Stress and Yoga

Stress is considered to be one of the leading causes of mental and physical illness in western society and so

deserves some special attention.

Some of the symptoms of prolonged exposure to stress are headache, brain tissue damage, high blood

pressure, weakening of the bones, general immune deficiency, muscle tension, menstrual disorders,

miscarriage, depression, anger, fear, nervousness.

If the body’s immune system deteriorates because of stress it may lead to other serious medical condition

such as asthma, ulcers, hypertension and heart failure. Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, along

with the abuse of drugs or alcohol are common coping mechanisms of chronic stress.

The list of stress related ailments is truly staggering. An added problem is that the body will only begin to

show signs of chronic stress very gradually and so the onset of stress may actually go unnoticed in it’s early

stages. Stress may show up in the early stages as an innocuous nervous mannerisms such as foot tapping,

nail biting, pencil tapping or any useless repetitive action such as constant hand washing. Symptoms of

stress may appear so gradually that some are unaware of the severity of their stress condition until they

suffer a general nervous breakdown

Let us examine what stress really is and what exactly it does to us. Scientists have found that when we are

experiencing stress our brain produces high levels of two specific hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, these

hormones are made by the hypo thalamus. These hormones are manufactured by the body in response to

the perception of an impending threat or danger either to ones mental or physical well being. Scientists call

this response the Fight or Flight Syndrome. The body prepares itself for a fight or escape from a fight by

releasing these two hormones which give it a temporary increase of strength and energy. This is considered

to be the general stress syndrome

The hormone cortisol increases blood sugar levels, which provide fuel for quick and vigorous physical

action for those circumstances in which there is an imminent danger or an impending emergency.

Adrenalin makes us stronger and more resilient for the short term. So the bodies stress response is entirely

appropriate in the short term. Our bodies have evolved the stress response to protect us from immediate

harm, so that we are able to respond efficiently both physically and mentally to the hazards in our

environment. These hormones are not normally dangerous to us in the short term, it is only when they are

allowed to accumulate over longer periods of time that they can become poisonous to both the body and the

mind.

This is the most insidious quality about the stress response, that the body is really behaving quite normally

during the stress. The body is only reacting to the messages of emergency sent to it by the psyche in a

completely natural way.

Problems only begin to arise when these messages of danger or emergency continue to be broadcast from

the psyche over long periods of time. It is when a person does not feel that he or she has the option of either

confronting the stressful situation directly. So he feels he can not fight, nor is he able to escape the

threatening situation which is the flight solution. The person then becomes trapped in a mode of permanent

psychological emergency.

There are of course many normal emergency situations which may arise in ones life time which naturally

trigger the stress response. Circumstances such as births, deaths, marriages and divorces, but this does not

answer the question of why chronic stress is so pervasive and critical in modern society. To help us to

further understand the origins of chronic stress let us take into consideration the concept of control. Control

has been found to be a key factor in chronic stress. It has been observed in clinical studies that the extent to

which a person feels he or she is in control of their environment, is the extent to which they will experience

the stress response. Those who feel powerless or trapped by their circumstances tend to exhibit the highest

levels of stress. Those who feel they have personal control or power over themselves and their environment

will be more likely to release their stress through confrontation. This is the expression of the fight response.

They may also decide to flee the situation and preserve themselves which the flight response, thus venting

the stress energy. But those who feel they have little or no control over themselves or their environment

feel they are unable to confront nor escape from the source of their stress. They feel trapped, their feelings

of powerlessness and lack of control then psychologically blocks accumulated stress energy and because no

valid outlet for the stress energy is provided either physically or psychologically the body and the mind will

eventually begin to breakdown from the strain.

It is not hard now to deduce why stress has become so epidemic in our modern civilization. Our societies

very design unwittingly conspires against a healthy psychology of personal power and control. To run the

enormous engine of modern society, high energy is required. Highly systematized fast moving competitive

work environments can lead to job insecurity and frustration for large segments of society. Many face

constant insecurity and worry about their basic survival. People are generally wary of one another

especially when in tight proximity such as cities, what is created is a tremendous unspoken loneliness

which silently haunts many and leads to excruciating feelings of vulnerability. Then in the home where one

could usually go to find solace and comfort from the outside world the deteriorating family structures and

gender role confusion have more and more frequently become the source of stress and not its relief. We

often just become overwhelmed and are made to feel insignificant by the sheer magnitude and complexity

of modern life itself.

Often when people seek help in overcoming these feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness or their

physical tensions and diseases they cannot find real relief. People may turn to traditional institutions of

wisdom and knowledge for help such as medicine or religion. But these may also fail to relieve their stress

and in fact sometimes it may even deepen their original feeling of anxiety and powerlessness. Medicine

may be necessary for a person in the most critical stages of chronic stress but medicine alone may not be

enough to cure the cause of the stress.

Science in general is considered good because it creates a better world for us materially, it has therefore

become essential to our lives. So we trust its judgment and value but its advice. But the various branches of

science are not yet able to tackle deep questions about the nature of mans soul and its meaning. The

Sciences in general including psychology do not believe in the existence of the soul. Psychology in large

part studies aberrant behavior and does not address the evolution of the human soul. Standard scientific

philosophy defines human life as an accident of random organic processes without any ultimate purpose or

meaning. These philosophies weigh heavily on modern mans psyche and exacerbate his already deep

feeling of isolation and vulnerability.

But not everyone in modern society suffers from chronic stress some are able to manage stress quite well

and even thrive on the pressures and dangers of modern living. It is important to observe and key to our

understanding of stress that it is the perception of a threat that triggers the stress response. Two people can

have entirely different reactions to the same stress producing situation, one may thrive on the stimulation

while another may feel fear and anxiety. Therefore the stress response is not created by any particular event

or situation itself, but by the way the event is perceived. Stress is a matter of perception.

The stress reaction is activated by the psycho perceptive mechanism or by our world view. Our world view

is the prism of ideas and beliefs through which we perceive and judge the world. Our world view is central

to the way we manage our stress.

This is where yoga can have a profound effect on chronic stress. Not only does yoga offer many techniques

to release the tension of accumulated stress energy i.e. the use of hatha yoga postures, specific yogic

stretches and breathing exercises. But yoga also provides the means for the release of the physiological

distress of stress. With the use of deep breathing techniques and meditation a cure of the symptoms and the

cause of the symptoms may occur. Yoga can dramatically alter your world view. Meditation can have a

soothing effect on the psyche offering it an oasis from the cruel onslaught of the negative emotions of fear

and insecurity.

Stress is the physical response to a state of mind, and that state of mind can be gradually altered with the

use of meditation, breathing exercises and specific stretches designed to release body stress and tension.

Even when the mind has been very long under the strain of feelings of powerlessness and vulnerability

yoga may help change those feelings by changing the quality of one’s self awareness and environmental

perception. Stress is often healed through meditation alone because stress is predominately psychological in

nature. In meditation your attention or conscious awareness is intentionally turned away from the sources

of stress and is refocused on the inner order and natural ease of the soul. You are empowered by deeper self

understanding.

Mental control, intellectual acuity, ease of movement, physical health and vitality, emotional balance and

control are all byproducts of Yoga practice. By practicing yoga your world view will change as will your

view of who and what you are. Yoga does not do this work by any imposition of dogma or intimidation, but

by teaching you to simply turn your attention back onto the natural wonder and healing power of your own

being. Yoga should become a primary component of your stress management program. Yoga may also be

used to prevent the onset of stress, if you start to incorporate some simple yoga stress relief stretches,

breathing exercises and meditations into daily routine you could prevent stress from building up. Start

today to live stress free.