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Self-Regulation and Stress Management

by Daniel Hertz

Last winter my wife Nikki Strong and I co-taught a Meditation 1 class at The Meditation Center in Minneapolis. As I glanced at the students on the first day of class, I could see tensed foreheads, clenched jaws and fists, elevated shoulders, rapid chest breathing, and fidgeting. The students were exhibiting common symptoms of stress. When I asked the students why they signed up for the class, most said they were looking for healthier ways to manage their stress. I remembered very clearly that I had said the same thing at my first meditation class. Later on, the practice of meditation became more of a spiritual endeavor for me. But in the beginning, it definitely started out as a desperate plea for help with stress management.

Stress is not all bad. We need a certain amount of it to respond to challenges in our environment. The ideal response to a stressor we encounter is that your adrenal gland gives you a shot of cortisol to increase your energy—but then your brain quickly and firmly shuts off the cortisol secretion when the stressful event is over. This is a healthy response. Stress becomes unhealthy when it doesn’t shut off after the stressful event is over. This is called chronic stress. Chronic stress is the grinding stress that wears people down day after day, year after year. Chronic stress destroys bodies, minds and lives. It wreaks havoc from such things as poverty, dysfunctional families, or being trapped in a despised job.

Stress is difficult for scientists to define because it is such a subjective phenomenon. It is not a germ or virus. Everyone has a unique way of expressing stress. For example, some people get cold hands, others have increased heart rate. By attaching non-invasive sensors to the skin, a Biofeedback Stress Profile allows us to quantify a person’s specific stress response.

The American Institute of Stress defines stress as the body's reaction to any change that requires an adjustment or response. All the clinical research confirms that the perceived sense of having little or no control over something that is important to us is always stressful. Because of how we are conditioned, often it seems like someone or some place is giving us the stress. But it is clear that the stress is due to an internal reaction. As Swami Rama says in Conscious Living (Freedom from Stress), Volume 2 Audiobook: “Who gives you stress? Outsiders do not come to you to tell you to have stress.” And in his book Freedom from Stress, Dr. Phil Nuernberger writes, “By understanding the source of stress, ourselves, we can begin to alter and conquer it.”

The specific level of stress response we need for peak performance varies from task to task. Self-regulation is the key to finding this optimal level of physiological activation.  Self-regulation refers to the ability to monitor your physiological and emotional states and alter them in accordance with the demands of the situation and environment. The parasympathetic side of the autonomic nervous system helps to slow down the stress response. Biofeedback and meditation training can strengthen the parasympathetic response.

The practices of meditation and biofeedback can help us notice subtle changes in our physiological and emotional state. A key to learning self-regulation for stress management is to notice when you first begin to feel the signs of stress. When this happens, here is a practice to help break the conditioned response:

  • Begin to slow and deepen your breathing.
  • Move to diaphragmatic breathing.
  • Move to a rate of breathing that is comfortable and effortless. The approximate rate of five seconds on the inhalation and five seconds on the exhalation is ideal for balancing the nervous system, but do not force this rate.
  • Emphasize the exhalation.
  • Relax through the heart center by cultivating positive thoughts and emotions such as joy, love, compassion, forgiveness, and gratitude.

Editor’s Note:

Please see this video of Daniel Hertz talking about Biofeedback: Daniel Hertz Biofeedback [Click on title.]

Daniel and Nikki are scheduled to give a Workshop on Self-Regulation and Biofeedback at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) 1st – 6th November 2020.

Daniel Hertz (MS, BCB, E-RYT 500) has been on the faculty of The Meditation Center in Minneapolis since 1995 and has been offering individual Biofeedback sessions since 2007. He is internationally certified as a Biofeedback practitioner through BCIA.org. Daniel is also the author of Swami Hari: I am a simple forest monk, which is available on Amazon. His upcoming memoir, Everything is A Little Bit Alright, is scheduled for release in the summer of 2020.



The Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Meditation

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Breath Awareness     Qualified Preceptor
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