The Roots of Stress

Stress is an exaggerated response to change in the external or internal environment. The centre of the neuroendocrine system is the hypothalamus that prods the adrenal glands into activity. These glands are known as the “3 F” glands to the psychologist and the ”3 S” glands to the physiologist. The “3 F’s” are fright, flight and fight while the “3 S’s” are salt, sugar and sex. When faced with tension, anxiety builds up and the glandular system secretes its  hormonal messages into the bloodstream. As adrenaline squirts into the bloodstream, fear is the first emotion to be felt. Full fear is fright. Then we want to run, to escape or to flee from the danger, real or imagined.

Psychological fugue is a natural outcome. The television, cinema, the local bar, card playing, and the races are all common examples of people escaping anxiety. If real fright occurs to the point that flight results, it may alter into a confrontation with the source of the fear. To fight is the result. Even a small mouse when cornered will take on a pursuing tomcat, and it is all a matter of adrenaline. It is said that heroes are made, not born, and it is true. The only difference between a hero and a coward is half a teaspoon of adrenaline—the one gets a medal, the other a firing squad.

In Yoga, the relaxation techniques have a distinct effect upon the stress-producing mechanisms of the brain and the adrenal glands, as well as the whole psycho-mental function from which the stress originates. At the physiological level, the term “stress” covers all of the psychological factors expressed by the “3 F’s” but added to these are two new factors which I have categorized under the term “3 S’s”. Sex and salt are also controlled by the adrenals and both of these are controlled or disturbed by mental anxiety, stress or tension. Notice how one sweats when frightened. The palms of the hands become wet, the toes sweat. When sexual passions are aroused, the adrenal glands are also thrown into action. One may be upset by “puppy love” as a teenager, moonstruck as a youth, sexually indulgent as an adult. All of these are a strain on the human mechanism, destroying tissue, burning up energy and shortening one’s life. This is why a controlled sex drive (Brahmacharya) is advocated in Yoga.

The most common causes of stress are the Shat Ripus or the six enemies of the spirit. These are Kama (Uncontrolled passion), Krodha (Senseless Anger), Lobha (Greed), Moha (Blind infatuation), Mada (Massive Ego) and Maatsarya (Malice / envy). Corruption of character, conduct, thought and interpersonal dealing is another cause of stress. An environment where sadistic pleasure gives satisfaction, where ethics have little or scant regard, where self-interest is more important and where under cutting and backbiting are a common feature, will surely lead to the development of extreme stress. It is important to realise these facts and be aware of them in our life. Unless we develop awareness and consciousness of what we think, feel and do, there cannot ever be a lasting solution to stress.

The attitude that one takes towards the events that make up the play of one’s life is an important factor in deciding the levels as well as the effects of stress on the individual. The great thinker Epietetus said, “Men are not disturbed by things, but the views, they take of them”. As our beloved Pujya Swamiji Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj used to jocularly say, “You don’t have problems—you are the problem!” A positive frame of mind will help us to be cheerful and unstressed. Maharishi Patanjali’s advise in this regard to cultivate Pratipaksha Bhavanam (The Opposite View) is vital to achieve balance of the emotions and mind. It is also worth trying to follow his advise of Maitri-Sukha (Friendliness towards the happy), Karuna-Dukha (Compassion towards the suffering), Mudhita-Punya (Cheerfulness towards the virtuous) and Upekshanam-Apunya (Indifference towards the wicked).

It is pertinent to understand the dictates of the Srimad Bhagavad Gita where many thousands of years ago, Yogeshwar Sri Krishna logically explained both the cause and effect of stress and how we cause our ultimate destruction by our attraction to the worldly sensory objects. The description of the ‘Path to Destruction’ as mentioned in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita holds true to thismodern age also.

In chapter Two (Samkhya Yoga), in verse 62 and 63, the pattern of behaviour (stress response) is given that ultimately leads to the destruction of man. Verse 62: “Brooding on the objects of the senses, man develops attachment to them; from attachment (Sangha or Chanuraaga) comes desire (Kama) and from unfulfilled desire, anger (Krodha) sprouts forth.” Verse 63: “From anger proceeds delusion (Moha); from delusion, confused memory (Smriti Vibramah); from confused memory the ruin of reason and due to the ruin of reason (Buddhi Naaso) he perishes.”

In verse 64 of the second chapter, Lord Krishna also gives us a clue to equanimity of mind (Samatvam) and how to become a person settled in that equanimity (Stitha Prajna) who is not affected by the opposites (Dwandwas). He says, “But the disciplined yogi, moving amongst the sensory objects with all senses under control and free from attraction (Raaga) and aversion (Dwesha), gains in tranquility.”

According to Maharishi Patanjali, most of our problems stem from the five psycho-physiological afflictions (Pancha Kleshas) that are inborn in each and every human being. These Pancha Kleshas are ignorance (Avidya), egoism (Asmita) and our sense of needing to survive at any cost (Abhinivesha) as well as the attraction (Raaga) to external objects and the repulsion (Dwesha) to them. Ignorance (Avidya) is usually the start of most problems along with the ego (Asmita). Then, our sense of needing to survive at any cost (Abhinivesha) compounds it further. Both attraction (Raaga) to external objects and the repulsion (Dwesha) to them need to be destroyed in order to attain tranquility as well as equanimity of emotions and the mind. Maharishi Patanjali further states that the practice of Kriya Yoga (Yoga of mental purification) consisting of Tapas (disciplined effort), Swadhyaya (self analysis) and Ishwara Pranidhana (surrender to the divine will) is the means to destroy these five mental afflictions and attain to the state of Samadhi or oneness with the supreme self or the divine.

Both the Srimad Bhagavad Gita as well as the Patanjala Yoga Sutras emphasize that the key to success in Yoga (Chitta Vritti Nirodha) is Abhyasa (dedicated practice) and Vairagya (non attachment-dispassion). Vairagya has two stages. The lower stage (Apara Vairagya) is detachment towards worldly objects of the senses and a movement into Pratyahara whereas the higher or Para Vairagya is dispassion towards even higher achievements and Siddhis of the Yoga Sadhana itself. Attachment is usually towards the objects of the senses and that which attracts us. Until and unless we can go beyond the sense, there is no real Yoga possible at all. This is because our senses are great liars and mainly feed us information about the unreal world and not the inner reality.

We must strive to become persons of “Equal mindedness in all situations” that is described as Stitha Prajna or Samabhava in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita. Yogeshwar Krishna says that the man of Stitha Prajna has the following qualities: He is, Beyond passion, fear and anger. (II.56) Devoid of possessiveness and egoism. (II.71) Firm in understanding and unbewildered. (V.20) Engaged in doing good to all beings. (V.25) Friendly and compassionate to all. (XII.13) Has no expectation, is pure and skillful in action. (XII.16)

The Art of Yoga Relaxation

Many who seek the advice of a doctor are simply told that they are “tense.” Already knowing this they pay a handsome fee for what they already know. If they ask what to do about the tension, the doctor will aver that they should “relax”. In near panic, the doctor hopes the patient will not ask ”how”, for he doesn’t know. He is himself “tense” in the first place! Yoga relaxation differs from ordinary relaxation in that both those who are hypertense as well as those who are normal can use it. It is not just a physical means of relaxation, but is an actual mental control of the psycho-neuro-endocrine system. The Hatha Yoga and Jnana Yoga Relaxation Kriyas help us to uproot the originating physiological or psychological causes of most modern stress disorders.

Deep relaxation and Yoga are synonymous when we reach the inner phases of Yoga. For at this stage relaxation is not only body relaxation, but also a state where the physical body, emotions and mind are all brought up into a high state of conscious relaxation. Please note the two words in the foregoing sentence: “up” and “conscious”. The popular idea of relaxation is “down” and “non-conscious”. This is where Yoga differs from any other system, and in particular, differs from drug medication and hypnosis where any outside control is employed. In Yoga, the control is turned, over to the higher mind. An elevation of consciousness takes place. After a relaxation session, one should feel that one has advanced a step up the ladder of evolution.

Physical activity such as the Asanas, Kriyas and Mudras are an excellent way to relieve physical tension. Strained muscles, tense sinews and stiff joints are all loosened up by regular practice of Hatha Yoga. Much tension exists because of lack of exercise leading to physical tiredness. One does not need sleep or a rest to relieve this kind of tiredness, but a change over to the Yoga type of activity. An excellent example of this is a child who comes home from school very tired. The child does not wish to go to bed, but seeks permission to go and play and immediately, the tension is gone. Yoga practice offers a better diversion than any other form of physical activity. When you find yourself tired during the day, try doing a little deep breathing or one or more of the Yoga Pranayamas. See how quickly the tiredness flies. Indeed, it was not tiredness at all, but rather fatigue brought on by toxicity. If you are the type who awakens in the morning still tired, then try doing some Pranayama while still lying in bed. If you have slept tense and breathing has been poor during the night, you may be as tired or more tired when you awaken in the morning. Let a little Pranayama wake you up.

Much of the stress and tension that we face in modern life is not real tension. No Saber-tooth tiger is at our door. We are victims of modern anxiety. Most of the tension is “implied” tension as we let things prey on our minds and trade on our emotions. This kind of tension has to be dealt with in a unique way. You can spend a fortune on a psychiatrist who may or may not be able to help you, or you can approach your problem from the Yoga standpoint, which is to deal with the source of the problem. The source is “YOU”. The problems are peripheral. Yoga has a unique way of dealing with these tensions and stresses that are stored away in the old part of our brain that we have inherited from our reptilian and mammalian ancestors.

About the Author:

Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani was born to the world famous Yoga team of Yogamaharishi Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj and Puduvai Kalaimamani, Yogamani, Yogacharini, Smt. Meenakshi Devi Bhavanani and has written 23 books and presented 20 DVDs on Yoga. He has had more than a hundred scientific papers, scientific abstracts and compilations on Yoga research published. Yoga for him is not just the performance of a few Asanas or Pranayamas but is a means for evolution of the human mind in to further states of consciousness and awareness.Dr. Ananda is Chairman of the International Centre for Yoga Education and Research (ICYER) an internationally acclaimed Yoga Institute established as Ananda Ashram in 1968. He is also Chairman of Yoganjali Natyalayam, a world famous Institute of Yoga, Bharat Natyam, and Carnatic Music established in Pondicherry in 1993. He is at present, Deputy Director of the Center for Yoga Therapy, Education and Research (CYTER) at MGMCRI, Sri Balaji Vidyapeeth University, Pondicherry.