Yoga For Stress Relief

When you feel stressed, remember: "There's more to life than increasing its speed." (M. Gandhi)

Posted On : 23 January 2017.

Posted By : Yogi Mahesh Chetan.

If you were to walk into a so-called corporate office, you are most likely to find Mr. Stress. He is everywhere. You will hear him walking the corridors. At first, you might think that it’s intent or the demands of his job that make him walk faster. But, we don’t judge books by their covers though, do we?

Let's face it; we tend to use this word in our daily conversations. But do we really know what it is? What causes it?

Let's look at stress in two perspectives.

Western concept of stress

Hans Salye defined stress as ‘Body’s non-specific response to a demand placed on it”. An athlete needs to put a certain amount of stress on their muscles to get stronger. We humans are made to withstand a reasonable amount of stress. So, stress is not totally unnatural. However, just like a rubber band, we have our limits. If pushed too far, our response to the demands placed on us will break us apart.

Stress is not necessarily some thing bad. It is part of life. It is how we manage it that makes the difference in its functionality or otherwise. Imagine a world without stress. It is unexciting, boring, lazy and lethargic. The stress of exhilarating, creative and successful work is beneficial while that of failure, humiliation or infection is detrimental.

There are two kinds of stress

Positive stress is called ‘Eustress’. It is healthy, creative and joyful way of growth and expansion, testing one’s abilities, acquiring new skills and broadening horizons.

The negative aspect of stress, called ‘Distress’ is what we often refer to as stress. It interferes with performance and creates negative emotions, hopelessness, vulnerability and frustration.

The negative effects of stress can also be explained scientifically. The normal style of metabolism that builds the body called anabolic metabolism converts to it opposite, catabolic metabolism, which breaks down tissues. Adrenaline launches a cascade of responses – blood pressure rises, muscles tense up, breathing becomes shallow and rapid, sexual desire and hunger are suppressed, digestion stops, brain becomes hyper alert and the senses uncannily clear. So, as a temporary expedient, the stress response is vital, but if it is not terminated in time, the effects of catabolic metabolism are disastrous.

Yogic concept of stress

Upanishads proclaim that our original and natural state of existence is that of absolute happiness and bliss, a state of Ananda. Patanjali called it ‘Swarupa’. It is a stress free state. The mental modifications (Chitta Vrittis) disturb us from that state and bring in imbalances is what a yogi will refer to as stress.

In eastern philosophy, stress is defined as VEGA – excessive speed. Stresses are our emotional reactions (UDVEGA). The source Udvega is fear. These negative reactions cause pain and leads to ailments and diseases. Imbalances at the emotional level manifest as upsurges, which are caused by strong likes and dislikes.

In other words, stress begins in the mind as uncontrolled surge of emotions (Bhavana). Emotions such as anxiety, depression, tension, anger, frustration etc are psychological responses to demanding situations.

Stress will exist; awareness can help you overcome it

Yoga is a skillful trick to calm down the mind. Quite often, we are not aware of ourselves. We are ignorant of our own limitations and potentials. We take stimulants like coffee, tea, etc., and call it relaxing. Knowing how to identify a problem is the first step towards finding a solution. So let’s look at some examples of how stress can affect us:

  1. High muscle tone evidenced by stiff muscles in several parts of the body. (Neck. Arms, back, legs etc).
  2. Increased pulse rate (Normal around 70/) and high blood pressure (Normal 120/80).
  3. High breathing rate (Normal 15-20/M).
  4. Periodic out bursts of anger, fear, depression etc.
  5. General irritability and boredom.
  6. Restlessness, lack of concentration and decreasing quality in thinking.

A regular yoga practice will make you more aware. When you get deeper into your practice, you will start paying more attention to your life, situations and emotions.

Use your yoga practice to manage your stress

"Stress is like weather, every body talks about it and no body does anything about it."

It is difficult to get a hold of the mind. Sometimes we have to trick the mind to get it under our control. Luckily, yogis have already done the hard work. Knowing the limitations of time, inclination and modern style of living, Swamis and Gurus of repute have designed some easy to do practices. The principles behind the practices are based on relaxing the body, slowing down the breath and calming the mind. Again, developing internal awareness is essential.

The following are the practices recommended at different levels of our existence.

Annamayakosha: Asanas with slow movement to combat the rush from within.

The stagnation that occurs is due to automation. It is therefore necessary to keep awareness throughout the practice to unravel the deeper layers of stress and relaxation.

When practicing, give enough time in-between poses for relaxation. Here, asanas should be preformed only up to an extent permissible. Touch that pleasurable pain and let it go.

Pranamyakosha: Pranayama slows down breath, makes it rhythmic and deep. It has tremendous affect in calming down the mind.

Manomayakosha: Retaining awareness and relaxation can help gain mastery over the mind. Having tasted the blissful state during the first two practices, the mind will set itself into a meditative mood. Here, further meditative practices can be initiated. Guided meditation techniques like yoga nidra and deep relaxation practices can also be included here.

Vijnanamayakosha: A change in the programming has to take place. The software inside needs a change. The ignorance (Avidya) over the goal of life and happiness need to change. A happy, healthy, peaceful, efficient and harmonious life with inner awareness is the goal of life. As we study scriptures, listen to people of knowledge and make a strong resolution (Samkalpa) and keep repeating it in the mind, we can get to the deeper layers of our consciousness and slowly but steadily change our attitude towards life.

Remember, there’s more to life than increasing its speed. Don’t let the outside world affect your inner peace. Your goals will still be there tomorrow. Don’t be complacent but don’t be consumed by achievements. Your quality of existence today matter. After all, it takes days seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years to make a lifetime. So how you feel every second will add up. Pay attention to the seconds that will make up your years!