Stress: Awareness and Management

Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Many people fear being alone for five minutes for then they have to look at themselves. Sitting quietly for five minutes is difficult. There is always some desire, some need to move, to act, to talk, to see. There will always be a need to engage the mind and even one minute of silence becomes an impossible feat. That is a habit of mind. It is how you have trained yourself.

You have trained yourselves in activity and when you follow the path of constant activity, it is natural that stress will become distress. However, if you acquire the ability to relax and observe yourself for ten minutes, your stress level will be better managed. Therefore, the yogic process begins not with the body or asana or pranayama, but by learning how to relax.

Asana and pranayama are physical practices which attract us, but so do other forms of exercise such as aerobics, jogging or cycling. If yoga practices such as asana or pranayama become physical exercises, then where is the relevance of the spiritual component in our life? Therefore, in our tradition, yoga begins with learning how to relax.

Relaxation is a very important aspect of one’s life. Tranquillizers and sleeping pills outnumber other medicines, indicating that people have forgotten how to relax and sleep. Imagine their state of mind. We are losing contact with our inner self. We are losing the ability to relax, to concentrate and become one-pointed.

The choice is yours, whether you want to become self-realized or to learn how to sleep. Sleep indicates that you can control and master your life, but relaxation does not mean sleep. Relaxation means being able to disconnect from stressful situations. When you sleep at night, you are disconnected from the world, from worries, stresses and tensions, from society, family and friends. Stress is becoming a silent killer. However, rather than stress, we are concerned with the state of distress that comes after stress, which destroys our tranquillity and harmony.

To tune a guitar each string needs to be tightened. If the string is loose, no sound will come and if the string is too tight, it will break. There has to be just the right amount of tension in the string. The same principle applies in our life too. Finely tuned stress will give birth to creativity and motivation, but if there is too much stress, the string will become too tight and break. Breaking the harmonious state of stress is the cause of distress.

Stress is not bad because it brings forth human creativity and activity. Stress encourages human beings to participate in their environment and society. We have to become aware of the areas in our life where stress is experienced and learn how to manage them.

May 2008, Brijuni, Croatia, printed in Yoga Sadhana Panorama, Volume Six