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
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
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
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
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.