Tame Your Stress

Do you respond to stress with a fiery growl or a cold shoulder? Yoga can transform your reactions, improve your health, and help you embody grace under pressure.

By Kelly McGonigal

stress

Meet Mark: When something stressful happens, he feels energized. His heart races, his senses heighten—he even feels as though his thoughts speed up. Mark prides himself on his ability to face problems head-on, but he admits that it’s becoming difficult to turn this intensity off. Lately he’s been feeling more on edge than on top of his game. He’s developed headaches and insomnia, and he’s beginning to wonder if they’re related to stress. He’d like to feel better, but he can’t imagine himself changing his full-throttle approach to life. Without stress, how would he ever get anything done?

Mark’s wife, Sue, doesn’t feel energized by stress—it exhausts her. She feels so depleted by stress that she’s begun to cut back on the things that generate the most stress, such as planning big family gatherings. To maintain her composure, she tries to walk away when conflicts arise. She’s even considering leaving her challenging job to find something less intense. Sue proudly sees in herself the ability to “just let things go,” which she’s been cultivating through her yoga practice.

But even though she’s simplified her life, she’s been feeling depressed. She has a nagging feeling that her attempts to be stress free are getting in the way of fully living her life. Mark and Sue are characters based on real people, and are designed to represent two real responses to stress—one or both of which may seem familiar to you. As Mark and Sue are discovering, stress is inescapable, but it is also paradoxical: While excess stress can take a toll on you, the very things that cause it are often the same things that make life rewarding and full. Take a moment to think about the pressures in your life: family, work, having too much to do. Now imagine a life without those things. Sound ideal? Not likely. Most people don’t want an empty life; they want to possess the skills to handle a busy and, yes, even complicated life.

The good news is that you can develop ways to navigate through stress so that it isn’t troubling and traumatic at every turn. When a stressor arises, you don’t have to go to extremes the way Mark and Sue do. You can learn to respond with just the right blend of inner fire and inner calm. I call this the “challenge response,” and you can develop it through your yoga practice. In fact, recent studies suggest that yoga may condition the nervous system to bring you into balance whether you need more calm, like Mark, or more fire, like Sue. Add to that yoga’s ability to change your mental perception of stress, and you can transform your entire experience of the dreaded “s” word. Imagine feeling capable of handling whatever life throws at you, without having to panic, overreact, or plan your exit strategy.

Stress Lessons

To begin changing the way you react to stress, you’ll need to understand how it typically affects the body. If your mind interprets a stressful event as an emergency threat, it triggers an immediate response in the autonomic nervous system. Your stress response kicks in and activates the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). Your body is flooded with hormones like cortisol and norepinephrine, which heighten the senses, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and focus the brain’s activity. The parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for physical relaxation and emotional calm, becomes overwhelmed by this sympathetic response. With the sympathetic nervous system in charge and the parasympathetic overwhelmed, you are primed to respond with energy and focus, but also with anger, anxiety, and aggression.

Humans developed this primal reaction, known as fight-or-flight, so they could effectively fight off or flee from life-threatening danger. This important survival mechanism is useful when you need to slam on the brakes to prevent a car accident or run away from an attacker. But it’s overkill for most of the conflicts and challenges we face day to day.

While it’s easy to view life’s hassles as a threat to your expectations, sense of control, or ideals, it’s better for your health to temper that perception and instead see each stressor as a challenge you can handle. Even if an emergency exists entirely in your imagination, or if the threat is only to your feelings, it can still trigger the fight-or-flight stress cycle. Over time chronic stress takes a toll on the body and brain, leading to all kinds of health problems, including insomnia, depression, chronic pain, and cardiovascular disease.

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Yoga Food Types

Food and diet occupy an important place in the world of yoga and naturopathy. The effects of improper eating manifest themselves in unwanted appearance, incorrect thought, behavior and hence action.

In yoga, foods have been classified as Rajasik, Tamasik and Sattvik.

Rajasik Foods: Food of a king or of a restless and energetic disposition.

Rajasik FoodA large variety of foods having different methods of preparation such as fried, highly seasoned, or baked, form this category. Alcoholic and processed beverages as well as sweets come in here.

Disadvantages: These foods impart extra weight and fat to the body and create a feeling of uneasiness after eating.

Tamasik Food: Food causing a lethargic disposition.

Tamasik FoodFoods, vegetarian or non-vegetarian, that are prepared with excess spices, salts and hot seasonings are Tamasik foods.

Disadvantages: These foods perpetuate laziness and people eating these are characterized by a rough and intolerant temperament.

Sattvik Food: Food of a Yogi…

Sattvik FoodFoods which are cooked with minimum amount of spices or seasonings and are fresh are sattvik foods. These foods retain their nutritive value as they are cooked in a very simple fashion one of the most powerful & delicious foods which have tremendous benefit on the overall system is sproutYoga recommends such foods.

Myth or Reality?

Non vegetarian food is Tamasik, while vegetarian food is Sattvik.

A definite MYTH!
No food by itself is rajasik, tamasik or sattvik. It is the preparation which makes it so. Vegetables such as cabbage, potatoes etc., if cooked with a lot of spices become tamasik while fresh boiled chicken cooked in a simple fashion becomes sattvik.

Eat ! Don’t Eat !
Whole grains, yam, oatmeal, millets, brown rice.Raw veggies, salads, amla (gooseberry), spinach, papaya, lettuce. White bread, french fries, cakes, biscuits.Heavy salad dressings, veggies with cream sauce.