Stress is now considered to be a major risk factor for various cardiac and non-cardiac ailments. The victims are from all walks of life irrespective of their economic status, which most common in corporate sectors. With the fast pace of modern life, stress-related psychosomatic disorders ( certain disorders or ailments that are believed to be caused by stress factor which could affect our bodily systems with the active involvement of body and mind) such as heart attacks, peptic ulcers, arthritis, allergies, sexual problems, bowel disorders and so on are on rising in communities.
In this article, I've tried to encapsulate a steady and credible solution to the chronic process of stress. It's been rightly said that nothing heals like nature! Similarly, ‘Yoga', which is the gift of nature and our Indian heritage, plays a pivotal role in managing one's stress most naturally. To apply it effectively to our daily life, let us try to understand this from the fundamental level.
What is Stress?
Selye and Levi ( Scientists who have done extensive work on Stress and defined that mind has an involvement to cause illness at a physical level) defined stress as a non-specific, conventional phylogenetic basic responsive pattern, the primary function of which is to prepare the body for physical activity such as fight or flight (this is eustress). Stress could be classified as Eustress (positive stress) and Distress (negative stress). Positive stress is a physiological change that occurs in our body which might increase our physiological parameters with a tendency to revert to normal. This type of stress that occurs in our body is harmless.
There are various causes of stress namely:
Physical: Accidents, burns, major surgery, infections,
Psychological: Conflicts, wrong notions, doubts; work-life imbalances, sore relationships, and
Emotional: Fear, anxiety, hate, greed, anger. Irrespective of the cause, stress could affect the mind, then it could bring irregular breathing patterns which could, in turn, affect your physical parameters, namely blood pressure, heart rate, respiration, etc. and also it could affect your nervous, immune and endocrine systems. These abnormal functions could cause a stress-related disorder like hypertension, panic attacks, anxiety, obesity, depression, etc.
Yogic Tools to Manage Stress
Management of stress in modern medicine is by prescribing anxiolytic/ antidepressant drugs which are available to treat stress, while yoga is the most useful tool in controlling the stress and prevention of stress-related disorders. According to Yoga, the stress affects the mind which then percolates into the physical levels which manifests into various ailments in our body. According to Yoga, it is believed that Stress at the mental plane of wellbeing could affect the breathing patterns which in turn could affect the physical plane of well being that could get manifested into a disorder or ailment
Basic management of stress goes with A B C Strategy, where:
A stands for Awareness of what causes stress,
B stands for Balance on how we could bring a balance among the negative and positive stress, and
C stands for control of emotions and stress levels which could play a vital part in our preventing ailments caused by stress
Yoga alleviates stress at the root cause rather than at symptomatic levels. Yogic methods of stress management include maintaining the physical body through the practice of asana, awakening the vital energy through pranayama and relaxation through Yoga Nidra.
Asanas are defined as 'Sthiram Sukham Asanam'. Word Sthiram means homeostasis, balance; Sukham means pleasure; and Asanam means physical posture. When you practice asana, it is believed that it could bring is a balance of body and mind. When one practices asana three parameters are kept in mind – consciousness, awareness and maintenance. When one practices Asana with the above said parameters it could bring a balance in the working of the various bodily systems – namely regulate endocrinal secretions, improve circulation, increase concentration, increase muscular tone and activity, improve nerve functions and also immune functions. 'Sukham' also relates to the state of mind, which is relaxed. Muscles that contain stretch receptors; these stretching movements of asanas could send relaxing impulses to the brain, which could bring a relaxation of the mind.
Pranayama means controlling the breath. Word pranayama is derived from two roots: 'Prana' plus 'Ayama'. Prana means 'vital force' or 'life force' and Ayama is defined as 'extension' or 'expansion'. The techniques of pranayama could bring in a balance of mental and physical planes of being by regulating the breathing pattern. Yoga believes the vital force or prana flows into various channels called Nadis. It is believed, that there are about 70,000 nadis in our body. Yoga Nidra is a specialized practice in Yoga which teaches us to relax. Sleep is not relaxation. According to yoga, sleep is explained as a wilful and conscious state where we are aware of how the mind and consciousness are interacting with the body, senses and objects and experiences. Yoga aims to achieve and maintain clarity of mind and awareness. Relaxing the disturbed, agitated mind could be achieved through the relaxation by practicing of Yoga Nidra.
Meditation has been practiced for more than thousands of years. Meditation was earlier practiced to get a deeper understanding of sacred and mystical forces of life. Research studies have shown encouraging results in managing stress which was used in the management of stress disorders. It is a practice that is considered to be a mind-body medicine which could produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. When you meditate, you focus your attention and eliminate all your negative thoughts that are responsible to cause stress in your mind. This process of elimination could bring an enhanced state of physical and emotional well-being. Meditation is being encouraged by modern medical practitioners as a complementary part of the treatment plan.
Yoga plays a vital role in the reduction of stress. It is one of the comprehensive solutions in stress management which helps to keep our body and mind in a balanced state, which lines with the principle of prevention is better than cure.
(About Dr. Sangeeth Somanadhapai is a Naturopath, academician and stress management trainer with 20 years of experience at various levels, private and government projects).
Asana, Pranayama, Bandhas and Mudras (Published by Yoga Publications Trust, Munger, Bihar).
Integrated Yoga Therapy (Author Dr. H R Nagendra, Published by SVYASA, Bengaluru).
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