The Evolution of Stress and how Meditation can help

Our natural stress response is a wonderful piece of biological engineering. Without it, we probably wouldn’t be here today. Our great, great, great (repeat a lot) grandparents, happily sucking on Wurthers Originals during the Paleolithic period, relied on it to stay alive. Faced with the imminent attack of a sabre toothed tiger, our stress response was activated and the required hormones would course through their bodies, diverting all energies to the areas that were needed for a swift retreat. The fight or flight response is a necessity born out of our evolutionary past. It’s essential and perfectly natural. However if we don’t give our bodies the necessary time to calm down and revert back to a more balanced state, the effects can be less than desirable.

Cortisol is one of the hormones released when we’re stressed. Higher levels of cortisol in our blood can suppress the thyroid function, increase our blood pressure, lower immunity and can cause digestive problems throughout our body. Prolonged periods of stress can be very harmful to our health causing a variety of ailments that include cardiovascular problems, decreased muscle tissue and imbalances to our blood sugar. Remarkably 77% of us regularly experience the physical symptoms associated with stress with a further 73% experiencing psychological symptoms, ranging from feelings of fatigue to depression. So what’s happened? Why are we experiencing greater levels of stress than our ancestors?

Modern day life is obviously very different. There are an almost innumerable number of catalysts for the fight of flight response. Whether it was dealing with an angry boss, struggling to meet a deadline or simply sitting in a traffic jam, feeling stressed is unfortunately a common occurrence in today’s society. We constantly live in a state of perpetual movement, rushing from one task to the next, barely giving our minds and bodies time to relax. It’s this prolonged exposure and regular activation of our stress response that unbalances the delicate homeostasis in our bodies. Research from Cambridge University estimates that 8 million men, women and children in the UK suffer from anxiety disorders costing £9.8 billion a year in treatment, largely in pharmaceuticals and counseling. The evolution of our bodies hasn’t had time to catch up with frantic development from the industrial and digital revolution.

We can get an understanding of what our bodies were designed for by looking at the hunter-gatherer tribes that still exist in the remote corners of the world. They typically spend 2-4 hours a day performing all the necessary tasks for survival. The rest is dedicated to socialising, telling stories and building social bonds that are the cornerstone of happiness anywhere in the world. The lack of deadlines, answering endless emails, commuting to work and applying for a mortgage means that the levels of stress they encounter on a daily basis is much lower that that of the UK. Ailments like diabetes and cardiovascular issues are rarely found. Now while it’s impractical for everyone to throw away their shopping trolley, start catching squirrels on Clapham Common and quit work,  there are ways to help remove the frequent stresses from our lives.

Vedic meditation is a meditative technique that’s perfect for coping with stress in the modern world. It’s easy, enjoyable and the results are often immediate. A simple daily practice can help the mind to switch off and allows the body time to recuperate from effects of stress. A 20-minute meditation can facilitate a rest that’s up to 2 to 5 times deeper than typical nights sleep; allowing us to feel refreshed and rejuvenated. Setting us up for either the day or evening ahead.

The more we meditate, the less stress and anxiety we have. The prefrontal cortex (area of the brain that processes information relating to our experiences) actually changes. The neural connections that are created and reinforced when we experience a stressful event are weakened. In turn the connections with the areas of our brain that are used for reasoning are strengthened, so when we experience a stressful event, we can look upon them from a more rational and balanced point of view.

So why is Vedic meditation different and how can it help us cope with stress?

Vedic meditation is not a monastic practice, designed for monks who are removed from society. Its origins predate monastic traditions and h for active people with jobs, responsibilities and complex relationships.

Vedic meditation uses mantras to help the mind naturally calm down. Where other techniques are based on contemplation or concentration (e.g. focusing on a candle), with Vedic meditation we’re not thinking about what to think. The mantra allows the mind to naturally settle and go into a different state of awareness.

There are literally thousands of different mantras that can be used, each designed with its own unique benefits and purpose. However, they tend to be one-size-fits-all and are limited in their overall effect. Vedic meditation draws on a special class of mantras that give the deepest possible meditative experience. Everyone is given their own personal mantra that resonates with them the best.

It can be practiced anywhere, all you need is a chair. It can be performed on a train, during a lunch break or quietly at home. The recommended duration is 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.

Regular practice. As with anything in life, the more you practice the better the results. Search for a good teacher to fully understand the technique and which mantras to use. This way you can become self-sufficient and will have all the necessary tools for whatever life can throw at you.

Short of befriending Marty McFly and asking for a lift in his Delorian, meditation can be one of the most effective techniques of travelling back in time and restoring your body to what nature intended. The modern world is full of wonderful advancements, meditation can simply help you enjoy them without feeling overwhelmed and stressed. Life in your cave will be much happier and healthier as a result.

About the Author: Will Williams is the founder of Will Williams Meditation in London.  Follow him on Google+