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Stress...How to Cope With It

Stress is an imbalance at the mental, physical or emotional level. According to Yoga, one becomes a victim of stress not on account of a stressful situation but on account of one's inability to cope with a changing condition. Stress hazards decrease the quality of life and can lead to many ailments such as heart attacks, peptic ulcers, arthritis, allergies, sexual problems, bowel disorders and so on. 

There are two types of stress: Eustress (healthy, essential stress) and Distress (morbid stress), e.g. mental or physical strain, anger, frustration, tension. Irrespective of the cause, the effects of stress are seen at the highest level in the brain and travel down the body causing imbalances in the autonomic nervous system and in the endocrine system. Four distinct stress attack stages or phases are recognized: Psychic, Psychosomatic, Somatic and Organic.


We need to develop and enhance our potential and capacity to cope with the situation. It can be achieved by making attitudinal changes and other modifications in life. Change in attitude and modification of lifestyle are the two pillars on which the management of stress through Yoga is based. This includes Yoga, Pranayama, Meditation, Yoga-nidra, Diet and a daily work schedule. 

It actually means living a self-disciplined life of Anasakti (non-attachment). Anasakti is the middle path of Asakti (attachment) and Vairagya (detachment) which could be followed in order to improve the quality of life and social well-being. This provides lasting happiness and peace without being disturbed by Asakti (attachment). A person high in Anasakti performs all his duties and acts with a sense of responsibility and task involvement without any additional expectation. He performs a task or serves a person or institution in the spirit of a Karma Yogi. Living in an air-conditioned house with modern amenities or in a mud house on a mat does not make any difference to him and no stressful situation will harm or affect him.


The Yogic approach towards stress is not to deal with the manifest symptoms like fear, anger, palpitation, sleeplessness etc. but rather eliminate the root cause. Yoga balances, harmonizes and brings integration between physical and mental health. Yogic methods of stress management include maintaining the physical body through the practice of Asana, awakening the vital energy through Pranayama and relaxation through Meditation and Yoga-nidra.


The definition of Asana, in traditional texts, is 'Sthiram Sukham Asanam'. The word Sthiram means homeostasis or balance; Sukham means pleasure and Asanam means physical posture. It is the posture that produces homeostasis in the system – restores endocrinal balance, balances the inhibitors and stimulator circuits, regulates secretions and optimizes the functions of the entire system of the body. 'Sukham' also relates to the state of mind, which is relaxed. Muscles contain stretch receptors; the stretching movements of Asanas send relaxing impulses to the brain, which induce a relaxed state of mind.


When we stand, sit or lie down for prolonged periods, our muscles accumulate stress and consequently lactic acid, which causes a feeling of stiffness. To remove this stiffness when we do Asanas with concentration and awareness, they activate tone and revitalize the organs, massage the joints, stretch and relax the muscles, optimize endocrine gland secretions, develop stamina and promote internal awareness. The practice of simple Asanas such as Tadasana, Tiryaka Tadasana, Kati Chakrasana and flexibility exercises are very useful. They improve blood circulation and as a result toxins are drained away.


Pranayama is generally defined as breath control. The word Pranayama is comprised of two roots: 'Prana' plus 'Ayama'. Prana means 'vital force' or 'life force' and Ayama is defined as 'extension' or 'expansion'. Thus, the word Pranayama means 'extension or expansion of the dimension of Prana'. The techniques of Pranayama provide the method whereby flow of Prana in the Nadis is regulated, activated and purified, inducing physical and mental stability.


Physical activities such as exercise, work, sleep, intake of food and sexual relations all affect the distribution and flow of Prana in the body. Faculties of mind such as emotion, thought and imagination affect the Pranic body even more. Irregularities in lifestyle, dietary indiscretions and stress deplete and obstruct the Pranic flow. This results in what people experience as being drained of energy. Depletion of energy in a particular Prana leads to the devitalization of the organs and limbs which Prana governs and ultimately to disease or metabolic dysfunction. The techniques of Pranayama reverse this process, energizing and balancing the different Pranas within the Pranamaya Kosha.


One of the prime needs of today is to learn to relax. Sleep is not relaxation. Yoga nidra has the capacity to induce deep sleep in only twenty minutes. In Yoga nidra the experience of relaxation means moving from outside to inside, becoming aware of this introversion and maintaining balance and stability. When we sleep consciously then we become aware of how the mind and consciousness are interacting with the body, senses and objects. When we attain this awareness then existing turbulences and distractions will settle down in a natural way. Relaxing the disturbed, agitated mind can be achieved through the relaxation practice of Yoga -nidra.


On the basis of thousands of years of experience, Yogis are emphatic on the point that non-vegetarian foods cause increasing tension in the body and mind. Rather, pure foods, such as fruits, milk and milk products, nuts, cereals, vegetables and others are more harmonious to the body and mind. An occasional fast on fruit diet or a raw food diet is also beneficial. These have proven very helpful in relaxing the body and recharging it with fresh Pranic energy.


A person under stress is normally rushed for time or tends to eat fast. His eating habits and timings become haphazard. As the stressful situation builds up tension within, his eating schedule gradually gets into disarray, till it is completely thrown out of gear. Therefore, eating under stress can create several complications, adding further to the burden of stress which the body-mind complex is already bracing against. A lackadaisical attitude to eating may starve the body of essential nutrition. Killing hunger with coffee, tea, cigarettes or other substitutes is not a solution to the problem, but may actually contribute to it.


While eating, try to follow the 'processes' the food undergoes till it reaches the stomach. When you are chewing, visualize how the taste buds convey the different tastes, via the taste ducts, to the brain. How, even before the food is served, your nose has already conveyed the aroma of the food and how your mouth begins to salivate at the mere hint of the aroma. Visualize the chewing process, the mixing of the chewed food with your saliva, the smooth movement down the throat after your tongue expertly pushes parts of the mouthful inside. With a little knowledge of physiology you can make a wonderful 'odyssey' down the stomach. It is only when we take such diverse perspectives in life that we are able to be aware of the richness of life around us. We become aware that eating is not mere polishing off of the plate, or that cooking is mere adding salt and spices. We also realize that stress is partly due to our own inability to look at the world through a broader perspective.


Do not fight stress and in the effort fall prey to alcohol, cigarettes or anxiolytic drugs. Instead develop and enhance your potential and capacity to cope with stress. Anxiolytic/antidepressant drugs do not bring lasting relief; they only help manage some of the somatic and organic phase symptoms of stress, while Yoga is most useful in controlling and treating stress in the early psychic and psychosomatic phases. The effect of Yoga is never evident immediately; in effect it is experienced slowly. Slowly one will start to experience that one's power of concentration and relaxation has increased. The mental and emotional tensions that are generated in day to day life slowly start settling down. Short sessions of twenty minutes each after one's bath in the morning, in the afternoon and at bedtime can be devoted to Yoga practice. Learn to alter your attitude and lifestyle. Practice Asana, Pranayama and Yoga- nidra regularly to bring about a change in attitude and to correct imbalances at the mental, physical and emotional levels.


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Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
A popular studio that helps you find natural solutions for complete health.
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