Swami Amritananda Saraswati

I am sure you have all heard about the Bhagavad Gita. It is well known everywhere in India. People interested in the real philosophy of life and the relationship of guru and disciple study this book. In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is the main character. He was a disciple of Lord Krishna, as well as the son of a king, and one of the best warriors of that time.

Arjuna's great dilemma

The Gita tells the story about a historical battle called the Mahabharata. Here we are not concerned with the reasons why the war took place but with the opening situation when all the kings, armies and battalions were lined up on the battlefield, ready to announce the beginning of the war. At that time Krishna decided to help Arjuna because he had a special affinity for him. So Krishna told Arjuna to prepare for battle, and he would be his charioteer. But after looking around at his adversaries, and seeing all his relatives lined up on the opposite side, Arjuna became despondent and said, 'I cannot foresee any glory if we kill our own kinsmen in the sacrifice of battle. How can we want a kingdom and its pleasures or even life itself when those for whom we want them are here in this field of battle about to give up their wealth and life. What happiness could we ever enjoy by killing our own kinsmen in battle.' (1:31-35)

Lord Krishna, unaffected, replied: 'The wise grieve not for those who live or those who die, for life and death shall pass away. The spirit that is in all beings is imperishable. Therefore don't worry for the death of what cannot die. Think only of thy duty and do not waver.' (2:30)

Krishna pointed out to Arjuna that he was only an instrument and not a killer: 'These people are nothing to you. Who says they are your relatives? They are not your relatives. You were only born in that family, in that kingdom, at that time' (2:11-13)

But Arjuna was totally unnerved: 'My Lord, my bow falls from my hand, my body is perspiring and I am no longer able to stand. My mind is whirling, my limbs are going loose and my body is trembling.' (1:28-30)

These symptoms of stress and anxiety that Arjuna experienced on the battlefield are similar to the signs of tension and nervous breakdown. When the time came to enter the battle, even though the Lord was accompanying and guiding him, Arjuna was so anxious and worried that in medical terms you can say he experienced a nervous breakdown.

Fear and guilt

The causes of nervous tension are not known on the gross level. Most of the time it is not understood why we develop tension. Where do those tensions arise from? According to yoga, the cause of nervous tension is rooted in the samskaras. These samskaras are not accumulated in this birth only. Samskaras are impressions of all our present, past and future stored in the brain.

Supposing you have a pet dog which you love very much, you will not hurt him because you don't want him to suffer. This means that there are certain samskaras inherent in you. If you do not do the right thing, you will suffer from guilt or fear.

The carrying over of samskaras, from one action to the next provokes fear. That is why human beings are afraid. People live in fear all the time. Even when nobody is troubling them, they are still insecure, still afraid. Every time they do something, whether right or wrong, there is an impression within them that they are doing the wrong thing. Whether they are drinking wine, eating meat, or whatever, the action creates a sense of fear and guilt. These impressions settle in the deeper layers of the mind and cause tensions which manifest in the nerves of the body, in the mind and emotions.

When these tensions are acute, they take the form of psychosomatic diseases and mental problems. Just as Arjuna was afraid of doing wrong and creating bad samskaras or impressions. Fear of doing wrong and its consequences is another form of depression and nervous tension. It is very difficult to overcome the tensions of fear and guilt. However, by the practice of yoga, these can be removed.

Tensions due to physical causes

Tension accumulates in the body in various forms. Sometimes women develop tension and become neurotic due to imbalance of hormones in their reproductive system. They continually see a psychiatrist, but what can he do when the cause is completely physical? For these complaints, it is best to practise sarvangasana, mudras and bandhas, and bhastrika pranayama. In men, hormonal imbalance often results in tension in the spine. In most common cases, due to bad posture, some of the vital energy flowing in the spine becomes inhibited and this has an influence on the brain.

Alleviating tension

One of the most powerful systems in yoga for alleviating nervous tension is mantra, in which special sounds or phrases, repeated mentally or verbally, are used to explode the psychic space in our body. Mantras bring the past impressions to the surface. There are particular mantras which explode certain types of samskaras. However, the mantra given by the guru annihilates all the ignorance and impressions because that is the key to awakening, to opening the Self. The guru mantra endows one with wisdom, thus removing all darkness. It can also remove many of the diseases and difficulties experienced on physical, mental and spiritual levels.

So, to get rid of tension, remember: it depends on which type of tension is present and what is the cause. Not all tensions can be released by the simple practices of meditation or yoga nidra. However, the diverse practices of yoga form an integral system which can alleviate tension, whether physical or mental, the result of stress, emotional upheavals, or spiritual awakening.