Stress can arise from a variety of reasons. Stress can be brought about by a traumatic accident, death, or emergency situation. Stress can also be a side effect of a serious illness or disease. There is also stress associated with daily life, the workplace, and family responsibilities. It's hard to stay calm and relaxed in our hectic lives. As women, we have many roles: spouse, mother, caregiver, friend, and/or worker. Your health depends on it. Many women work in our society because of economic necessity and for those who do a work of their liking there is a price for what they achieve.
Women have to deal with conflicting situations: pursuing a career and taking care of their family.Therefore although women's responsibilities have increased, they do not always get the extra help in their traditional role, because not all can afford. They have to spend as much hours in doing household chores (cleaning, cooking, ironing....) as in their job. The conflict born out of those two different roles is due to the fact that women's unconscious mind has since their childhood been filled with traditional images of how a woman should be and these clash with the modern role of working women. It is difficult for those with high standard to manage successfully at all times a spotless house and a career, a spiritual life with regular sadhana. This gives rise to guilt, tension, which can in the long-term, affects their health.Women are also mothers, wives and all although these roles bring great joy, they also involve effort and this creates more pressure. For those who cannot juggle all these balls, this may create some crisis in the family. This continual stress of the modern society which women are constantly exposed to jeopardises their health and peace. All these build-up pressure are source of stress. Peace and health can be achieved without drugs but through Yoga. Yoga is one of the best answers to stress, as it calms the mind and brings calmness, alertness and ultimately a state of spiritual serenity which allows us a glimpse of our true nature.
Understanding Stress: Inner harmony and working well go hand in hand. It is essential to have our primary needs satisfied so that we have the energy to complete our daily task. Only a balanced life style gives us the resources to cope with the stress of the world and the demands generated from within by our expectations, fears, beliefs, anxiety, etc.Stress varies from one individual to the other, what is a stressful situation for one may be a challenge for another. Confronted with a situation which exceeds the resource we think we possess, our physical and mental energy are gathered to fight the challenge or flee from the situation to avoid harm. Whatever the menace is physical, mental, emotional, the body answers by preparing itself for fight or flight.
Physiology of Stress: A message is sent by the sense organs to the part of the brain known as the sensory cortex, which integrates it with the previous impressions stored in its memory and proceeds at its evaluation. If the message is seen as posing a threat, the hypothalamus is activated and nerves impulses are set from the hypothalamus to the core of adrenal glands and to every muscles, blood, vessels and organs in the body. Stress hormones are then secreted by the adrenal glands known as Adrenaline or Noradrenalines (or Catecholamines for both of them). Also the hypothalamus produces the corticotrophin releasing factor (CFR) which will stimulate the pituitary glands to secrete Adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH).The adrenal cortex is activated by it and releases cortisols. These hormones move through the bloodstream and touch every cell in the body to get them ready for action.
Yoga links body and mind, therefore by practising yogic postures, and focusing the mind into the different areas of the body, women will be able to unlock tension and release muscles bringing finally a state of awareness when the body and mind work in perfect harmony.
The poses that help relieve stress Asanas
Many asanas can be practised to ease the tension and stress in the body. It is well known that it is difficult to be at ease with a tense body. The practice of asanas will make the body suppler, thus relieving the body of mental and physical tension, bringing many benefits.
Standing Postures: Among the standing asanas some will be specially advised for fighting against stress. Parsvottanasana (intense sideways stretch pose), Uttanasana (intense extension pose), padahastannasana (handsunder feet pose), and Ardho Mukhaswanasana (downwardfacing do pose). They increase the supply of blood to the brain and for those who cannot do postures such as the headstand; it will bring them the same benefit of calmness. They remove tiredness and bring back to normal high blood pressure and balance the heartbeat. They tone the nervous system and balance mental disorders, moods and depression.
Inverted postures: Among the inverted postures, Sirsasana (headstand) the king of the posture and Sarvangasanana (shoulderstand) the queen of the posture are advised. The headstand or sirsasana brings balance and equipoise. It has a positive effect on the glands in the brain (by example the pituitary gland), those glands that control the growth and the health of the body. It stimulates the flow of the blood to the cells in the brain; and helps to develop a harmonious temperament and bring positive thoughts that help to cure depression or other mental disorder. Sarvangasana combined with Halasana (plough) help the women to develop patience, endurance and emotional stability. It has an effect on the entire system from the purification of the blood taken easily to the heart because of the position of the posture. In the chest area the oxygenated blood moves about, and brings new vitality in the case of anaemia. The nerves are quietened and the nervous system is sensitive to the calming effect of the posture. Sarvangasana brings peace and strength to the yogini. It prevents irritability, hypertension, and relieves from stress. Sirsasana and Sarvagansana and their variation are helpful for developing a healthy mind.
Sitting Postures: Among the sitting posture, the Vajrasana or the thunderbolt posture and its variation bring deep sense of relaxation. Sitting in this posture for sometime calms the mind and quietens the nervous systems. The salaam Posture, the Hare posture and the foetus posture are made from Vajrasana. Blood flows to the brain and glands situated in the head and throat in the hare posture. In the salutation posture the muscles of the back, arms, shoulders and legs are stretched. Shanshankasana (Hare posture) unlocks the tension in the body and brings calmness to the nervous system. Often, yoga sessions begin and end with relaxing postures. Shavasana or the corpse posture is the most known of that series of asanas. During the session Makrasana or crocodile posture can be practiced to give a moment of absorption and relaxation through the session. All those postures aim to bring harmony; they effectively overcome and ward off stress and soothe the nerves and give serenity. The relaxing postures aim specifically at a psychophysical relaxation of the highest quality.
Pranayama: It is said that "When the breath is irregular, the mind wavers; when the breath is steady, so is the mind. To attain steadiness, the Yogi(ni) should restrain his(her) breath". Our breathing pattern affects our mental and emotional states, an angry person does not pose for breath while shouting, and an anxious person takes short breath. Very often using simple breathing techniques such as abdominal breathing, yogic breathing or alternate nostril breathing can change completely the state of mind and give deep relaxation. Lying in shavasana (corpse pose) and practising simple abdominal breathing gives to the body sufficient oxygen and helps to expel the carbon dioxide properly while toning the nervous system and relaxing the body and mind. The yogic breathing, a combination of abdominal breathing and chest breathing gives in a short time a sensation of psychophysical well-being, increasing the vitality of the body. More air goes to the lungs, the blood is purified and the nervous system is strengthened. Alternate nostril breathing or Nadi Shodan brings complete balance to the mind. There is a change in our physiological state while breathing from one nostril to the other. When the right nostril is functioning, the yogini is more active, more dynamic and mainly the left brain predominates. When the left nostril is functioning the yogini is more introverted, intuitive, and contemplative and the right brain predominates. So using alternate yogic breathing will help to restore the balance between the two parts of the brain.
Yoga nidra: If after a burst of energy, a time of heavy activity or pressure, the body, mind are given a period of rest, women will be able to function at their full potentiality. However often not all women are able to take moment of respite before responding to the demands and complexity of modern life. Some are driven away from their centre of being, their true self, and find it sometimes, difficult to take time to do their yogic practices seriously, and regularly. Yoga Nidra, a technique of complete relaxation, psychic sleep brings complete physical relaxation, and mental balance. The body is at rest, the mind is relaxed but the consciousness is active. She adjusts her body comfortably and develops a state of stillness and awareness and then continues to rotate her consciousness through each part of her body, from the tip of the toes to the top of the head. As relaxation deepens and the body relaxes, she develops an awareness of the breath and focuses her attention in her psychic centre to bring a change in her state of mind. Yoga Nidra brings the healing power of consciousness in action. It is a balm for those wounds that deprived women from a balanced life.
Conclusion: A real answer to stress must be holistic and include Yogic practice such as asanas (postures), pranayamas (breathing exercices), Yoga Nidra (relaxation) and meditation. It must also include a proper diet that will give sufficient energy to sustain the body. For those who have a daily routine of mantra repetition every morning and/or evening is also a great help. Various other practices such as Trataka (gentle fixing of a candle light and then viewing the light within, eyes closes in meditation), which help to concentrate the minds or meditation will also greatly release the tension of the mind, and develop the ability to concentrate. To live a balanced lifestyle with proper management of time, where a women juggles all the both without pretending to be superwoman. Conscious of her responsibilities, she strives to fulfil her duties, while maintaining a spiritual and yogic routine that helps her to live a balance and happy life.
1. Lecturer, Dept. of Home-Science,
D.A.V. College For Girls, Yamunanagar(Haryana)
2. Chairperson and Prof., Dept. of Home- Science, Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra