Shouldn’t we learn to de-stress?

Published in the Daily Times on April 30th

In 2011, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said there were about 451,377 people, including 345,899 women, suffering from psychological problems in FATA. In this region, on a daily basis, people witness acts of war and trauma. Mothers have lost their children in shelling, people have lost limbs and others face worsening economic hardships as they try to make ends meet. Although this is where the violence is at its worst, Pakistan’s overall collateral damage in the war on terror is not just the 5,000 soldiers that have died as a result of the logistical and military support to the war but thousands others who witness the aftermath of terrorism. Violence also extends to target killings and kidnappings across all provinces, particularly in Balochistan. Karachi recently saw a surge of killings as chaos turned to terror.

This violence is not limited to people subjected to it but also to people who consume it from the media on primetime news every day in their homes. Children particularly grow up with a sense of insecurity. Given the nascent stage of media production in Pakistan, often the lack of guidelines results in a sensationalist and graphic nature of violent news and events, therefore, even without being in it physically, one experiences the trauma of the environment one lives in.

Now more than ever, it is important for people to find some semblance of civility and peace. This peace cannot be found externally because as a developing country in geopolitical crisis, things will pretty much remain as they are, but we can seek it internally.

A spiritual leader has recently visited Pakistan from India called Sri Ravi Shankar who has pioneered the group that has worldwide followers in the thousands called ‘The Art of Living’. On his second visit to Pakistan last month, he advised Pakistan to “de-stress”, and though this can be taken on the one hand with a grain of salt, on the other it is the one thing we need as a nation.

The Art of Living is non-religious, but it seeks to create a spiritual awakening of a healthier person through a few simple breathing techniques and life philosophies. With a focus on the breath, using pioneering work such as Prayanama, Bhastrika and the Sudershan Kria, any person, rich or poor, can transform his consciousness to work for him/her. The science behind it is simple. With these daily breathing exercises, the lungs pump more oxygen to the brain and other organs, making thinking sharper. The resulting calm that then becomes part of one’s nature helps in reducing ailments like blood pressure, and helps tremendously on the psychological side by eliminating anxiety.

This is an alternative and cost effective way of coping better with issues that we face in our society, including terrorism, overpopulation, lack of resources, lack of education and health facilities. A change in lifestyle does not provide a magic wand, but it grants us the power to feel more in control of our situation, whatever it may be. This sense of responsibility simply makes for a better citizenry.

Once sceptical, and now as someone who swears by it, I feel the Art of Living programme should be supported by government and community leaders to reduce crime, stress and the general sense of indifference that has crept into our culture. It is particularly needed in the areas where we are experiencing war and trauma, especially for children.

One of the many things that I learned after the Art of Living basic course is the interconnectedness of our community and our natural environment. With this comes the feeling that we are not mere pawns in the grander scheme of life but that we have a role to play in the service of our people. Nothing but a connection with self can give you that realisation. The Art of Living does not compete with religion in that regard; it gives it a more physically balanced connection.

The Art of Living courses are available across Pakistan’s major cities, turning more and more Pakistanis into conscientious beings. No one was ever taught the most important thing in life — how to be happy, and how one can be content with whatever one has. We need to experience that art just once at least and pass it on to our coming generations that are fed on a diet of hate and bigotry.

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