By Sujal Patil
Stress. Every other person seems to be affected by it. What is stress? It is basically anything that poses a challenge or a threat to our wellbeing. It refers to the sum of the physical, mental, and emotional strain or tension a person undergoes. Stress is that wears and tears our mind and body.
Stress in Ayurveda
In Ayurveda, stress is considered an important factor in sharirik (physical) and manasika (mental) disorders. Stress is then further sub classified into atishrama (over exertion), sahas (exerting beyond normal capacity), ativyavaya (over indulgence in sex), vegadharan(suppression of natural urges), etc.
Stress causes derangement in the three dosha vata, pitta, kapha giving rise to various diseases according to dosha dominance.
For example: Working long hours continuously can cause increase in the vata dosha leading to lethargy, body ache, joint ache, etc. Continuously working on the computer, watching TV is stressful for the eyes and leads to pitta dushti causing headache, blurred vision, sleep disorders, etc.
Any kind of stress will cause imbalance in the manodosha (emotional and psychological). These are further divided into satva, raja and tamoguna. Satva guna is responsible for our positive, optimistic, broad approach whereas raja guna and tamo guna produce negativity, lethargy, bad feelings or over responsiveness to certain situations.
Different people react differently to the same stressors as our constitutions are different. Vata prakriti people are vulnerable even to minimal stress, but kapha prakriti people have comparatively higher endurance. Person of satvic nature are invulnerable to minor stress levels
Physiologically, when stressed, our body produces larger quantities of the chemicals cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline, which trigger increased heart rate, cause muscular contractions, sweating, and alertness. All of these help us protect ourselves in a demanding situation. In this process, the body diverts its attention from diurnal body functions like digestion, metabolism, sleep, etc, and the body and mind lose their state of equilibrium which can be momentary or continuous depending upon the effect of the stressor.
The problem arises when this happens repeatedly and then the body cannot distinguish between physical and psychological threats. When you’re stressed over a busy schedule, an argument with a friend, a traffic jam, or a mountain of bills, your body reacts just as strongly as if you were facing a life-and-death situation. If you have a lot of responsibilities and worries, your emergency stress response may be “on” most times. Chronic stress disrupts nearly every system in your body.
Coping With Day To Day Stress
Based on our dosha dominance we can cope up with the same stressors differently
• Eat warm foods like rice, wheat, nuts, and milk products; avoid raw food like salads and dry, airy foods and cooling foods like cucumbers and melons. Avoid spicy and hot foods like chillies, peppers, radishes, tomatoes, sour fruits, brinjal, broccoli, cherries, cranberries, and pears, sweets and nuts. Monitor quantity of food
• Practice tadasana (mountain pose), Vrkshasana (tree pose), balasana (child’s pose), paschimottanasana (seated forward bend), and halasana (plough pose). Focus on ujjayi breathing to ground the mind.
• Add soft music or a guided meditation tape to your meditation practice. While doing mild hatha yoga include twists and seated forward folds like baddha konasana (bound angle pose), janu sirasana (head-to-knee pose), paschimottanasana (seated forward bend).
• Avoid doing yoga at peak-heat time of day.
• Cool down with nostril breathing (inhale through the left nostril with the right nostril covered and exhale through the right nostril with the left nostril covered).
• Vigorous movements including surya namaskar, back bends, and inversions, dhanurasana (bow pose) ushtrasana (camel pose), matsyasana (fish pose) counteract depression.
• Pranayama techniques such as lapalabhati and right nostril-led breathing (breathing through the right nostril and out through the left) can be helpful. Chanting may help fight lethargy
• As a preventive measure increase body and mind strength by eating proper satvik food according to one’s constitution.
• Monitor early signs of imbalances so that troubleshooting can be done at initial stages.
• Shodhan and rasayan therapy, deep breathing, relaxation techniques, indulgence in leisure activities or hobbies will certainly cope with mounting pressures on our body and mind.
Specific Stress Management Treatments (after consultation with a specialist only)
• Special breathing techniques to calm the autonomic nervous system (especially influencing parasympathetic system) combined with specific postures focusing on spine.
• Mild laxative/purgative herbal preparations to influence the enteric nervous system and loosen them.
• Water (hydro) treatments like spinal jet showers to influence spinal nerve centres.
• Solar plexus bath (Sitz bath with added herbal solutions) to calm the solar plexus area/enteric nervous system
• Tarpanam (a special treatment using ghee or herbal oils) focusing on eyes and parasympathetic nerve ganglions
• Special techniques to influence stress gates of the body like sphincters and related centres.
• Meditative treatments like shirodhara using herbal oils/medicated butter milk, etc.
• Massages are good to rebalance the muscle tone
• There are specific stress busting herbs that influence the brain centres and autonomic nerve system
• Sleep enhancement techniques like herbal foot baths, application of special ghee on feet and fore head, etc.
• Change of diet. For example a no cereal diet. Nervine tonic food items could be included after consulting a specialist.
(Sujal Patil is a practicing Ayurveda Doctor at Traya Wellness Centre)
Coping with Stress
By Sujal Patil