What is stress? Simply put, it’s our mind and body’s response to situations we believe are beyond our control. A stressful moment means faster breathing, elevated heart rate and also possibly blood pressure. Over time, stress can pile up and create habits of negative responses in us, which become lifestyle diseases.
In the olden days, when men roamed the earth hunting and gathering, stress was about situations like getting attacked by wild animals or possibly by other humans. We did not have certainty of food, clothing and shelter. Hence the stress and body’s response was on existential or life and death issues. In the modern world we hardly face such issues. And yet we are possibly the most stressed out lot; ironic, isn’t it?
Western science has been trying to address stress and anxiety by exercise and diet. However according to Yoga, stress is largely to do with our mind. Faster the speed and higher the agitation in our mind, higher the stress and anxiety.
Yoga breaks up our life into Body, Mind and Intellect. The mind is the part which receives external stimuli and also acts on internal desires and habits. It’s the cauldron of emotions and feelings. Emotions are strong, lingering thoughts and have energy. If negative, they can make us lose control and over time they became mental habits. This also influences how the body responds to stress – higher heart rate, faster breathing etc.
The important thing to realise is that we are not our minds. The real ‘Us’ is the Consciousness deep inside us as illuminated by ‘Atman’ and that which is reflected in the functioning of Intellect. The intellect is wisdom, rational and logical thinking. Only when our surface minds are calm, can the Intellect shine through.
External situations will continue to be stressful at times. Yet in every bad situation, if we can learn the art of calming the agitations of our mind, the intellect can shine and help solve the problem we are facing in the most rational and wise way.
Here are a few simple ways to handle stress. (1) Try and dissociate yourself from your stressful emotion or feeling, mentally cue yourself – I’m feeling this stress, it’s just a thought, it will pass. This situation will go away soon. Be witness like and observe your thought. (2) Observe your breathing and consciously slow down the breath. Especially the exhalation . Count to 5/7/9 whatever you can – inhale / exhale and do this for 5 minutes with eyes closed.
Breath speed is closely linked to mind speed (Mano vega). If mind moves fast due to stress breathing becomes short and shallow. So if you breathe deeply and slowly in a stress situation – mind will slow down. It’s that simple.
Don’t ignore stress and anxiety. It’s the bane of today’s times. No gym, tablets or diets will help you manage this. Yoga will. Integrate yoga into your life and it will work wonders in changing your response to stress. Try it.
is a certified 200 RYT from The Yoga Institute, a published poet, and in his day job he is President and Head at Tata Consumer Products Ltd. Get Navaneel’s latest book Moonrise and Memories: Contemporary Poems to nourish your soul by clicking here.
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