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November 1991

Special issue on Yogic Management of Stress - Contd.

Laugher

The Non-specific Tension

Children under Stress

The Real Nature of our Body

Tuning Body and Mind

Asanas and Stress

Pranayama and Stress

Meditation and Stress

Yoga Nidra and Stress

Karma Yoga and Stress



Tuning Body and Mind

Modern life has removed man from nature's benign and rhythmic influence. The internal rhythms, the inherent clockwork like nature of the nervous and endocrine systems, have become imbalanced through the effects of stress and tension, resulting in feelings of discomfort and leading to disease and neuroses. The brainwaves of most 'normal' people clearly indicate the lack of integration between parts of the brain, forming random and asymmetric patterns. In a clinical situation, this is seen as one part of the body relaxing while another part is preparing the body for stress. The lack of concerted harmony in the working of the body systems give rise to disorder in thought patterns, mild maniac depressive states, inability to concentrate and emotional and mental instability or, in some cases, the effect may be even more severe.

In order to resume normal internal rhythmic function, ways have to be found to adjust the patterns which have become disordered, perhaps over many years. What is needed are effective techniques that can penetrate into the 'stroma' of the nervous system and its basic meshwork consisting of sensory, motor and autonomic components. It is this stroma which determines such parameters as brainwave patterns, personality, how we think, feel and respond to the world. The stroma is responsible for maintaining habits and conditioned responses whether sick or healthy.

Probably the best way to counteract unhealthy body rhythms is to superimpose new psycho physical rhythms of a health promoting nature. Chemicals, shock therapies, new modes of behaviour and conditioning, psychological techniques, and many other methods have been utilised over the centuries in an attempt to improve inner function and experience, but with little success. These methods do not actually change the neural stroma or radically alter the mental structure and, as a rule, fail to bring lasting changes.

The yogic method of altering inner rhythms proceeds in a slow and systematic way. It does not attempt to radically change anything. Rather it seeks to slowly mold and modify the existing structures. It imposes a regular and consistent benevolent force which aims at flowing with and reinforcing the natural inherent body rhythms. It works with nature, not against it.

When we practise yoga on a daily basis, we add a new factor to our lives: an ordered, sequential, systematic, energising, cleansing series of asanas, pranayama, meditation, japa, and mantras. It is as though we were injecting a few particles of prana into the already existing structures. Body growth continues, metabolism, nerve conduction, endocrinal hormone secretions, daily activities- all go on in their normal, natural way.

Imposing a healthy, natural, ordered, harmonising rhythm through yoga onto a disordered and diseased rhythm has a dramatic effect. Pasek and W. Romanowski, from the Department of Physiology at the Academy of Physical Education, Poland, state that the psycho-prophylactic procedures, of which the asanas in surya namaskara form a part, "aim at producing an ordered and stabilised sequence of functional states and relaxation characterised by a biological rhythm". They call this rhythm 'controlled rhythm' to contrast it with the other two natural forms, the inner and the outer. This mechanism can manipulate the internal rhythm in the same way that a selector on a radio alters the frequency being received.

Yoga emerges as a powerful means to exert conscious control over our usually occult inner body systems, a regulator or fine-tuning mechanism for body processes. The individual emerges from the constricting forces of neurotic and inappropriate habit patterns and compelling inner forces and begins to enjoy a spontaneous life, one which is in tune with the rhythms of nature.

The holistic approach

The yogic approach to stress management has to be holistic because of the very nature of the yogic concept of man. According to yoga, man is not the isolated, separate individual body or person, as he likes to think himself to be. In fact, he is linked or connected to every other living being, animal and creature, down to the invisible microbe- from the grossest physical link of being a progenitor or a progeny to another human being, to the most subtle link of being part of the cosmic soul and the cosmic consciousness.

Ancient rishis and seers realised that the evolution of the individual consciousness to the level of the cosmic consciousness, and its merging into the cosmic consciousness, is the ultimate goal of man. Their search for methods to ensure, and wherever suitable, to accelerate such an evolution, led them to the discovery of the science of yoga.

Mind on mind, in the mind

The experiments conducted by the enlightened souls, in order to unravel this science, were so unique it can never happen in any other branch of science. The scientist, the laboratory and the laboratory animal were all one- the human mind. Sometimes the same mind played all the three roles.

While working with the mind the yogis discovered that the normal mind was not firm enough to launch the individual consciousness into the upper layers of the cosmic consciousness.

The mind's task is to look after the body, and it is so obsessed with its role, that it does not relax even for a moment. It keeps a watch over the body, round-the-clock, and the slightest 'agitation' sends the mind into a flurry of activities. Therefore, various techniques were developed, by which the mind can be kept calm and unagitated. These techniques were an 'onslaught' on the mind on two levels:

(1) By making the body-system healthy, inside and out, the mind does not get any cause for worry - a healthy mind in a healthy body.

(2) By strengthening the mind itself, one does not get easily agitated and learns to realign oneself in relationships to people, things, situations and to environment.

Thus, the techniques of asana, pranayama, mudra and bandha were developed- all aimed at improving the function of the body organs and body systems, with just one specific purpose: to make the mind calm.

How yoga counters stress

The visible signs of stress like clenching of the fist or gnashing of the teeth are animal in nature and are not the characteristics of a 'civilised' man. Therefore, even the fight or flight response of the body system is a hangover from the primordial or animal stage in our evolution. As naked apes, we still share some of the body language with our ancestors. Therefore, our evolution to the next higher state of consciousness will not take place, unless the animal instincts still in us, including the fight or flight response, are transcended. By the very definition of yoga - 'yogaschitta vritti nirodhah' yoga helps us to block the patterns of consciousness, including the fight or flight response. Thus, yoga gets down to the very root of stress formation in our mind, giving us an unparalleled stress therapy, although the therapy happens to be only a means to a higher end.

In yoga, the internal stimuli is reduced to the minimum, by making the body healthy, so that the body systems are able to function in a harmonious fashion, and the whole body is fine-tuned and balanced. Yoga also takes care of the external stimuli through the practice of pratyahara. In the state of pratyahara, or withdrawal of the sensory functions, only the past memories stored in the brain can agitate the mind. These stored impressions are 'cleansed' through the practices of antar mouna and other meditation techniques, and the negative impressions are removed.

When you clean out your mind of its accumulated dross and remove the inner turmoil or stress through the yogic practices, you transform it into a perfect instrument of perception, and also make it a perfect analyser of data and a perfect instrument for translating thoughts into action. This is how your personal mind should work if it is stress-free and is not clogged with defects.

You will be in a continual state of meditation, whether sleeping, eating, working or whatever else you may be doing. There will be no feelings of anxiety or stress under any situation.

The normal and obsessive ego-centred drives or self-interests will disappear. You will automatically understand others and feel more for them. You will see them in a new light. The fragmented and opposing attitudes and opinions of individuals will no longer seem contradictory, but will supplement each other and merge together in harmony. You start to see oneness, unity, perfection, concord, instead of individuality, separateness, differences, imperfections and discord.

External events will be clearly perceived, but without the usual negative and adverse repercussions. External impressions which flow into the mind will be smoothly absorbed and digested. Answers will spontaneously flow out of the mind. There will be no conflict, blocking or effort; no mental constipation. Everything will run as it should, without the usual accompanying hustle and bustle. Each reaction will be perfectly appropriate to the given situation. The external events will be the same, but your relationship to them will be totally different. Instead of being continually upset by the ups and downs of life, you will glide through them with a feeling of joy.

Worry, fear, anger, depression or jealousy no longer interfere with work or with living life. The common feelings of frustration, dissatisfaction, and unhappiness melt away, and even the usual oppressive and melancholy fear of death or illness will cease, as these will be seen in the light of a new and higher understanding.

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