How to Reduce Stress Using Yoga? Explained with Sanskrit Texts

Most of us experience stress in our day to day life. It has become one of the biggest problems for us; more dangerous than cancer! Stress is adversely affecting everything; our working capacity, relations, physical and mental health. Stress has become one of the important factors in reducing our lifespan. Let us explore how Yoga and some of the natural Yogic ways can help us address this subtle yet daunting disease?

चिंतायाश्च चितायाश्च बिन्दुमात्रं विशिष्यते |
चिता दहति निर्जीवं चिन्ता दहति जीवनम् ||

ciṃtāyāśca citāyāśca bindumātraṃ viśiṣyate
citā dahati nirjīvaṃ cintā dahati jīvanam
English translation:
In Sanskrit, there is only one difference in the spelling of the words चिंता (stress) and चिता (funeral pyre); just an extra dot. The pyre burns the dead body, and stress burns down the whole life!
Hindi translation:
चिंता और चिता इन शब्दों में केवल एक बिन्दु का फ़र्क है | किंतु चिता निर्जीव शरीर को जलाती है, और चिंता जीवन को ही जलाती है |

This verse perfectly defines the effects of stress on our life.

What is stress exactly?

Stress is defined as the state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Stress is basically a physiological and psychological response to an event that upsets our personal balance in some way.

When one experiences a threat, physically or emotionally; the body’s defenses start working for the rapid response to that threat; known as fight or flight response.

How stress changes your body?

Many changes take place in our body in this process. When the threat is sensed, a small part of the brain called the hypothalamus sets off a chemical alarm, and stress hormone is secreted. It makes the person ready for the response to the threat. The response can be of fight or flight.

During this process, all the energy in the body is used for reducing the reaction time for the response. At the same time, body processes not essential for immediate survival; such as the digestive system or reproductive system slow down.

This happens when a physical threat is there. Nowadays, most of the people experience the threat to emotional balance, rather than a physical one. There are many reasons for this; such as small things like an argument with a friend or family member, monthly bills, traffic jam, etc.; or big things like an accident, death of loved one, etc. These are the main causes of stress.

The problem with the stress response is that the more it is activated, it becomes harder to shut off. Instead of leveling once the threat is passed; the stress hormones, heart rate, blood pressure remain elevated.

Moreover, extended or repeated activation of stress response affects physical health adversely. It increases the risk of everything right from heart disease, obesity, depression, memory problems, etc. It has a strong impact on our physical, as well as mental health. Here are some of the effects of stress, according to this study

Effects on the body

Headaches or backaches, muscle tension, and stiffness, diarrhea or constipation, nausea, chest pain, rapid heart rate, weight gain or loss, frequent colds, etc.

Effects on cognition

Memory problems, indecisiveness, inability to concentrate, seeing only the negative, constant worrying, poor judgment, etc.

Effects on emotional health

Moodiness, agitation, restlessness, short temper, irritability, impatience, inability to relax, sense of loneliness or isolation, depression, in general unhappiness, etc.

Effects on behavior

Eating more or less, too much or too little sleep, using alcohol, cigarettes or drugs to relax, nervous habits like nail biting, overdoing activities (exercise or shopping, etc.)

In this way, stress has serious effects on our health in all aspects. Therefore, it is very important to manage stress and deal with it in a more positive way and reduce its impact on our lives.

How to reduce stress using Yoga?

There are many ways to deal with stress. But, our rich culture gives us a simple and cost-effective way! And that way is Yoga. Yoga is useful for us in many ways and is also a very effective stress-buster.

If all the causes of stress are observed carefully, the common thing among them is a disturbance. The threat may be physical or emotional, it disturbs the stability of mind which is the basic cause of stress.

For example, when you throw a stone in the still water of a lake, its stability is lost and is regained after some time. Similarly, when a threat is experienced, the stability of the mind is disturbed. And it leads to stress if the threat is major, or repeated.

Yoga helps in increasing stability, as well as the strength of the mind; which is beneficial in dealing with the stress.

The definition of the word yoga is, युज्यते इति योगः | (The one which unites, is Yoga). Yoga is the union of mind, body, and the spirit. This union is achieved through eight steps, which are called Angas (limbs) of Yoga.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.29

यमनियमासनप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणाध्यानसमाधयोsअष्टावङ्गानि |

yamaniyamāsanaprāṇāyāmapratyāhāradhāraṇādhyānasamādhayosaṣṭāvaṅgāni |
The eight steps of Yoga are; the codes of self-regulation (Yama), practices of self-training (Niyama), postures (Āsana), expansion of breath and prāņa (Prāņāyāma), withdrawal of the senses (Pratyāhāra), concentration (Dhāraņā), meditation (Dhyāna), and perfected concentration (Samādhī).

These eight aspects include all the aspects, such as behavioral aspect, physical aspect, mental aspect, and spiritual aspect.

Anga 1 — Yama (Control or Restraint)

अहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यमाः | (पातञ्जलयोगसूत्र — २.३०)

ahiṃsāsatyāsteyabrahmacaryāparigrahā yamāḥ | (pātañjalayogasūtra — 2.30)
अहिंसा, सत्य, अस्तेय, ब्रह्मचर्य, अपरिग्रह ये पांच यम हैं |

Non-injury (Ahimsa), truthfulness (Satya), abstention from theft (Asteya), walking in awareness of highest reality (Brahmacharya), and non-possessiveness with the senses (Aparigraha) are the five Yamas; or codes of self-restraint.

Anga 2 — Niyama (Self-training)

शौचसन्तोषतपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि नियमाः | (पातञ्जलयोगसूत्र — २.३२)

śaucasantoṣatapaḥsvādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni niyamāḥ | (pātañjalayogasūtra — 2.32)
शौच, संतोष, तप, स्वाध्याय, ईश्वरप्रणिधान ये पांच नियम हैं |

The purity of body and mind (Śauca), an attitude of satisfaction (Santoşa), training of the senses (Tapa), self-study or recitation of Vedas (Swādhyāya), and subjection to the will of God (Ĩśwarapraņidhāna); are the five Niyamas or practices of self-training.

Anga 3 — Āsana (Postures)

स्थिरसुखमासनम् | (पातञ्जलयोगसूत्र — २.४६)

sthirasukhamāsanam | (pātañjalayogasūtra — 2.46)
जिसमें मन और शरीर दोनों सुखकारी स्थिती में हो वह आसन होता है |

A steady and comfortable posture of body and mind is called Āsana.

Anga 4 — Prāņāyāma (Control on breathing)

तस्मिन्सति श्वासप्रश्वासयोर्गतिविच्छेदः प्राणायामः | (पातञ्जलयोगसूत्र — २.४९)

tasminsati śvāsapraśvāsayorgativicchedaḥ prāṇāyāmaḥ | (pātañjalayogasūtra — 2.49)
आसनजय होने के बाद श्वास और उच्छ्वास का नियंत्रण करने को प्राणायाम कहते हैं |

Once the perfect posture is achieved, the controlled movements of inhalation and exhalation are called breath control and expansion of Prāņa (Pranayama).

Anga 5 — Pratyāhāra (Withdrawal of senses)

स्वविषयासम्प्रयोगे चित्तस्वरूपानुकार इवेन्द्रियाणां प्रत्याहारः | (पातञ्जलयोगसूत्र — २.५४)

svaviṣayāsamprayoge cittasvarūpānukāra ivendriyāṇāṃ pratyāhāraḥ | (pātañjalayogasūtra — 2.54)
पांच इन्द्रियों का उनके पांच विषयों के साथ संबंध ना आनेपर वे चित्त के स्वरुप का अनुकरण करनेवाली बनती हैं, उसे प्रत्याहार कहते हैं |

When the contact between five sense organs and their five objects is ceased, they start following the mind field; and acquire the form of the mind. It is called as Pratyāhāra.

Anga 6 — Dhāraņā (Concentration)

देशबन्धश्चित्तस्य धारणा | (पातञ्जलयोगसूत्र — ३.१)

deśabandhaścittasya dhāraṇā | (pātañjalayogasūtra — 3.1)
किसी एक स्थान पर चित्त को स्थिर करने का अर्थ धारणा है |

The process of holding or fixing the attention of mind unto an object is called concentration (Dhāraņā).

Anga 7 — Dhyāna (Meditation)

तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम् | (पातञ्जलयोगसूत्र — ३.२)

tatra pratyayaikatānatā dhyānam | (pātañjalayogasūtra — 3.2)
जिस स्थान पर चित्त को स्थिर किया है, वही स्थान चित्त में अनेक क्षण कायम रहने का अर्थ ध्यान है|

The uninterrupted stream of the object in the mind, on which it is concentrated, for a long period of time, is called meditation (Dhyāna).

Anga 8 — Samādhī (Deeper concentration)

तदेवार्थमात्रनिर्भासं स्वरूपशून्यमिव समाधिः | (पातञ्जलयोगसूत्र — ३.३)

tadevārthamātranirbhāsaṃ svarūpaśūnyamiva samādhiḥ | (pātañjalayogasūtra — 3.3)
जिस स्थान पर चित्त स्थिर किया है, वह स्थान अर्थरूपसे भासमान होना, और उसके स्वरुप का भी ज्ञान न होना, इस अवस्था को समाधी कहते हैं |

When only the essence of that object on which the mind is concentrated, appears before the mind; and the appearance is devoid of its form, then that state is called deep concentration (Samādhī).

Which Angas (aspects of Yoga) should you focus on?

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