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Importance of Yoga in the Armed Forces

Yoga is a holistic science of life which deals with physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. Yoga practices increase physical fitness; discipline the mind; make you more focused & confident; cure health disorders and give you calmed and relaxed mind which are equally, if not more, relevant to the Army Personnel. There is no doubt that the normal PT schedule improves flexibility, endurance, etc. but one hour Yoga program consisting of Asanas, Pranayamas, Prayer (Omkar & Gayatri Mantra Chanting) and Yoga-nidra practice will have great effects on the autonomic equilibrium between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems which modulates and optimizes sympathetic activity in the stressful situations and immediately restores equilibrium.




STRESSFUL SITUATIONS

Stress can be physical, environmental, psychological or emotional. Stress can originate in the physical environment. We are talking of soldiers located on the snow-clad mountains of the Siachen glacier where they are exposed to the physical extremes of high altitude and hypoxia. They are also exposed to the psychological stresses of isolation, monotony, separation from family, with firing and shelling, at times, coming from across the border. In this way they are exposed to both physical and environmental extremes. If we go to the Southern Peninsula, we have the other extreme of a hot, humid environment. Stress can also originate in the family environment when there is incompatibility amongst family members. The occupational environment can also be stressful when people working together in an institution do not get along with their seniors, colleagues or subordinates. The social environment can be another source of stress. If your norms and the norms of others in your society are not parallel there is a gap or conflict which can lead to stress and distress.

STRESS AT WORK

Stress at work has become an integral part of everyday life. In the Armed forces, unfortunately, occupation related stress and associated hazards are increasing day by day. Quite often we hear of soldiers committing suicides and the news of soldiers running amok and killing their colleagues is not uncommon. The growing stress level resulting in mental illness, resulting in suicide and killing of fellow soldiers have caused an alarm among the armed forces top brass. At this juncture, in order to deal with problems, the authorities are embracing various means and measures to combat this menace. Yoga is being recognized as a highly effective and multi-beneficial tool to get over this problem. In Yoga we have three levels of perception towards stress management:

1. The first step towards stress management is to moderate the quality of perception. It is our attitude towards the perception of stress. If we do not perceive a factor within a situation as stressful then it is not stressful. We can moderate our attitudes, our values, our personality traits to react to stress constructively, to recognize the stress for what it is

2. Once we have rated a stress at a particular level, our reaction is then dependent on the quality of our perception. As these behavioural reactions are both physical and psychological they are amenable to moderation by Yogic practices. (On these two levels Yoga practices help to moderate our reactions to stress by harmonizing the sympathetic and parasympathetic activity, These also help in regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, sugar levels etc. Capability to counter stress is enhanced and the whole physical infrastructure becomes a more efficient and stronger medium for performance at level one and two).
3. The third level of stress management in Yoga is stress release. After a hard day in the office, when you go home you can practise Shavasana and Yoga-nidra to release stress. So Yoga helps with the management of experiential stress on all the three levels of perception.

VARIOUS YOGIC METHODS TO DEAL WITH STRESS

ASANA AND PRANAYAMA

The practice of Asanas and Pranayamas improve and sustain physical as well as mental efficiency. Although the Army personnel regularly practice physical training for strength, speed, endurance and flexibility but there is a lack of synchronization of breath and relaxation. Rather it can be said that this synchronized practice could bring them in balance of homeostatic efficacy on psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrine network which helps to enhance strength, endurance, vitality, body-mind harmony, balance, mental agility, flexibility, neuro-muscular coordination and concentration. Thus, this could contribute to reduce physical and mental stress level.

Pranayama practices are relevant in another way .The army today is operating under hostile climate conditions like high altitude where there is a lack of oxygen. This lack of oxygen can only be overcome by proper breathing to utilize maximum out of minimum. This is where Pranayama has its deeper efficacy. Likewise in hot climates as in deserts there is need to maintain and regulate the body temperature. The specific breathing techniques take care of this aspect in economizing human efforts and energy and body is able to sustain a higher core temperature.

YOGA-NIDRA

Yoganidra has a positive healing effect on military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). It creates a deep rest by improving physical, sensory and mental equilibrium and control. This ultimately helps to have a counterfoil to existing stress, pressure, tension, anxiety and improves overall well-being. Therefore it is responsible in a big way to reduce the stress level.

OMKAR AND GAYATRI MANTRA

Omkar and Gayatri Mantra recitation have positive impact in reducing stress by improving neuro-psycho spiritual benefits. As we know that such recitations contribute to create the positive stimulation and vibration on nerve plexus and Chakras whereas concentration on meaning of Mantra will encourage the positive thinking which helps in reduction of stress level.

YOGA CHAKRAS AND MILITARY PERSONNEL

There is a need for a number of personality factors to be developed to make a military unit into a well knit fighting force.

• The qualities of Mooladhara Chakra (the lowest of the Chakras), are the feelings of security and courage.

• In the field when the going gets tough, sometimes what is desperately needed is a sense of humour. Humour and joy are qualities of Swadhisthana Chakra.

• Military personnel need to be strong willed, confident and brave. Here we are talking about Manipura Chakra, which deals with power or guts, which is exactly where it is situated. Military personnel need to be able to relate to each other with compassion, camaraderie and faithfulness. They need those qualities because that is what binds a unit together.

• The relationship between the people in that unit and the compassion, the love for one's fellow men is an aspect of Anahata Chakra.
• A military unit also needs a facility for communication so that people know what they are doing. This facility for communication is Vishuddhi Chakra.

• Clarity of mind, the ability to see clearly what is going on, to see clearly one's relationship with the other people of the unit, is an aspect of Ajna Chakra.

We are talking about the actual psychology of these Chakras, the personality aspects, rather than the more esoteric aspects, because this is the most relevant aspect here. So, for a military unit to be on top in the field, these qualities need to be developed within.

THE ROLE OF YOGA & PRANAYAAMA

By moving different areas of the body, the physical practices or Asanas, activate the channels between the discs of the Chakras and the different centres of the nervous system associated with these aspects of the personality, in a physical way. The emotional aspects, especially centred around the limbic system and the hypothalamus in the brain, are also directly activated. In Pranayama a similar process occurs on the level of Pranic energy. The practice of Mudras and Bandhas redirects this Prana throughout the body.

MEDITATION

In the beginning the practice of Meditation is simply a process of internalizing the awareness. Pratyahara, the ability to go within and eliminate outside stimuli, is important for military personnel in a number of ways. For instance, when a military unit is undergoing continual bombardment and stress from outside, there are periods when the soldiers need to get as much rest as they can. The Yoga practices are a way of introverting the mind and consciously eliminating the external stimuli. There are techniques to eliminate thought processes such as, “Wouldn't it be terrible if one of those mortar bombs landed on me?” That facility has to be developed because a human system that is under stress continuously, twenty-four hours a day, becomes an inefficient system. Men in continuous combat need to be able to switch off when the opportunity is there.

CONCLUSION

If we are looking for a system to develop ourselves to peak efficiency, as human beings, as ordinary citizens, but also, and very importantly as military personnel, then the practices of Yoga are extremely effective. Yoga practice has a highly positive impact in the management of stress related problems. They are easy to learn, and the beauty of them is that they are already ours and have been ours for 5000 years. The strong need is that the various aspects of Yoga may suitably be embraced as a part of regular training particularly among the armed forces. It does not mean that Yoga need to replace physical training which is being followed in the Army but it can supplement it to achieve even better results. This finding also encourages the scope to carry out various research studies in this very regard.

 Dr. Rita Khanna

Aum Shanti