness, anxiety and stress. With time, these adversities are assuming chronic proportions, and chronic stress has disastrous effects on our mental, physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Students as well as the job seekers have been most vulnerable in this unfortunate situation. There are reports that suggest the levels of anxiety and stress are higher than ever before, and this gives rise to the importance of stress management and mindfulness techniques. And as one looks at this scenario through the lens of a meditative and contemplative mind, this calamity is also an opportunity, and these times can indeed be a boon for not only the blossoming of nature without, but also amelioration of our nature within.
Before discussing a couple of meditative techniques which can truly help students and job seekers fight anxiety and stress, one must clearly understand that meditation or mindfulness is a continuous flow and should not be reduced to limited sessions or acts. Meditation must be taken as a way of life and should never be a prisoner of the mat and the stopwatch. It should be like an ally that walks by the side of the meditator, continuously bridging the gap between the conscious and the subconscious mind. The tranquility of the meditative state should transcend the ‘Adhishthan’ (sitting session) and synchronize with all the activities and situations of our daily lives. This is known as meditative living and is imperative in transforming an individual’s reactive reptilian mind into a responsive, insightful and conscious ecosystem.
One of the most prevalent techniques is ‘Aana Paan’ or breath meditation. This technique uses the natural act of our respiration to sharpen our focus. All the meditator needs to do is sit comfortably in an upright position, keeping the spine erect and relaxed and bring all his attention to the inhaling and exhaling of air. Ignoring the wandering of the mind, the practitioner needs to bring it back over and over again to breathing. The entire process must be done in a non-judgmental, observational state. Our brain comprises of self-referential processing regions, known as the Default Mode Network (DMN), which inhibit an individual from being in the moment, and increases mind wandering, acutely affecting the secretions of dopamine, serotonin and endorphins – or what we know as happiness hormones. Several researches have shown that breath meditation decreases the density of grey cells around the DMN region of the brain, making it less of an impediment in the path of one’s mental peace and happiness. Grey cells also decrease around the Amygdala, which influences stress, fear, insecurities and blood pressure. This decrease in grey cells is balanced efficiently by an increase in these cells in regions associated with memory, retentiveness, learning and emotional intelligence.
One of the greatest problems that students and job seekers are confronted with is irregular sleeping patterns, which lead to insomnia. ‘Yog Nidra’ is extremely beneficial in such cases, as it makes up for all the lack of sleeping hours in just a 30-minute session. In this technique, a meditator falls into deep yogic sleep by lying on an even surface. Initially, the attention needs to be merged with the natural flow of breath, exactly like in the ‘Aana Paan’ and then slowly, the meditator guides his attention throughout his body – slowly and with equanimity, until a state of self-hypnotic deep sleep is reached. ‘Yoga Nidra’ increases the alpha waves or the Berger waves of our brains, which are low frequency waves produced by the thalamic pacemaker cells, in the occipital lobe. An increase in these waves gives the human mind a unique ability to assess information, while also relatively staying at rest. This also positively affects our cardio vascular functions, taking the load off our heart muscles and helping them transport oxygen more effectively to various body parts. Several researches have demonstrated that the same waves combined with a good lifestyle, also decrease inflammation in our blood vessels – warding off several health complications.
Besides these techniques, students and those who are in the pursuit of jobs must remember that investing in oneself also means realizing the balance between our mind and body. Thus, exercises like walking, yoga, sports and other physical activities must not be put on the back burner. Physical workouts help in the release of dopamine and serotonin besides boosting positive mindset and are thus pivotal in flushing out stress and anxiety that might accumulate during these trying times. It is important to perform these workouts mindfully for maximum results – especially for students and job seekers. Given how most of their time is spent on mobiles and laptops, it is easy for them to get trapped in the stressful logarithmic bubbles of the social media which induce nothing but insecurities and stress. The greatest antidote to accumulated mental and muscular stagnation is using our will as a whip and activating our ‘Rajas’ or our kinetic energy and spending time in stretching and flexing our muscles.
Also, time must be regularly invested in maintaining contact with nature and animals. Inculcating habits of interacting with nature and animals through walks in green areas, gardening, playing with pets or strays helps awakening ‘pragya’ or faculty of wisdom according to the ancient Indian scriptures. Several psychological researches demonstrate that interacting with animals keeps stress and anxiety at bay and helps one to lead an integral and peaceful life.
A simple technique that is immensely helpful in strengthening our interactions with nature is ‘Prakriti Sadhna’ — which can be tremendously helpful for students. All you need to do is sit in an outdoor environment, like a park, or a garden adjacent to a river with your eyes closed and bring all your awareness to the various interactions your three senses — smell, hearing and touch — are experiencing with nature. ‘Prakriti Sadhna’ or just mindful interactions with nature have shown to increase the Telomere strands of our chromosomes. Telomeres are complex proteins that help in reducing damage to our DNA and cellular structure. A less density or a shorter Telomere strand is directly linked to Heart attacks, Diabetes and production of carcinogens in the body.
Finally, one needs to realise that life is a holistic multidimensional flow, and if we assign a lot of importance to a few perceptions, stress will undoubtedly creep in. Unlike any flow, life must be kinetically balanced and our existence should be mindfully diversified on several planks, and then even if there is failure in a couple of areas, it does not appear that we have failed entirely as a being. Thus, while being engaged in building your career, also judiciously make time every day for entertainment, workout, interactions with friends and families, nature and animals, and above all your own self.
The author is a social activist, spiritual trainer and chief mentor at Varenyum.