For those who have been following the Mumbai Siege and the news on the New York Wal-Mart mob murder, I suspect you are as stunned and horrified by the tragedy and madness of late. These are (sigh)… challenging times.
Yet in today’s edition of The New York Times‘ Week in Review, we read the following: ‘No matter how stressful the conditions, some of us are just genetically inclined towards calm…. or else we learn to manage the neuroticism.’ I’m not sure claims of suffering from high level cortical stress count in a case of neuroticism. Sure, in Jewish and Italian jokes this side of the Pacific, the motif of the suffering mother lends itself to Freudian and Hollywood overtones. But we’re in the age of a paradigm shift, where cultural stereotypes give way to real time strategies that manage the sweaty, messy corporeality of stress: Crying, Screaming, acting out — the drama of human emotion makes it damn near impossible for some of us to calm ourselves down.
One might think this is all a chicken or egg question, but as contemporary neuroscience makes clear, stress–-be it PTSD, sudden shock or chronic stress endured by those in untenable situations–shuts down thinking. Period. The effects can be neurologically devastating: In the U.S., University of California, Irvine researchers have shown that short term stress like long term chronic stress, reduces cellular connections in the hippocampus, the brain region identified with operations of learning and memory. At a time when stress levels are soaring through roofs of homes sliding into default mortgages, we really do need to find a collective way to calm down.
In weighing the options, meditation seems to make a difference, both in reducing stress and in creating some powerful neurological grown patterns. Notable research conducted at mindfulness medical clinics set up at UCLA and at Harvard signifies a movement toward using meditation to mediate stress and poor health. Harvard researcher Sarah Lazar has already shown that Mindfulness Meditation is correlated with a growth of cortical tissue in the frontal cortex and insula (the area said to integrate emotionally relevant, sense perceptions.)
I invite readers to peruse this blogsite for how-to’s in stress-reducing, meditative breathing practice, or write in for suggestions of practices that bear relevance to your current situation and learning style.
May the breath be with you.