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Stress Management through Yoga

November 2, 2011

A daily home programme.


Oxford Concise Medical Dictionary defines stress as ‘any factor that threatens the health of the body or has an adverse effect on its functioning, such as injury, disease, or worry. The existence of one form of stress tends to diminish resistance to other forms. Constant stress brings about changes in the balance of hormones in the body.’

This apt definition clearly states that if there is some form of stress it makes us susceptible to other forms of stress also. So constant worrying over business matters, financial problem, dissatisfaction about work or work environment, relationship issues, marital discord, children’s future and likewise unending and seemingly insoluble day-to-day problems may not end at the mental level only. It does influence our general health, our physiological functioning and even our hormonal system. Outwardly over a matter of time it translates to depression, irritability and various kinds of psychosomatic diseases.

Now if we take a look at the following table containing a few examples of psychological, emotional, physical and
behavioral signs of stress we will be shocked to realize that most of us are suffering from stress!

Source – International Stress Management Association UK (ISMA)

Psychological signs Physical Signs Emotional Signs Behavioural signs
Inability to
concentrate or make
simple decisions
Tearful Self neglect/change in
Increased reliance on
alcohol, smoking,
caffeine, recreational or
illegal drugs
Negative thinking Indigestion/heartburn/ulcer Irritable, Mood swings Relationship problems/ Social withdrawal
Depression & anxiety Physical tiredness Extra sensitive to
Insomnia or waking
Less intuitive &
Dizziness/palpitations Lack of motivation Reckless
Easily distracted,
Becoming rather
Menstrual changes/loss
of libido/sexual problems
Angry, Frustrated Aggressive/anger
Worrying Heart problems/high
blood pressure
Lack of confidence,
Lack of self‐esteem
No time for relaxation
or pleasurable activities

Modern medical system treats the disease and not the patient. There lies the entire problem. Psychological counselling though effective in some cases cannot really do anything about this vicious cycle. What we need is a system that does not have any side effects, any contra – indications, is holistic, is healthy, mentally uplifting and emotionally stabilizing. And the answer is Yoga.

When we say Yoga we do not mean headstand pose or turning the body into a pretzel or something very tiring or complicated. We mean very simple movements to be done with breath awareness. There is a series of asanas in Yoga known as Pawanmuktasana series which is excellent in terms of simplicity and do-ability and can be incorporated in daily lifestyle along with simple relaxation techniques by one and all. If these asanas, as taught here are done correctly and regularly along with a few simple modifications in our lifestyle, we will be surprised to notice the changes they can bring about in our general health and outlook.

The word ‘pawan’ in Pawanmuktasana does not mean wind. It signifies the pranic energy that sustains our body. Prana is like electrical energy. According to Yogic concept, because of our irregular lifestyle, constant worry, dietary indiscipline and lack of proper physical exercise and relaxation the pranic energy becomes wayward and this leads to disease. Regular practice of pawanmuktasana, simple breathing techniques, simple mediation on breath and deep relaxation will gradually lead us to a state of physical and mental wellbeing. And this will translate to success in other dimensions of our life. We can get out of the vicious cycle.

Before we move on to the asana part of the series we want to answer one very practical query posed to us by a Yoga enthusiast. “If someone is plagued by financial problem or emotional problem or job issues how can pawanmuktasana help that person?” Well in answer to this we will say, yes, these are different problems. We agree. But you do the asanas diligently and with awareness and faith. A new door may open, an idea may strike, a new perspective may develop. Something will happen. For Yoga helps indirectly. And in the meantime till your problem or cause of stress is not answered you will be cutting down the snowball effect of physiological stress and maintain a standard of health. Either way you gain.

A few points to remember before starting practice.
1. Do asanas with total awareness and not while watching TV or listening to music.
2. There should be at least three hours gap after a heavy meal.
3. Breathe through your nose and not through your mouth.
4. Wear loose fitting clothes and not body hugging types.
5. Do these asanas exactly in the sequence as it is mentioned here.

The Practice

Aum Chanting
Aum chanting is very powerful. A represents the conscious mind, U the subconscious and M the unconscious. Take a deep breath and while exhaling chant the AUM mantra. After one AUM there should be a definite pause before you move on to the next AUM. This pause or silence represents the super conscious or turiya state. Be aware of this pause. You can think about your favourite deity or object of worship during this pause. Chant AUM three times.

Shavasana relaxes the whole psycho-physiological system. It is like salt and pepper you put in your Yoga food. Before starting Yoga practice do shavasana, during Yoga practice between the asanas do shavasana, and after the asana programme do an extended shavasana. Lie down, face up, body straight and relaxed, eyes gently closed, arms six inches apart from the body, legs a bit apart and surrender the whole body to the mat. When in shavasana
i. First be aware of the body parts exercised,
ii. Secondly be aware of the different physical sensations,
iii. Thirdly the breath and
iv. Lastly count your breath backwards as directed
Remember to move up sideways, (preferably right), when getting up.

Starting Shavasana
Relax in shavasana. Become aware of the whole body. Listen to all the different sounds you can hear for a few minutes. Lastly count your breath from 21 to 1. Exhalation and inhalation together make one complete breath. Exhaling mentally count 21; inhaling mentally count 21, exhaling mentally count 20; inhaling mentally count 20 and so on till you reach 1. (Symbolically numbers represent thoughts. Through this practice we are trying to move from countless disturbing thoughts to a state of one pointed relaxation. Concentration and relaxation are very much related. They are like the obverse and reverse of the same coin.)

Toe bending
Sit straight with your legs stretched. Arms at the side, fingers pointing to the back. Exhaling stretch your toes, (both feet), away from the body and inhaling bend the toes towards your body. Do 10 rounds.

Ankle Bending
Exhaling stretch your feet away from the body and inhaling bend the feet towards your body. Do 10 rounds.

Ankle rotation
You have to make a circular movement with both the feet together. First do the clockwise movement and then the anticlockwise. Exhaling make downward movement, inhaling the upward movement. Make a smooth movement. Do 10 times with both feet together in the same direction.

Knee bending
Gently clasp the right leg thigh with both the hands and exhaling bring the right leg thigh towards the chest. Hold for a couple of seconds and inhaling stretch the leg. Do this movement for 10 rounds. Next do the same movement with the left leg.

Full butterfly
Bend both the legs. Join the soles of the feet. Try to bring both the heels near the perineum, (the general region between the anus and the genital organs). Grasp all the toes with your fingers. Now move the knees up and down in rapid movement resembling a butterfly flitting its wings. Do this movement for 100 rounds. The breathing is normal. This simple movement releases tension from the pelvic area and also has an effect on the muladhara chakra.

Relax in shavasana. Become aware of the toes, ankles, knees, hips, pelvic area and the lower back. Become aware of the different sensations you can feel in your body. Next become aware of the whole physical body. Lastly count your breath from 27 to 1. Move to your right and come up.

If we give a thought to what we have done till now, we will be surprised to realize that we have exercised all the major and minor joints of the lower body. And we have to remember to do it in this particular sequence only. We first move the toes, then the ankle and next the knee. Not the other way round. By doing so we are aiding the process of venous blood circulation. The deoxygenated blood moves towards the lungs and the heart from the extremities of the physical body and in turn the fresh oxygenated blood moves towards the different parts of the body. Next we move to asanas for the upper body. For doing these asanas you may sit in the simple cross legged posture.

Hand clenching

Now sitting in the simple cross legged posture or sitting at the edge of the bed, (Yoga aspirants with bad knees can sit on the edge of the bed with legs relaxed on the floor), stretch both your arms in front of your body with the fingers pointing forward and the palms facing downward. Exhaling close the fingers and make a tight fist and inhaling once more stretch your fingers. Remember while closing the fingers the thumb will be gently wrapped by the other four fingers. Do this 10 times and then relax your hands.

Elbow Bending
Sitting straight stretch your arms on both sides of the body. Arms should be parallel to the floor and palms of the hand should be facing the sky. Now exhaling bend the arms at the elbows and bring the fingers to your shoulders and inhaling stretch your arms. Remember synchronization of the breath and movement is of utmost importance in this very simple asana. Do this asana 5 times with your arms stretched sideways and then 5 times with your arms in front of your body.

Shoulder Socket Rotation, (Right › Left › Both)
Bend your right arm and bring the fingers of the right hand to your right shoulder. The left is relaxed and can also be kept in any mudra of your choice. In this asana we have to make a proper circle with the elbow. It seems as if the elbow is making a circle in the air. It is a rotational movement. Just like ankle rotation. Exhaling make downward movement, inhaling the upward movement. Clockwise do it 5 times and then 5 times in the anticlockwise direction. Now repeat the same with left arm. Then move on to shoulder rotation with both the arms in both the directions. Do it also 5 times clockwise and 5 times anticlockwise.

Neck rotation
Neck movements are to be done slowly and with care. Remember eyes should remain closed during this particular movement. We have to make a circular movement of the head. First bring your chin towards the throat. (People with cervical problems should take care not to strain their neck.) Inhaling make the upward movement and exhaling make the downward movement from the opposite side. Now once your chin comes near the throat i.e. the starting position, instead of moving on in the same direction change the direction of your movement to the other side. You move up from right side and move down from the left side and then move up from the left and move down from the right. This alternate motion makes one complete round. Likewise make 5 rounds. Now straighten your head and then open your eyes.

Now once more we move on the posture of shavasana. Close your eyes. Physically and mentally relax the whole body. Relax for some time. Now bring the awareness to the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders and neck joint and relax these parts of your body exactly according to this sequence. Stop for a few seconds at each joint and mentally say to yourself that you are letting go of all tensions from that particular joint. Now become aware of the whole physical body. Now become aware of the different physical sensations. Lastly become aware of your breath and count your breath from 27 to 1. Move to right side and come up.

According to the system of Yoga there are 72,000 nadis or psychic networks along which energy flows in the human body. These nadis have a profound influence on our nerves but they are not the nerves. They are channels of energy. When we do this series of simple asanas the pathway becomes free of blockages. It’s like a highway without traffic and energy moves swiftly without any impediment. Also these simple movements if practiced regularly in a disciplined manner relieves one of various psychosomatic disorders. Mind is nothing but energy. It is subtle energy just like the body is the manifestation of gross energy. We cannot change the symptoms of the mind unless we alter the structure of the mind. And for that we need to change the quality of energy we are made up of.

Now to our practices for stress management we will add two more components. One is mantra, the other is pranayama.

Mantras are psychic sounds that have no literal meaning mostly, (as in tantric mantras) ,but they help us to transcend the mind. Mananat trayate iti mantraha – it means mantra is something by repetition of which one becomes free. Free from the dualities of mind. The best thing about mantra or the yoga we are practicing is that it needs no concentration. Let the mind jump and play or run around. We need not bother. We just go on repeating the mantra for the number of rounds. There are numerous mantras. If you have a personal mantra which you have received from your Guru then you should chant that mantra. If you are uninitiated you can very well use the Gayatri Mantra.

Om bhūr bhuvah svah
Tát savitúr váreniyam
Bhárgo devásya dhīmahi
Dhíyo yó nah pracodáyāt

Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life,
Remover of pain and sorrow,
The Bestower of happiness,
Oh! Creator of the Universe,
May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light,
May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.

Chant this mantra for 108 rounds or at least 27 times everyday in the morning right after you wake up. Chant not too loudly. Morning is a time of peace and let us be peaceful also. This mantra is from the Vedas and improves concentration and the quality of intelligence. We take so many medicines without understanding the long term effects of the chemical compounds. Similarly we can do this sadhana without bringing reason and logic in the midst. Science has not moved that far so as to find the effects of this mantra on our patterns of mind but it has been proved that chanting or kirtan or meditation can definitely affect the brain waves. Continuous chanting leads to predominance of alpha waves and this is now a known fact. Mind in stress is constantly moving or is stuck at a particular point. Whatever it does, it has no happiness. Mantras cast a soothing spell on the tired mind and because of the positive affirmations they help us to combat the bouts of negativity.

We will include only one pranayama in our daily routine. It is the ‘bhramari’ or the ‘humming bee breath’. Bhramari relieves anger, stress and also insomnia. It helps in awakening the centre of intuition which is related to the pineal gland. The pineal gland, a tiny structure, situated right at the top of the spine inside the brain is related to our state of consciousness. It acts as a lock or control centre for the pituitary gland. Pineal is the master or Guru and pituitary is the disciple. As we move towards adolescence from childhood it becomes defunct. Practice of bhramari reactivates the pineal gland and gives a sense of wellbeing. It is like going back to childhood days, towards a state of mind i.e. carefree and intuitive. Christ told his disciples “Unless you become once more like little children you cannot re-enter the kingdom of heaven”. Perhaps he symbolically referred to this aspect of Yoga. Every morning after you do your mantra do bhramari for 7 rounds. And at night before going to sleep do it for 7 rounds. Remember there should be at least one and a half hours gap between your dinner and night sadhana.

The practice
Sit straight and close your eyes. Observe the flow of breath for some time. Now plug your ears with your index fingers as shown in the picture. Take a deep breath and as you exhale very slowly through your nostrils make a humming sound like that of a bee. You know how to do the a-u-m chanting. In bhramari we chant just the ‘m’ of aum. It’s like mmmmmmmm………… the sound shouldn’t be too loud or too low. Maintain a steady pitch. If you do it correctly you will distinctly feel a vibration inside your brain. Once you feel that vibration try to direct it towards the top of your head. Towards the crown chakra. Regular practice of bhramari unlocks the door to the realm of supernatural sounds. It makes us aware of the anahad dhwani which is the starting point of nada yoga. After the 7 rounds relax your arms and fingers and observe the effects of this pranayama.

Along with these few simple practices of yoga we will incorporate a few lifestyle changes like going for a daily walk provided we have time. Walking in the midst of nature is a great stress buster. You can have a like minded friend as your walking partner. You will enjoy it immensely. Walking prevents type 2 diabetes, relieves symptoms of depression in women and it improves blood circulation.

Regarding diet we can have at least two portions of fruits everyday. Fruits, locally available, which are seasonal and cheap, are much needed for the body and mind. From the subtlest portion of food, the mind is made. If the food we eat is impure then our mind and thinking will be impure also. Sattvika, (pure, wholesome, nutritious), diet results in a healthy body and calm mind. Meal times should be regularized. Avoid late dinners. There should be at least two hours gap between dinner and sleep. Wrong food, irregular living habits and tension create toxins in our body. These toxins accumulate in the weak spots in our system and cause disease in the organs affected. So have an early dinner and then spend the time reading good books.

A lot has been written about stress. International conferences of medical practitioners and worldwide organizations are coming up. It shows the necessity and urgency of creating an effective system that will provide peace and wellbeing to mankind. But individual man who is the weakest link in this chain doesn’t know what to do. He fights throughout the day and at night he is tired and falls asleep. And in sleep he forgets all his cares and worries for some time. Because in sleep he jumps over the mind. In the same manner the practices of Yoga helps us to jump over the mind. It takes time; maybe years but eventually we make that great leap. A daily, disciplined practice helps us to move towards that edge or precipice. This is just the beginning!

Soham Bose. He learnt Yoga from Bihar Yoga Bharati (BYB) in Munger, India, popularly known as the Bihar School of Yoga, founded by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, a beautiful ashram on a hilltop overlooking the Ganges, a place where Yoga is taught not only in the classroom but also in the publications, kitchen and garden. He worked as a Yoga teacher in Don Bosco School, Birla High for Boys School and Army Public School. He was also attached to St. Lawrence High School in Kolkata. He has written articles on Yoga for Complete Well Being Magazine, India, Integral Yoga Magazine, USA, Yoga Magazine, UK and Yoga Chicago, USA. In 2009 he started SATYANANDA MISSION OF YOGA to serve the practices of Yoga among all the people. To take the rudiments of Yoga to every person, every society, in all areas of life, in schools, colleges, rehabilitation & correctional institutes, sports, army, management, corporate and financial sectors. He stays in Kolkata, India and currently organizes and conducts Yoga Workshops and classes as the Programme Director & Yoga Teacher of SATYANANDA MISSION OF YOGA.

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