Yoga for a Busy Day in a Restless Town

Dr K. Nespor, Czechoslovakia

I remember in a big town, shortly after I came there to study, I stood on the pavement of a broad street, and was shocked by the noise, the multitude of fast moving cars, and the intensive fumes of their gases. A great number of people were hurrying by, each in search of his own aim or goal. Of course, after some time one adapts, but this adaptation is often only partial, and it is necessary to look for ways on how to improve it. Swami Satyananda wrote that wherever they live, his swamis need no yogic exercises because they lead a simple and natural life, but people living in unnatural and stressful conditions need yoga. Let us analyze urban stress and how yoga can help us adapt to living in such an environment.

Noise

Glass and Singer, who investigated the effects of noise, conclude that: "Noise can be a stressor with demonstrable effects on task performance and physiology. Physical parameters of the stimulus (e.g. intensity) are less important than psychological factors (e.g. unpredictability) in producing stress-related effects."*1 A very loud noise produced suddenly will make most of us jump, but if we experience a steady noise, louder in intensity, this will not cause us as much stress. Yoga can hardly decrease the intensity of noise, but it can help us alter our reaction to it. The ability to relax and to be aware can be transferred from relatively short periods of practice of asanas, pranayama, etc., into daily life, and panic responses to unpredictable noise decreased.

Air pollution

A high concentration of various gases, irritants, and noxious particles such as sulphur trioxide, carbon monoxide or fly ash is part of the air of many large towns. This is not without health risks, for example, bronchitis is more prevalent in children who live in polluted areas. It is no wonder that many people leave the smog and stress of town life and live in the country during their weekends. Two yogic practices are especially recommended and have proved useful in polluted areas: neti kriya, having many beneficial effects,*2 removes dust from the nasopharynx, and kapalbhati accelerates the natural movement of bronchial secretions and removes impurities from the airways.

Traffic and waiting

In daily commuting from their homes to the city, people encounter traffic jams. This, along with the rush to get to work and sudden changes of routine, present significant stressors. Yoga offers many relaxation techniques incorporating muscle relaxation, breath awareness, mantra yoga, imagination, etc.*2 These practices can be performed inconspicuously while travelling, reduce fatigue, and prevent exhaustion thus making effective use of time spent waiting. Also, many yogic exercises may be performed while waiting. A practitioner can again appreciate yogic relaxation when waiting for an important task, interview or examination, and be alert, fresh and relaxed when necessary.

Interpersonal relations

It is not an oversimplification to say that a high concentration of people in a small area does not necessarily lead to a high degree of concern for others. Paradoxically, there is often less communication and, consequently, more loneliness. Relationships are often superficial compared with those found in rural communities.

Two researchers, Ostfield and D'Atri,*3 who investigated urban stress concluded from their work that a higher crime rate was associated with high population density. From a medical point of view, there is also very probably a relationship between crowding and the elevation of blood pressure. Stress is a major factor in high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis and heart disease. Impersonality and aloofness are one of the ways by which people cope with overcrowding. This can bring about un-neighbourliness and may lead to increasing remoteness, loneliness and stress.

On the other hand, excessive personal contact, which is required in certain occupations such as bus conductors or sales assistants, is very stressing. Again suitable yogic practices can be very valuable here. A medical doctor who learned yogic relaxation said to me that the mere fact that he has 'a weapon' against tension and exhaustion helps him to relieve his stress.

Stress and awareness

Both internal and external awareness is advocated by yoga,*4 and is also helpful when coping with stress. A man who is aware of his tension, can do something to remove it, e.g. to relax or to ask himself: 'Is that big roaring machine 50 meters distant really a danger for me?' In this way, rational and irrational thought can be differentiated.*5

The better side

Big towns have also their parks and picturesque quiet corners, libraries and concert halls, old temples and bold modern buildings. Let yoga make us more resistant to urban stress, and at the same time more sensitive to the noble or beautiful aspects of town life.

References

*1. D.G. Glass and J.E. Singer, Urban Stress, Academic Press, New York, 1972, p. 162.

*2. Swami Amritananda, 'Simple yogic practices for relaxation', Yoga, 19(6): 33-35, 1981.

*3. A. M. Ostfield and D.A. D'Atri, 'Psychophysiological responses to the urban environment, Psychosomatic Medicine, Oxford, University Press, New York, 1977, pp. 308-321.

*4. Swami Satyananda, Sure Ways to Self Realization, Bihar School of Yoga, Monghyr, 1980, p. 71.

*5. A. Ellis, Humanistic Psychotherapy, McGraw Hill, New York, 1977.