It is well known that either a quick or constant stress can induce risky mind-body disorders. Immediate disorders like dizzy spells, anxiety, tension, sleeplessness, nervousness, muscle cramps can result in chronic health problems when we constantly remain under stress. Besides prescribed drugs, there are extremely effective holistic methods to tackle the impairing influence of stress. Some of them are age-old techniques whereas many lost therapies have been retrieved and being applied in new manners for alleviation of stress and its effects.
Yogic techniques for stress relief
Stressed out individuals carry a great deal of physical tension in their bodies. In these cases the natural unblocking effected by yoga postures are helpful. When one rests between postures, abdominal tension is released from the body promoting deep breathing. The benefits of yoga postures (asana), breathing (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana) include increased body awareness, release of muscular tension and increased coordination between mind-and body. It helps in better management of stress and ensures an overall feeling of well being. Some custom made yogic techniques include Sudarshan Kriya by Sri Sri Ravishankar, Sahaja Samadhi by Ma Anandmayee and Kriya Yoga by Paramashansa Yogananda—are three widely practiced techniques of yoga devised by three epoch making spiritual gurus.
Yogic breathing techniques
The ancient therapeutic traditions as well as modern medical research speaks about the intimate relationship between our breathing patterns and our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. They have shown how natural healthy respiration not only increases longevity and supports our overall well-being and self-development, but also helps in medical conditions such as asthma, poor digestion, insomnia, low energy, high blood pressure, anxiety, panic attacks, heart ailments, and many other problems.
How Stress Affects Our Natural Breathing Pattern
With each inhalation, oxygen (pure air) enters into our body and triggers off the transformation of nutrients into fuel. With each exhalation carbon dioxide (toxic air) is eliminated from our body. Presence of oxygen purifies the blood streams and helps invigorate each cell. Sufficient amount of oxygen is required to maintain the vitality of our body organs.
In normal conditions the body follows a natural breathing pattern that is slow and regulated. Under stress when the body shows symptoms such as tightening of muscles, distractions, anxiety, hyperactivity and angry reactions et al, breathing becomes quick and shallow. One tends to hold one`s breath, frequently. With restricted breathing inflow of oxygen is restricted. Lungs are unable to exhale the stale airs and residual toxins build up inside the body. Under stress the stiff muscles restrict the circulation of blood. So, even less oxygen comes in and fewer toxins are removed. It affects the healthy regeneration of cells. Medical studies show that the oxygen-starved cells are the major contributing factors in cancer, immunity deficiency, heart disease and strokes. Breathing also affects our state of mind and consequently makes our thinking either confused or clear.
When breathing is slow, deep and full, the lungs work more, the diaphragm moves well, the intercostals, back and abdominal muscle work, drawing in extra oxygen to the blood stream. Increased oxygenation purifies blood and stimulates healthy functioning of cells, glands and muscles.
Hence, a regulated and mindful breathing pattern has been held vital to maintaining the highest level of physical health by yoga. Another positive result of conscious breathing is its calming effect on the emotions, reducing fear and anxiety in the nervous system. Regulated and mindful breathing, dynamic movement of the head, shoulders and arms during the practice of breathing and meditation promote concentration and relaxation.
Yoga offers many breathing skills for stress-affected individuals. These yogic breathing techniques are termed as `pranayama` (prana+ayama). Roughly `prana` can be explained as the vital life force that regulates all activities in this universe. `Ayama` has a wide range of meaning; the most appropriate here is `control or regulation`. According to yoga, pranayama consists of various ways of inhaling, exhaling and retention of prana. This prana is inter-linked with consciousness (citta) both at the cosmic and individual levels. Pranayama is devised by yoga to create a synergy between the self-energizing life force and individual mind-body-spirit by scientific regulation of prana.
Perhaps the simplest form of pranayama is nadi shodhanam (channel purification), which consists alternate nostril breathing, suitable for everybody. Nadis are subtle nerve channels through which prana flows. In Sanskrit, Shodhana means `cleansing`. According to yoga there are 14 major nadis and prana flows in and out of them controlling all our mind-body functions. Nadi shodhanam works to unblock tensions and resistance in the energy-conveying channels of the gross and subtle bodies, thus calming and strengthening sensitive nerves. Conscious breathing through cleansed nadis allows more oxygen inflow and effective excretion of toxins from within. This brings about a healthful state both in body and mind.
Method of Nadi Shodhanam
• Hold your right hand up and curl your index and middle fingers towards your palm. Place your thumb next to your right nostril. Close the left nostril by pressing gently against it with your ring finger and inhale through the right nostril. The breath should be slow, steady and full.
• Now close the right nostril by pressing gently against it with your thumb, and open your left nostril by relaxing your ring finger and exhale fully with a slow and steady breath.
• Inhale though the left nostril, close it, and then exhale through the right nostril.
(That`s one complete round of Nadi Shodhana—Inhale though the right nostril, Exhale through the left, Inhale through the left, Exhale through the right)
Begin with 5-10 rounds and add more as you feel comfortable. Remember to keep your breathing slow, easy and full Nadi Shodhana can be practiced just about any time and anywhere. Nadi Shodhana helps control stress and anxiety. If you start to feel stressed out, 10 or so rounds will help calm you down. It also helps soothe anxiety caused by flying and other fearful or stressful situations.
For the details about nadi shodhanam and other pranayama techniques click here.
Important points to remember before going for pranayama:
• Pranayama should always be practiced with a suitable asana (asanas that increase the volume of the lungs and free the muscles of the ribs, back, and diaphragm can help prepare one for pranayama ) or yogic posture for its effectiveness.
• It should be practiced under the guidance of an able teacher.
• Those who suffer from chronic shortness of breath or other breathing disorders should not attempt pranayama until they are ready for it.
• The practitioner shouldn`t exhaust himself in the process.
• Breathing should always be done in an almost empty stomach.
• Breathing shouldn`t be done in haste, nor should it be jerky or irregular. Breathing should always be smooth and steady otherwise the whole purpose of pranayama is lost. Uneven exhalation is held to be a sign of present or impending illness.
Meditation, one of the eight limbs of yoga outlined in Patanjali`s Yoga Sutra, is the final step before attaining spiritual bliss. The great seer has described yoga as —yogaschittavrittinirodhah, which means completely shutting out all kinds of mental fluctuations. When such a stage is reached, meditation (dyana) is perfected, resulting in yoga (union of individual consciousness with the cosmic consciousness). That is the zenith of meditation.
On a lower plane, meditation has proved helpful in reducing stress and anxiety, lowering blood pressure, improving concentration and creativity besides bringing relief from stress-induced ailments. In the postmodern age various meditation techniques are increasingly being used for relaxation as well as therapeutic benefits. The Transcendental Meditation technique made popular during the 1970s by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi was aimed at ushering in perfect health and happiness. The technique is specifically designed to relieve man of his modern day trappings and the resultant mind-body disorders by helping him to access the boundless cosmic energy field.
The words of Maharishi aptly describe TM: ‘Transcendental Meditation opens the awareness to the infinite reservoir of energy, creativity, and intelligence that lies deep within everyone.’
TM is a simple, natural and effortless procedure practiced for 15-20 minutes in the morning and evening, while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed. During the course of the meditation, the fluctuating mind gradually becomes still and the individual experience a unique state of `restful alertness`. The body becomes deeply relaxed; the mind transcends all mental activity to experience the simplest, purest and highest form of Consciousness.
Numerous researches on TM in institutes and universities all over the worlds have shown that its practice benefits all areas of an individual`s life. The researches claim TM develops the individual`s latent creative potential while dissolving accumulated stress and fatigue through the deep rest experienced during practice. This experience enlivens the individual`s creativity, dynamism, orderliness, and organizing power, which result in increasing success in daily life.
Hypnomeditation believes in the Freudian theory of the origination of ailments from deep impressions of emotional traumas etched in our subconsciousness. The idea of hypnomeditation is to use the body`s own inherent energy to holistically treat the individual being. As one practices it the mind reaches the state of minimal fluctuation through mild self-hypnosis. It effects deep mental and physical relaxation, which is useful in relieving stress and anxiety including many other ailments. Though the method of hypnomeditation is difficult to practice, it hasn`t hampered its popularity as a stress buster.
Yogasanas and mudras
The Hatha Yoga Pradipika, an authentic treatise on Hatha Yoga, says, ‘From asana arises steadiness of body and mind, freedom from disease and lightness of limbs‘.
It has long been established that yogic asanas or physical postures and mudras combined with pranayama and meditation have a tremendous therapeutic effect on the body, mind and spirit. Asanas are regarded as the most important system of physical culture ever invented, considering its amazing understanding of how the body works. Yogic asanas constitute a physical science that also comprehends all aspects of consciousness. The purpose of asanas is to create a free flow of life energy in and out of the body in order to perfect its functioning.
Mudras are the most ingenious innovations of yoga.They help to reduce physical stress and energize the whole body. The most welcoming aspect is that these mudras can be done anywhere and at any time without any specific rules of breathing or sitting or standing postures!
Wrong postures create various stresses and cause contractions inhibiting circulation of energy and nutrients in the body. This allows toxins and waste materials to accumulate inside body. As mind and body are interconnected, physical blockages combined with mental blockage result in pain and disorder in both spheres.
Anyone who works sitting at the office desk for long hours or people who, generally, have one type of physical activity tend to acquire a fixed body posture. This declines flexibility and accumulates vata (waste/stale air) in the bones. Even people who do a lot of traveling or frequent flying tend to aggravate vata dosha (fault) in their stressed out bodies. Sitting or resting (while working, watching TV or sleeping et al), in incorrect posture for long, can stress one`s body without one`s knowledge. Such habitual acts can lead to an increased fixation of the body, and rigidity of the mind and emotions. All kinds of body aches? backache, shoulder aches, lower back pain, pain or numbness in feet and legs, are generated by built-up stiffness and tension in muscle and bones.
There are meticulously devised yogic asanas (postures), mudras and breathing techniques for reduction of all these stresses and their disease potentials.
The corpse pose (savasana), the crocodile (makarasana), and the child`s pose (balasana) are simple relaxation postures particularly helpful in relieving anxiety and nervous irritability. (for more details about these asanas click here.)
Benefits of yoga for stress Yogic asanas, meditation and breathing can help stress affected persons in many ways such as:
• Improve muscle tone, flexibility, strength and stamina
• Reduce stress and tension. They help in the cure of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders. They calm the frenzy, clear mental clutter and allow us to get back in touch with ourselves.
• Mindfulness meditation helps stress reduction, improving physical and mental health. Many patients undergoing yogic stress-cure techniques show dramatic changes in attitudes, beliefs, habits, and behaviors.
• They help boost self esteem in patients, imbibing a sense of purpose in their life. They help in giving us control of ourselves.
• Improve concentration, creativity, and above all a sense of well being and calm.
• Yogic techniques have the potential to cure various stress related diseases and symptoms, as it lowers body fat, improves blood circulation, stimulates the immune system.
• Yoga breathing shows promising results in the treatment of pulmonary and autonomic function in asthma patients.
PMS and Yoga
The makarasana (crocodile posture) is helpful for women who experience severe cramping during menstruation or are unable to relax lying on their backs. It relieves the mind from all distractions as the head faces downward and the body kept still like a crocodile concealed underwater. The child`s pose (balasana), which is a fetal-like posture, relaxes the body completely. It focuses the breath on the organ systems in the abdomen pelvis, which massages and tones them in a subtle way. The gentle inversion of head, neck and torso relaxes the back muscles, thus easing low back pain, a common premenstrual complaint.
Headaches, unusual cravings for food, bloating, and a host of other unpleasant physical symptoms often accompany PMS, besides anxiety and sustained tension. Dietary changes/ supplements, massage, and yoga postures are found to be helpful in such cases. These methods provide both immediate relief for the discomforts and an opportunity for renewal in the inner body.
Yogasanas and Mudras For Some Stress Induced Disorders:
• Stress and Tension—, Sarvangasana, Pranayama, Siddhasana, Kumbhaka, makarasana, Trikonasana, Padmasana, Yogic mudras.
• Frustration—Deep breathing Methods of Nadi Shodhanam
Savasana, Padmasana, Yogic mudras.
Savasana, Viparitakarani, Ssarvangasana, Pranayama.
• Loss of Confidence and Concentration
Sirsasana (practice under the supervision of a yoga teacher), bhujangasana, matsyasana, padmasana, Vajroli mudra, Utthita parsvakonasana, trikonasana, Sarvangasanas, Meditation, Yoga-mudra.
—Virabhadrasana, Siddhasana Kumbhaka) Padmasana, Sirsasana (practice under the supervision of a yoga teacher), sarvangasanas, matsyasana, Meditation, Deep breathing, Vajroli-mudra.
—Savasana, viparitakarani, padmasana, yoga-mudras.
• Indigestion—Savasana, Pranayama, vajroli & other Mudras, ardha matsyendrasana, Forward and backward bending asanas Paschimottanasana), vajrasana.
• Insomnia—Ardha matsyendrasana, trikonasana, savasana, deep breathing.
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