Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stress Relief Through Yoga

Stress may be defined as the mental and physical discomfort resulting from uncontrolled thoughts in one’s mind. This is the definition given by Dr.Hans Selye, the world famous authority on Stress. He has conducted extensive research on this problem that ails the modern world.

Let us see how stress develops and what its consequences are. The apparent stimuli are the external events that happen around an individual. Examples would be failure in exams, job interviews, failure to meet project deadlines, impending disasters like airplane crashes, being on the battlefront, fear of bomb threats, diseases etc.

We will consider a common instance: A salesman has to complete his minimum quota of sales. As the deadline approaches, he realizes that he has not achieved the required quota. He is assailed by thoughts: whether he will achieve it at all, will he achieve it within the time limit, will he be given a time extension, will he lose his job, will he get another, what will he do for his family’s provision,...As the number and variety of thoughts about potential disasters increases, his anxiety also increases. His heart beat goes up, his B.P. rises. In extreme cases palpitation occurs, speech may become incoherent.

One can well imagine the outcome of such a mental condition on his performance. He will not be effective in achieving his target. He may also end up in the hospital.

Thus stress, if uncontrolled, can result in poor results.

Let us look at how Yoga can remedy this situation. Yoga tackles stress from two areas: those of the body and the mind. Asanas and Pranayama help to tackle stress from the level of the body while at the mental level, meditation is the cure.

Asanas are postures which one assumes and holds for a specific amount of time. For example, Merudandasana is the pose in which one lies on his back, raises his legs up to an angle of 45 degrees, and holds them there for as long as he is comfortable. There are hundreds of asanas available which exercise different parts of the body. But since time is a limited commodity for the modern man, it essential to do only a few select asanas to derive the benefits.

While doing each asana, three points are to be borne in mind: Slowness, Awareness and Relaxation. When one performs asanas while adhering to the principles of Yoga as much as possible, the mind and body become more relaxed and calm. And stress cannot stay in a calm mind. It is akin to the disappearance of darkness, on the arrival of light.

Pranayamas are breathing exercises in which one seeks to develop awareness and control over the process of his own breathing. Inevitably this practice leads to calmness

Meditation: This is the second tool by which Yoga eliminates stress from the mind. This is primarily a mental exercise. In meditation one seeks to directly regulate and reduce the number of thoughts in the mind. We have earlier seen how reduction of thoughts helps to reduce stress. There are many methods of meditation, depending on one’s preferences, beliefs, religion and temperament. One method is to focus one’s attention on one thing. It may be an idea, an image, a smell, a sound, anything. Theists would find it easier to meditate because they can think of their beloved deity’s form. And love helps to focus the mind easier in an easier way. But it is not necessary that one be a believer to be able to meditate. One may meditate on a candle flame, a dot, or even on his own breath.

All said and done, if we agree that Yoga can indeed destress an individual, another question can arise: how is it possible to do yoga and meditation when you are stressed out, right in the middle of your job, say while dealing with tough clients?

The key is to maintain the thread of awareness that you had developed while doing your daily Yoga practice. One has to keep that awareness throughout the day. It seems a daunting task at first, but soon you will realize it is essential and in fact, enjoyable.

We become free to choose our responses to situations, because we become aware of what is going on inside us. A situation which previously had aroused anger in us would provide us a chance to make a new friend. One of my friends used to be frustrated and angry when caught in traffic jams. When he started doing Yoga and meditation, he became aware of how his own thoughts were causing anger in him. Awareness of his thoughts made him realize he should choose a better thought response to a traffic jam. So now he just takes a deep breath, lets the tension go, enjoys the situation and sometimes even jokes with other drivers.

Like all things, skill in Yoga also is just a matter of dedicated practice. It can be effectively used to reduce stress. Reduced stress will result in a better performance. When the individual improves his performance, the organization as a whole will benefit.

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