Yoga … Stress and Your Health

By Dr. Rita Khanna

Stress is a natural feeling that is created when we react to a particular situation. It can come at us from any number of facets of our lives; environment, mismanagement of daily routine, job, relationship, family, financial problem, children’s studies, servant problem, getting perturbed on small matters, driving the car, children’s attitude etc.

Our reaction to stress is based on personal beliefs and values & also our attitude; positive or negative. Most of the people do not have major reasons for stress; most of it is self created.

For example:

It may create stress if you wake up late in the morning and fail to reach the place in time; on the other hand, if you don’t have to go to office but unfortunately you wake up early, you feel that your morning is spoiled. In both situations you may create stress.

Every individual has his own status, plenty of wishes, there is no end to expectations but there is lack of ability to obtain every thing. Potentiality is inadequate but still people want to pluck the stars from the sky. Nothing wrong in that… but it is not proper if such uneasiness creates stress.

Sometimes it happens that a joyful condition for one may be painful for the others. A little increase in daily workload may disturb one person while other person may become helpful to needy person even after completing his own work. This is where attitude matters.

These all are the reflections of the mental stress. Once it enters in your life, it should be eliminated by mature understanding. You are the key. You have a choice to turn the key clockwise or anticlockwise, that is to lock or unlock.

Gurudev Shri Swami Sivanandji Maharaja always propogated, “In all conditions, I am Bliss, I am Bliss, I am Bliss Absolute! …… ” It means that one should remain balanced and reassured in all conditions.

How Stress Works:

The problem is first assessed by the cerebral cortex, the thinking part of the brain, which then sends signals to the hypothalamus, the switch for a stress response & then on to the autonomic nervous system (ANS). The ANS is an automatic system that controls the heart, lungs, stomach, blood vessels and glands. Due to its action we do not need to make any conscious effort to regulate our breathing or heart beat.

The ANS is divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). The SNS and the PNS are located in the spinal column. They originate in the brain, run down through the spine, and branch out to nearly every organ, blood vessel, muscle and gland of the body including the sweat glands and hair roots. The two systems generally act in opposition to each other

The Sympathetic Nervous System:

In a stressful situation, the SNS is called into action – it uses energy – blood pressure increases, heart beats faster and digestion slows down. These are “Fight or Flight” responses. Anxiety and panic attack “symptoms” such as sweating, hot flashes, nausea, diarrhoea, heart pounding, smothering, dizziness or light-headedness, tunnel vision, dry mouth, chest pain, etc. result from the normal operation of the sympathetic.

The Parasympathetic Nervous System:

The PNS does the opposite of what the SNS does and thus restores balance in our lives – blood pressure decreases, heart beats slower and digestion is proper. In other words, it calms and cools the system.

A correct balance between SNS & PNS will help in making our lives stress free. However, if SNS is misused for long periods, as often happens in a chronic stressful situation, it can cause sickness and disease.

Is it Possible to Live a Stress Free Life?

Yes! Sit peacefully for a few moments and ask these questions to yourself.

  • Do I get disturbed on small matters?
  • Do I get disturbed sleep?
  • Do I feel exhausted and disturbed when I wake up?
  • Am I very much worried?
  • Am I having deep anxiety?
  • Have I various complaints?
  • Am I quarrelsome on small matters?
  • Do I experience hopelessness and frustration?
  • Do I feel that life is a burden?
  • Do I feel fed up of life?

If the answer to any above questions is, “yes” you are living stressful life.

Counteract Stress with Trataka:

Trataka is a very effective way of withdrawing from external stress and distractions and allowing the brain to enter a relaxed and highly beneficial alpha state. It has a strong influence on the pineal gland and the sympathetic nervous system (Since the eye is directly connected to the pineal gland via the SNS).

Trataka helps in decreasing sympathetic nervous activity and increasing parasympathetic function. The level of relaxation attained in Trataka serves to lesson the harmful effects of ‘fight or flight’ response. The mind becomes steady and still, while all disturbing or stressful thoughts are blocked.

To Perform Trataka:

  1. Sit peacefully with straight spine in front of a candle least lighted room.
  2. Light the candle and place it on a small bench at a distance of 2 feet from the eyes.
  3. Now watch the flame of the candle or the wick of the candle continuously and steadily.
  4. When you feel that your eyes are exhausted, close the eyes & try to visualize the flame of the lamp with closed eyes. Try to feel the flame inside you between your eyebrows.
  5. When this after image disappears, re-open the eyes and again start gazing the flame tip to re-establish the image in your mind, and continue this experiment several times.
  6. While gazing at the candle, engage your mind with chanting Omkar / Bhramari / watching on the breath / take your mind to your childhood period. Try to recapitulate the pleasure of the childhood. Jumping and its joy, laughing free minded and without any restriction etc. After remembering childhood, impressions try to recapitulate your youth gradually. Remember your cheerful youth, delight, enthusiasm, happiness, humour, romance, victory and defeat and if you want to cry do it freely by remembering old happenings. It will wash your stress through tears.
  7. Initially gaze for 2-3 minutes. Increase the duration of gazing each time and do it for maximum possible duration of about 15-20 minutes, but undue strain should not be taken.
  8. Ending this exercise, slowly close the eyes & lie down in Shavasana for some time.You can freshen the eyes afterwards by rinsing them carefully and gently with cold water.

Some Tips to De-stress

Ever noticed that certain people seem to adapt quickly to stressful circumstances and take things in stride. They are cool under pressure and able to handle problems as they come up. If you want to build your resilience, work on developing these attitudes and behaviours.

  • Understand yourself by honest efforts, continuous awareness and learning. Identify the root causes & the role of expectation in creating stress.
  • Train your mind to change the situation & smile when stress develops.
  • Your outlook, attitude, and thoughts influence the way you see things, is your cup half-full or half-empty. Turn your negative energy draining thoughts into positive and empowering thoughts.
  • Eliminate old habits, which cause disturbances in small matters of your daily life. Protect yourself from negative and stressful influences.
  • Live methodical life with new thoughts. For that, you don’t have to change your values and loyalties. Along with the change in the life, break your stubbornness, ego, obstinacy and old traditional thinking.
  • Strengthen your power, capacity and mental abilities by practicing Yogasanas, Pranayama, Shavasana and Mediation regularly.
  • Introspect daily life schedule peacefully, engage yourself in utilizing wonders of universe, beauty of life, importance of nature and every moment you have.
  • Walk in fresh air; enjoy walking on green grass ground in the early morning, observe the colours of the rainbows, the flowers with soft leaves, groups of black bees, singing birds and dancing peacock, watch the stars in the blue sky; watch the ocean with jumping, undulating black water.
  • Be optimistic. Believe in yourself. Be sure to breathe. And let a little stress motivate you into positive action to reach your goals. Interact with others & participate regularly in activities for relaxation and fun.

Practice this Tratak meditation regularly. The life, which you obtained, will be peaceful and stress free. You will become light minded; as calm & pleasant as a beautiful morning after heavy rains.

Dr. Rita Khanna

Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into his discipline over two decades ago by world famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh.

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.

At present, Dr. Rita Khanna is teaching Yoga in Secunderabad. She has been treating and curing various diseases and disorders through Yoga, Diet and Naturopathy and has been achieving tremendous satisfaction in disseminating this virtue.

The Purpose of Yoga – Finding Direction

By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

One of Yoga’s benefits is that it enables the practitioner to find direction, purpose, and self-discovery. How often do you hear people say, “I need time to find myself?”

Another popular statement is, “Why am I here?” This is another example of the limits of the human mind. We cannot help it, but many of us suffer from limited thinking.

Even when you ask a crowd of Yoga students to visualize what they want – they may not be able to focus. Many people do not know what they want, but they desire everything. Take an adult or a child to a shopping mall, and you may see limited thinking, combined with unlimited desire.

When a child is confused, we find this acceptable, but when an adult is confused, with unlimited desires, and limited thinking, we have a dangerous combination. How can a man or woman be at peace when each object of our desires promises us satisfaction once we possess it?

What moral code can stand up to unlimited wanting? Schools of thought, philosophies, and religions, have guidelines for coveting and non-attachment, but mankind still pursues its desires.

This cycle is then repeated throughout life. Much like a “dog chasing its tail,” we jump from one object of desire to the next. This can even occur with non-material desires.

At an Asian culture and arts workshop, I once met a young martial artist who wanted to understand the true purpose and meaning of God. His parents had brought him up as a Christian.

Later, he became a devout Christian, Hindu, and a Moslem, within the span of one year. When he was at any point in his religious studies, he could have found the answer to his questions, but instead he kept jumping from one religion to the next.

All he could see was conflictive thought, but he missed the universal principles of good, which exist within all religions. Years have passed by, with confusion, and he cannot piece his spiritual health together because he is still grasping at the differences between all religions. His parents, friends, and all the Holy men he has met, have told him to pursue just one religious path and he will find his answers.

Swami Krishnananda once said, “No saint has been able to maintain the spiritual balance throughout his life. There have been occasional reversals, though these might not have left any impression, on their minds, any more than the mark left by a stick drawn on water. But the mark is there when it appears. Such is the difficulty of leading the spiritual life. The case of immature seekers is much more precarious, indeed.”

The limited ability for mankind to see a commonality with his neighbor, and his neighbor’s right to worship in a different way, has caused conflicts, killing, and warfare. We are all connected to each other, but sometimes we see only the disconnection, or we wish to set limits on the connection.

The truth is: From birth until death, we are connected to those around us. Whether we like it, or not, we are part of nature and the universe.

In Yoga, we learn the Law of Karma. This is a universal principle and makes us aware that we must always be responsible for our actions, regardless of how small they may seem at the time. It is not “rocket science” to behave well at all times.

© Copyright 2008 – Paul Jerard / Aura Publications

Teaching Students about Yoga for Arthritis

By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

There are several conditions, classified under the heading of arthritis, which all involve joint pain. Initial studies from the John Hopkins Arthritis Center reveal that Yoga can cause significant relief from this debilitating condition.

Although anyone with arthritis will tell you, that to move at all, sometimes hurts, remaining completely sedentary is not healthy either. Arthritis patients are encouraged by their doctors to participate in low impact exercises to improve movement.

Many higher impact activities can cause further damage and discomfort. As a result of this, Yoga has increased in popularity, among doctors and patients, alike.

Studies have shown the importance of moving affected arthritic joints. Doing so has significant long-term effects on relief of pain and increase in mobility. Exercising the joint has the overall benefit of health for the entire body.

Movement of the body is necessary to provide essential nutrients to joints and circulation to muscles. Yoga is the best activity there is to strengthen, nourish and heal, a body with arthritis.

Before you begin to work with any student that has arthritis, understand their reluctance to move. The pain can be excruciating, and it will take time and patience to improve.

There must be patience, both on behalf of the student, and you, as the instructor. Never force a student, with arthritis, to push past the point of pain. The student must keep gently pushing their limits, but never force the arthritic joint. This could cause damage of the joint.

Arthritis is the number one cause of disability in people over fifty-five. People as young as 20 years of age are also affected. There are also rare cases of children having some form of arthritis. Scientific studies about Yoga for joint health, and arthritis, have been sparse in the past, though plenty of real life evidence of the benefits is prevalent anywhere you look.

These early studies show promising improvement in joint health, physical mobility and mental and emotional health. That is reason enough for many to try Yoga for their arthritis. This is why we are seeing a heavy increase of students with arthritis.

When a Yoga student, with arthritis, joins your class, make sure you ask them if their doctor has put any specific limitations on their movement. You want to make sure that you can provide the proper modifications to poses, if necessary. Yoga should be a safe and healthy exercise for your arthritic students. It is the responsibility of students to communicate with their instructors, but make sure you stay observant to their difficulties.

Make sure that you encourage students with arthritis to begin with what is comfortable. Some students may have limited flexibility or may not be able to kneel. Remind them that overcoming difficulties, while accepting their capabilities, is an essential part of Yoga. Yoga is not about competition; this should be a core value already present in your instruction.

Single leg raises, shoulder stretches, and neck exercises, are a good start to get the student ready for more challenging poses. Hand clenching, and wrist bending, will help those with arthritis in the hands and arms. Ankle bending and rotation increase circulation and flexibility in the lower legs. These very basic movements, along with full body poses, such as the corpse pose, are a good place to begin.

Care should be taken in the number of repetitions and the length of time a position is held for students with arthritis. Poses recommended for osteoarthritis include Trikoasana (triangle pose), Urdvha Mukha Svanasana (upward facing dog), and Adho Mukha Svanasana (downward facing dog). Also recommended are one and two-legged forward bends, Navasana (the boat), twists, and resting in Savasana (corpse pose).

Rheumatoid arthritis differs from osteoarthritis in its manifestation and can require different poses. Encourage students with Rheumatoid arthritis to focus on breathing pranayama and smoother, wavelike, movement

© Copyright 2008 – Paul Jerard / Aura Publications