Dr. Rita Khanna
According to Yoga, stress is an imbalance at the mental, physical, or emotional level. It is not the cause of our ills, but the cause is one’s inability to cope with a changing condition. Yoga balances, harmonizes, and brings integration between physical and mental health. Yogic methods of stress management include: maintaining the physical body through the practice of Asana, awakening the vital energy through Pranayama, relaxation through Yoga-nidra, and through food – the source of Prana. Prana is harmonized, replenished, and enhanced in various ways; one of the most powerful being that of maintaining a pure and nourishing diet.
The Right Way of Eating
• A person, under stress, is normally rushed for time or tends to eat fast. His eating habits and timings become haphazard. As the stressful situation builds up tension within, his eating schedule gradually gets into disarray, until it is completely thrown out of gear. Killing hunger with coffee, tea, cigarettes, or other substitutes may actually contribute to the problem, because a lackadaisical attitude to eating may starve the body of essential nutrition. Then, one may develop a habit to overeat in the night to make up for the lack of proper food during the day – putting a heavy strain on the digestive system.
• Much digestive stress is caused by irregular and wrong timings. Regularity in food timings is very important. The optimum time for the main meal of the day is between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. After that, the digestive power wanes. In the evening, the digestive power is low, as the system is tired and ready for a rest.
• It is also important to eat the same quantity of food regularly, because the stomach gets used to secreting a certain amount of enzymes at a particular time. If the right items, in the right quantity, are provided at the right time, the digestive process goes on well, as nature intended it to be. It does not become stressed, overworked, or broken down.
• According to Yoga, food can be Sattwic, Rajasic, or Tamasic The effect of these foods, on our body and mind, is similar to the manifestation of the particular Guna in our nature. It is well known that each of these three Gunas is present in us, but in different proportions, and that the nature of our personality is determined by the predominant Guna. In the same way, we can plan our diet, which can be predominantly Sattwic (with a lesser proportion of Rajasic and Tamasic food components), or predominantly Rajasic (with a lesser proportion of Sattwic and Rajasic food components), or predominantly Tamasic.
• Most vegetarian food can be Sattvic, but the vegetarian food that people eat nowadays is made non-Sattwic, by deep frying and preparing it with a combination of rich spices. To retain the Sattwic quality of vegetarian food, it needs to be prepared in simple ways: boiling, steaming, baking, or eating raw (some vegetables can be eaten raw). A simple vegetarian menu, with smaller portions of Rajasic and Tamasic food (such as: meat, fish, etc.) should bring in the benefits of a Sattwic diet, which is easy to digest and completely assimilated through proper metabolic conversion.
• Most of the eating habits that we were told to develop as children, contribute to good health. Eating slowly, masticating the food well, and obeying the stomach, rather than the eye or the taste buds, are as valid when we are grown up, as when we were young. Moderation in diet makes sense in the Yogic way, which says: Fill the stomach half full with food, one quarter full with water, and leave a quarter of the stomach empty for all the gases that are produced during digestion.
• There are different ideas about drinking water with food. Some advise to drink water after finishing eating, not in between. Others are of the opinion that it is best not to drink water for one hour, before or one hour after, meals; the reason being that drinking water with, or immediately after, food dilutes the digestive juices. Therefore, a given quantity of food that is mixed with water would need a larger amount of digestive juices for digestion, than if it were unmixed or undiluted with water. Once you make a habit of drinking water one hour before or after eating, you will find that the heavy-in-the-stomach feeling after eating totally disappears. The after-food lethargy also disappears.
• Food should be looked upon as medicine. So, whether there is enough to eat or less, whether it is tasty or not, food is eaten with the same Bhavana (feeling) as a medicine.
• We should develop a healthy respect for food if, once in a while, we pause and think: “The rice I’m eating – how has it reached my plate? How many different paths did it have to travel, how many hands did it have to pass, before reaching me to satisfy my hunger? That dal (pulses), or vegetable, or those shiny red apple – how many man-hours were required to grow them and make them available to me?” Such introspection, or line of thought, helps to develop a healthy, balanced attitude towards food.
• While eating, try to follow the processes the food undergoes, until it reaches the stomach. When you are chewing, visualize how the taste buds convey the different tastes, via the taste ducts, to the brain. How, even before the food is served, your nose has already conveyed the aroma of the food, and how your mouth begins to salivate at the mere hint of the aroma. Visualize the chewing process, the mixing of the chewed food with your saliva, the smooth movement down the throat after your tongue expertly pushes parts of the mouthful inside. With a little knowledge of physiology, you can make a wonderful odyssey down the stomach. It is only when we take such diverse perspectives in life, that we are able to be aware of the richness of life around us. We become aware that eating is not mere polishing off of the plate, or that cooking is mere adding salt and spices. We also realize that stress is partly due to our own inability to look at the world through a broader perspective.
The definition of Asana, in traditional texts, is ‘Sthiram Sukham Asanam’. The word Sthiram means homeostasis, balance; Sukham means pleasure; and Asanam means physical posture. It is the posture that produces homeostasis in the system – restores endocrinal balance, balances the inhibitors and stimulator circuits, regulates secretions, and optimizes the functions of the entire system of the body. ‘Sukham’ also relates to the state of mind, which is relaxed. Muscles contain stretch receptors; the stretching movements of Asanas send relaxing impulses to the brain, which induce a relaxed state of mind.
When we stand, or sit in a chair for prolonged periods, our muscles accumulate stress and consequently lactic acid, which causes a feeling of stiffness when we wake up in the morning. To remove this stiffness, the practice of simple Aasanas, such as: Tadasana, Tiryaka Tadasana, Kati-chakrasana, and hands and legs flexibility exercises are very useful. These postures stretch the muscles and massage the joints. As a result, circulation improves and toxins are drained away. Thus, Asanas activate, tone, and revitalize the organs, massage the joints, stretch and relax the muscles, optimize endocrine gland secretions, develop stamina, and promote internal awareness. Concentration, awareness, and relaxation are integral parts of performing Asanas.
Pranayama is generally defined as breath control. Although this interpretation may seem correct, in view of the practices involved, it does not convey the full meaning of the term. The word Pranayama is comprised of two roots: ‘Prana’ + ‘Ayama’. Prana means ‘vital force’ or ‘life force’ and Ayama is defined as ‘extension’ or ‘expansion’. Thus, the word Pranayama means ‘extension or expansion of the dimension of Prana’. The techniques of Pranayama provide the method, whereby flow of Prana in the Nadis is regulated, activated and purified – inducing physical and mental stability.
Physical activities, such as exercise, work, sleep, intake of food, and sexual relations all affect the distribution and flow of Prana in the body. Faculties of mind, such as emotion, thought and imagination, affect the Pranic body even more. Irregularities in lifestyle, dietary indiscretions, and stress, deplete and obstruct, the Pranic flow. This results in what people experience as being drained of energy. Depletion of energy, in a particular Prana, leads to the de-vitalization of the organs and limbs, which Prana governs, and ultimately, to disease or metabolic dysfunction. The techniques of Pranayama reverse this process, energizing and balancing the different Pranas, within the Pranamaya Kosha.
One of the prime needs of today is to learn how to relax. Sleep is not relaxation. According to Yoga, sleep is willfully and consciously becoming aware of how the mind and consciousness are interacting with the body, senses, and objects and experiences. Yoga aims to achieve and maintain clarity of mind and awareness (sajagata). When we attain this awareness, then, naturally existing turbulence and distraction will settle down. In Yoga, the experience of relaxation means moving from outside to inside, becoming aware of this introversion, and maintaining balance and stability. Psychology indicates that activity and stimulation is the nature of the mind. Relaxing the disturbed, agitated mind can be achieved through the relaxation practice of Yoga- nidra.
Do not fight stress, and in the effort, fall prey to alcohol, cigarettes, or anxiolytic/antidepressant drugs. Rather, you should develop and enhance your potential and capacity to cope with stress. Learn to alter your attitude and lifestyle. Anxiolytic/antidepressant drugs do not bring lasting relief; they only help manage some of the somatic and organic phase symptoms of stress, while Yoga is most useful in controlling and treating stress in the early psychic and psychosomatic phases.
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Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by world famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh (India).
She believes firmly that Yoga is a scientific process, which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has been successfully practicing these therapies and providing succour to several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet and Naturopathy. She is also imparting Yoga Teachers Training.
At present, Dr. Rita Khanna is running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).