Stress and Yoga

Stress is the villain behind so many mental and physical illness in western societies and that it deserves to be examined more deeply.

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.

When the bodies immune system deteriorates because of stress it may lead to other serious medical condition such as asthma, ulcers, hypertension and heart failure, cancer, eating disorders, as well as the abuse of drugs or alcohol which are may be used as coping mechanisms.

The list of stress related ailments is truly staggering and an added problem is our bodies tend to show signs of chronic stress in a very gradual manner, so the onset of stress could actually go unnoticed in its early stages. Stress could show up in these early stages as some innocuous nervous mannerisms such as, foot tapping, nail biting, pencil tapping, or some other useless repetitive behavior such as constant hand washing. Symptoms of stress may begin to appear so gradually that some people are unaware of the severity of their stress condition until they suffer a general nervous breakdown.

Let's examine what stress really is all about and what exactly it can do to you. Scientists have found that when you are experiencing stress, your brain produces high levels of two specific hormones, adrenalin and cortisol, these two hormones are made by your hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the emotional center of the body where emotions such as anger and fear are hormonally created. These hormones are manufactured by the hypothalamus in response to any perceptions of impending threat or danger to either the body or the mind, scientist call this response The Fight Flight Syndrome. Your body prepares itself for a fight or escape from a fight by releasing these two specific hormones giving your body a temporary increase of strength and energy in order to fight or to run from a fight. This hormonal response mechanism is considered to be the general stress response syndrome

The hormone cortisol increases your blood sugar levels which provides you with fuel for quick and vigorous physical action, it gives us needed extra energy to face up to or run from a threatening circumstance, danger, or an impending emergency. Adrenalin also makes you stronger and more resilient for the short term. All this is entirely appropriate for a short term reaction to our environment, we have evolved the stress response to protect us from immediate harm or potential destruction. With these hormones we are made able to respond more 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 a hazard to both body and mind.

The most insidious quality about the stress response is that our body is really behaving quite normally in it's response to the perception and messages of danger coming to it from the mind or the psyche.

Problems only begin to arises when these messages of danger or emergency continue to be broadcast from our psyche over long periods of time without secession. In addition to this when we do not feel that we have the option to either confront the stressful situation directly, or escaping from it in any way then we begin to run into a lot of psychological and physical difficulty. When our circumstances are not alterable or avoidable, when we are forced to endure a threatening circumstance then the hypothalamus continues its response creating more or less constant flow of the two hormones Adrenalin and Cortisone, this keeps the body in a perpetual state of emergency. Over a period of time after these hormones continue to accumulate with a physical or mental outlet their energy implodes, it collapses in on itself and produces a chaos of energy which begins to destroy the body or mind gradually.

This happens over and over again because of the way of our western social system works. Let me clarify my point, there are of course many normal small and large emergency situations that may arise in anyone's life and these will naturally trigger the stress response, circumstances such as, births, deaths, marriages, divorces, accidents. Yet these circumstances come and go in our life but can not explain why chronic stress is so pervasive and at such critical level in modern man. To help us to further understand the origins of chronic stress lets take into consideration the concept of psychological control. In clinical research it has been observed that control is a key factor in chronic stress syndrome, it is the extent to which we feel that we are in control of our environment that we then do or do not experience the hormonal stress response. So those who feel powerless or unable to control their circumstances tend to exhibit the highest levels of stress reaction. On the other hand those who feel they have more control over themselves or their circumstances will be much less likely to experience the hormonal stress response. If we are able to release stress through confrontation or flight from confrontation we can relieve stress in the simple flight fight response but if we feel trapped and unable to confront or to run from a perceived threat, that is if we feel we are unable to control our circumstance then we end accumulating these hormones continuously. Feelings of powerlessness and lack of control are what leads to stress accumulation. If we don't give ourselves psychological or physical outlet for accumulated stress energy then our mind and body begins to break under the strain.

To run the enormous engine of modern society tremendous amounts of mental energy are required from its citizens every day, often leaving many of its citizens completely drained and tired. Our highly regimented, fast moving, competitive work environments can also lead to unresolved feelings of alienation, inadequacy, and personal powerlessness. Many face constant insecurity, scrutiny and worry over their own basic survival and their ability to measure up. People may become afraid of one another in our poorly designed urban areas or they may be haunted by a vast unspoken loneliness which is quietly destroying their joy of living. Even our home where we would usually go to find refuge and comfort from the travails of the outside world is too often equally unstable and volatile and may instead be the very source of your stress. Add to all this the social structure itself where any person can easily become overwhelmed and made to feel insignificant by the sheer magnitude and complexity of modern life.Understanding the stress syndrome it is clear now why stress and it's many diseases effects are epidemic in the modern world. Our modern way of living unwittingly conspires against us developing a feeling of personal power and personal control.

Those of us who are able to find help in overcoming these feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness often run into other serious problems. Medicine has proved to be inadequate in dealing with the original causes of stress and it often is unable to eliminate the myriad of symptoms associated with stress. Medicine may be necessary for a person in the most critical stages of chronic stress, but medicine alone may not be enough to achieve a cure chronic stress.

Cures for chronic stress must be addressed at deeper levels, on levels of meaning and value. The various branches of science are not yet able to tackle deeper questions about the ultimate nature of the soul, they have yet to even admit the existence of soul or spirit. Psychology studies aberrant behavior and prescribes various remedies of for those behaviors but psychology does not deal directly with the deeper issues of value, purpose or the meaning of life either.

Religion can provide us with a sanctuary from the the mechanistic world view of science but religion may sometimes exacerbate the situation further. Religions often suffer from one great fault and that is they ask their followers to devote all their energy to their godhead while ignoring the tremendous potential divinity the follower. Most religions teach us that it is God alone who possesses all the power and has control over life, and that if we want access to any of this Devine power we are told that it comes with certain preconditions and we are asked to conform to certain rules of conduct and then God will grant us a portion of his power. The trouble is that these rules of conduct are often not well defined or they are often rife with self contradiction. We may end up even more uncertain, confused, and feeling powerless than we did before, but now with the additional feeling of quilt on top of it.

So where can we turn, what can we do positively to give us a sense of more control over our lives. Can we really fight against the great social machine on which we all depend for our survival. Anyone can easily feel trapped by society, by the very thing that provides them with shelter and sustenance this is why modern societies breed chronic stress. Religion and the sciences may be unable to help the average man or woman with what is causing their anxiety and suffering and so the disease of chronic stress grows exponentially. Everyone is left to cope with their stress the best they can, passing each day in quiet desperation.

But not everyone is victim to stress, some actually thrive in our modern societies. There are people who manage stress quite well, are able to function well with the pressures and dangers of modern living. The question is, why are some able to cope with stress avoiding all of it's disabling effects ? To answer this question the key is to remember that it is merely the perception of a threat, not the threat itself which triggers the stress response, in other words, two people can have entirely different reactions to the same stress evoking situation. One person will thrive on the necessary stimulation of an any emergency while another may feel fear, anxiety and trepidation. It seems that the stress response is not created by any particular type of event or situation but rather by the the way that that event is perceived. It turns out then that stress response is triggered by our perception .

The stress reaction is activated by how we look at the world, our world view. Our world view can be described as the prism of ideas and beliefs through which we perceive and judge the world. Because the stress response is triggered by our perception of the world or our world view, then your world view becomes central to the way we react to any stressful circumstance.

This is where yoga comes in, yoga can have a profound effect on chronic stress because it involves altering our world view. Yoga offers us many techniques designed to release the tension energy of accumulated stress i.e. The use of hatha yoga postures, specific yogic stretches, as well as the breathing exercises can relief the immediate symptoms of stress. Yoga also provides the psychological means for releasing your accumulated stress tension with the use of techniques in Pranayama and Meditation. Most important to the cure of chronic stress is the philosophy of Yoga itself which teaches us to look at our soul and through self observation find the divine power within ourselves.

Stress is a physical and a psychological response to a state of mind, and that state of mind can be gradually changed with Yogic philosophy, meditation, breathing exercises, and specific stretches designed to release body stress and tension. Stress can often be healed just through meditation alone. With meditation your attention or conscious awareness is intentionally directed away from the sources of stress and refocused onto the inner order and natural ease of the soul from where you are healed. With Yoga you are empowered by a deeper self understanding and awareness and value fulfillment, with yoga you will find that you are able to cope with stress quite effectively.

Mental control, intellectual acuity , stress free psychological health, physical health, vitality, plus emotional healing and balance, are all the wonderful by-products of Yoga practice. Yoga does all this marvelous work not by any imposition of rigid dogma or psychological intimidation but by teaching us to turn inward and bring your attention back onto the natural wonders with us all. Yoga should therefore be the primary component in 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 some simple meditations into daily routine you could prevent stress from building up. Start living stress free. Practice Yoga Everyday.

Written by AVANANDA

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