This was an assessment that I submitted for my BWY Teacher Training Course in 2016. Although there has been new researches and findings on Stress, Relaxation and their relation with Yoga since then this short piece is still valid to get used to the main terms and to understand the basics.
- What is Stress:
Stress is defined as an organism’s total response to environmental demands or pressures. (http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/stress 10 Jan. 2016)
1.2 Causes of Stress:
Physiologically, stress is caused by the activation of subdivisions of the autonomic nervous system. This reaction begins when sensations are picked up and the body perceives them as a threat. (https://www.academia.edu/19970786/The_Core_of_Mindfulness_A_literature_review_on_the_central_steps_and_effects_of_multiple_relaxation_processes_with_the_goal_of_breaking_them_down_to_create_a_swift_effective_relieving_effect 10 Jan 2016)
Many different things can cause stress — from physical (such as fear of something dangerous) to emotional (such as worry over your family/ job.) Identifying what may be causing you stress is often the first step in learning how to better deal with your stress. Some of the most common sources of stress are:
- Survival Stress – This is a common response to danger in all people and animals. When you are afraid that someone or something may physically hurt you, your body naturally responds with a burst of energy so that you will be better able to survive the dangerous situation (fight) or escape it all together (flight). This is survival stress.
- Internal Stress – Internal stress is when people make themselves stressed.This often happens when we worry about things we can’t control or put ourselves in situations we know will cause us stress. Some people become addicted to the kind of hurried, tense, lifestyle that results from being under stress. They even look for stressful situations and feel stress about things that aren’t stressful.
- Environmental Stress – This is a response to things around you that cause stress, such as noise, crowding, and pressure from work or family. Identifying these environmental stresses and learning to avoid them or deal with them will help lower your stress level.
- Fatigue and Overwork – This kind of stress builds up over a long time and can take a hard toll on your body. It can be caused by working too much or too hard at your job(s), school, or home. It can also be caused by not knowing how to manage your time well or how to take time out for rest and relaxation. This can be one of the hardest kinds of stress to avoid because many people feel this is out of their control.
(http://www.mtstcil.org/skills/stress-definition-1.html 10 Jan 2016)
1.3 Symptoms of Stress:
Stress can affect both your body and mind. There are several symptoms, such as; headaches, tense muscles, sore neck and back, fatigue, anxiety, worry, phobias, difficulty falling asleep, irritability, insomnia, bouts of anger/hostility, boredom, depression, eating too much or too little, diarrhoea, cramps, gas, constipation, restlessness, itching, tics (http://www.nysut.org/~/media/files/nysut/resources/2013/april/social-services/socialservices_stressassessments.pdf?la=en 10 Jan 2016)
- Good Stress versus Bad Stress
Good Stress is also known as Eustress (short-term stress). This kind of stress keeps you inspired and motivated to complete a given task or achieve your goals.
Eustress occurs during events and moments in your life when a degree of motivation is needed to overcome a potentially difficult obstacle, but an obstacle that is inherently manageable.
There are several situations that eustress keeps you alive; preparing for an exam, writing down a speech, finding the confidence to give a speech in front of people etc
Bad Stress is also known as Distress (negative stress). This kind of stress may affect your everyday life in a bad way and stop you from completing/doing tasks that you need to do.
Distress can be extremely detrimental to your health; the immune system, digestive system and reproductive system can be particularly affected by this. It might lead to cold, coughing, flu and even more serious problems such as depression, heart disease, weight gain/loss, memory loss etc.
- Long Term Effects of Bad Stress(Distress)
Chronic stress, which is constant and persists over an extended period of time, can be debilitating and overwhelming. Chronic stress can affect both your physical and psychological well-being by causing a variety of problems including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depression and obesity. The consequences of chronic stress are serious. (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-stress.aspx 10 jan 2016)
PNI (psychoneuroimmunology) research suggests that chronic stress can lead to or exacerbate mood disorders such as depression and anxiety, bipolar disorder, cognitive (thinking) problems, personality changes, and problem behaviours.
A variety of different relaxation techniques can help you bring your nervous system back into balance by producing a relaxation response. The relaxation response is not lying on the couch or sleeping but a mentally active process that leaves the body relaxed, calm, and focused.
When stress overwhelms your nervous system your body is flooded with chemicals that prepare you for “fight or flight.” While the stress response can be lifesaving in emergency situations where you need to act quickly, it wears your body down when constantly activated by the stresses of everyday life.
When the relaxation response is activated:
- Your heart rate decreases
- Breathing becomes slower and deeper
- Blood pressure drops or stabilizes
- Your muscles relax
- Your body begins to heal
In addition to its calming physical effects, the relaxation response also increases energy and focus, combats illness, relieves aches and pains, heightens problem-solving abilities, and boosts motivation and productivity. Best of all, anyone can reap these benefits with regular practice. (http://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/relaxation-techniques-for-stress-relief.htm 13 Jan 2016)
- Role of Yoga in Stress Relief
The practice of asanas and pranayama is not only the most effective but also the most natural therapy for stress. Practised together, they generate enormous amounts of energy in the body, stimulating the cells and relaxing tense muscles. The effect on the mind takes longer to register because yoga deals with the causes, and not just symptoms of stress. With regular practice, the senses that divert the mind to the external environment are drawn inward, calming the restless mind. When your stress levels are high, it is sometimes hard to achieve the final pose effectively. In this case, practising with the recommended props helps you to attain the benefits of the asanas in a relaxed manner. ( Yoga The Path to Holistic Health, pg: 175, BKS Iyengar)
The word “yoga” in Sanskrit means “unite”. It unites body, mind and breath, so yoga also provides a balance that helps to relax.
Yoga can help reduce stress because it promotes relaxation, which is the natural opposite of stress.
The best part about yoga is that it helps you discover more about your mind, body, and emotions. Yoga can help you become more balanced, calm, focused, and relaxed as you go through life’s usual ups and downs.
After doing appropriate asanas you should also consider a relaxation posture in the end which is probably savasana. It helps to relax the body(muscles) and breath also encourages you to withdraw the senses and calm the mind.
If you are dealing with serious stress you may prefer doing specific asanas. Neck, shoulders, hips and back are the areas that tend to carry the stress in the body. So you can choose suitable asanas to relax these areas.
There are several pranayama techniques, according to your needs you may choose a suitable one to calm your body and mind which is helpful for stress relief.
Alternatively, you may do a proper meditation in order to release the stress.
As we all react to stress differently the relaxation techniques that work best might vary.
- The “fight” response. If you tend to become angry, agitated, or keyed up under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that quiet you down, such as meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, or guided imagery.
- The “flight” response. If you tend to become depressed, withdrawn, or spaced out under stress, you will respond best to stress relief activities that are stimulating and energize your nervous system, such as rhythmic exercise, massage, mindfulness, or power yoga.
- The immobilization response. If you’ve experienced some type of trauma and tend to “freeze” or become “stuck” under stress, your challenge is to first rouse your nervous system to a fight or flight response so you can employ the applicable stress relief techniques. To do this, choose physical activity that engages both your arms and legs, such as running, dancing, or tai chi, and perform it mindfully, focusing on the sensations in your limbs as you move.
“While the effect of asanas and pranayama on the mind takes longer to be felt, with patience and dedication, you will soon discover a feeling of mental poise and well-being during and after your practice. While practising asanas and pranayama, the five senses of perception that divert the mind to the external environment are drawn inward. The impact of negative stress is reduced, while benefits of positive stress enhanced, building up the resilience and flexibility of the nerves, organs, senses, mind, and intelligence to create a healthy mind and body.” ( Yoga The Path to Holistic Health, pg: 180, BKS Iyengar)
Bibliography and Sources
** http://medical-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/stress (10 jan. 2016)
** https://www.academia.edu/19970786/The_Core_of_Mindfulness_A_literature_review_on_the_central_steps_and_effects_of_multiple_relaxation_processes_with_the_goal_of_breaking_them_down_to_create_a_swift_effective_relieving_effect (10 jan. 2016)
** http://www.mtstcil.org/skills/stress-definition-1.html (10 jan. 2016)
** http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/chronic-stress.aspx (10 jan. 2016)
** Yoga The Path to Holistic Health, pg: 175, BKS Iyengar
** http://kidshealth.org/teen/your_mind/problems/yoga_stress.html# (13 Jan 2016)
Extra Readings for This Assessment
** The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Sri Swami Satchidananda