Managing Stress, by Vasant Lad
Is stress wearing you down? Even “yoga people” can feel frazzled at the end of the day! Whether you’re worrying about looming deadlines, job insecurity, traffic jams, or a troubled relationship, stress takes it toll on your body, breath, and mind. From a scientific perspective, stress can trigger anything from allergies and asthma to headaches and indigestion. Over time, it can contribute to high cholesterol, ulcers, diabetes, obesity, and heart problems. From an ayurvedic point of view, stress also disrupts the inner harmony of your doshas—the three forces that govern your health on a subtle level. An experienced ayurvedic practitioner can tailor a stress-reduction program to your individual needs. But in the meantime, here’s some advice that works for everyone.
Take a Relaxation Break
To prevent the buildup of stress, spend at least 5 to 10 minutes in shavasana (corpse pose) daily. Lie on your back with your legs and arms a comfortable distance from your torso, close your eyes, and let your muscles melt into the floor. Then let the lungs do their job. If they want to take a deep breath, let them! Diaphragmatic breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which counters the body’s fight-or-flight response to stress and puts us in rest-and-digest mode instead. Bring your attention to the sensation of the breath flowing in and out of your nostrils, and notice how the exhalation is slightly warm and the inhalation is moderately cool. If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to the breath. When thoughts arise, let them go. This practice balances the nervous system and fosters a relaxed, clear state of mind.
For Quick Relief a Ginger-Baking-Soda Bath
Add 1/3 cup ginger and 1/3 cup baking soda to a hot bath. The circulation-boosting effects of ginger and the alkaline properties of baking soda will counteract some of stress’s effects on your body. Then, even if you are not a singer, sing in the tub! Even if you’re not a dancer, dance with your arms. Spontaneous music and movement will help you get back in touch with your carefree side.
3 Herbal Teas
Fresh tea made from equal proportions of chamomile, tulsi, holy basil, and angelica is relaxing. So is brahmi tea, which you can make by adding a cup of boiling water to 1/2 teaspoon brahmi. Or try an ayurvedic tea made from equal amounts of the following herbs: brahmi, bhringaraj, jatamansi, and shanka pushpi. Steep 1/2 teaspoon of this mixture in 1 cup of hot water for 10 minutes. Drink 2 or 3 times a day.
5 Yoga Poses
Shoulderstand (sarvangasana), plow pose (halasana), half spinal twist (ardha matsyendrasana), locust pose (shalabhasana), and lion pose (simhasana) are great for stress relief.
Manage Your Mind
Analyze Your Stress. Separate the things in your life that you find stressful into two categories: things you can do something about, and things you can’t. If you can do something about it, then do it! If there’s nothing you can do, then accept it and move on.
Monitor Your Negative Thinking
Stress is often the result of fears that are based in your imagination. Observe this tendency, and replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. Just changing your attitude can alleviate a lot of stress.
Crying is an excellent stress reliever, especially if you have bottled up sadness and grief. Let your unresolved emotions roll down your cheeks and out of your life. Laughter is good medicine, too. Even if you are angry or depressed, just say ha ha hee hoo hoo. Soon, real laughter will come…and with it, joyful tension release.
One ultimate goal of yoga is rest—and simple, quiet meditation accomplishes this quite effectively. Sit with your head, neck, and trunk in alignment and your legs comfortably crossed, facing east. Observe the quiet flow of your breath for several minutes. Then practice soham meditation (pronounced “so-hum”). On each inhalation, mentally say so. On each exhalation, mentally say hum. Stay with this mantra for at least 5 minutes. It will help you become one with your inner being, and soon your stress will melt away.
Cultivate a Meditative Mind
If you’re practicing yoga earnestly, you know that meditation should not be confined to a little corner of your house. It should flow where you go. For example, when you walk, walk mindfully. Feel the cool grass under your feet. Notice the brightly colored flowers, the beautiful trees, a single bird flying in the sky. By staying in the present moment, you will fall in love with your life. Then anything that touches you—even stress, anger, anxiety—becomes meditation.
Vasant Lad, BAMS, MASc, is a world-renowned ayurvedic physician from India. He is the founder of the Ayurvedic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the author of numerous books.