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‘Dad, I know how to do the Math – but I don’t know why I get all stressed under time pressure…’

I was just getting ready for the morning dropoff at school, when this sentence grabbed my attention. I gently suggested that we would talk about ‘stress’ – later, after school. Later that evening, headed home from work, I started wondering – how am I going to discuss this topic with her? The evening went by, and I was graced with some more time to think about it, as she ‘forgot’ to bring it up. This extra time was most valuable, because it gave me a chance to re-read up on the subject of stress in my morning visit with my favorite Yoga book 🙂

Before I say more about stress, let me step back a little. In the month of August, three of the four #SpiritChat Sunday conversations were on topics related to our “mental body”, including the “mind”. These conversations were about Inner Workings of the Mind, Inner Conditioning and Habits and ’Memory, Ego and Awareness’. Our mental body is influenced by our “physical body” and our “energetic body”, which represents our intrinsic vitality. In the month of September, some of our topics will focus on the “energetic body” – its health, its healing, and its restoration to vitality.

So, let us return to the subject of stress. One straightforward definition of stress is pressure or tension exerted on a material object. This is a useful description, as we are all familiar with pressure – in fact, some of us take pride in thriving under pressure as we have evolved to perform better when we are put under some kind of pressure. In the physical realm, an object can only withstand so much pressure, before it will bend or break. This also happens in the emotional realm – our nerves may bend, exhibit resilience, and absorb a certain amount of pressure. However, if the pressure is applied persistently over time, without intermediate temporal relief, our nervous energy continues to get dissipated, and we may end up with a nervous breakdown or an emotional collapse.

In the book Light on Life, Iyengar says that “…there has always been stress in the getting and spending of life – today, we suffer much more due to culturally and personally created stress..”. If our bodies and minds are being pulled in opposite directions, the resulting tension is bound to create stress. This tension, if left unattended to, dissipates our vital energy. We are all familiar with the cumulative effects of stress ~ in a physical material, it is called fatigue, and prolonged fatigue makes the material brittle. Sound familiar? Are not our nervous and energy systems also made of such (very delicate) physical material? No wonder that fatigue is an oft-detected precursor of disease in pressure-driven, over-worked societies.

The practitioners of Yoga have identified some universal causes which create negative stress within our “energetic body”. The primary causes are “anger, fear, speed, greed, unhealthy ambition, and over-competition.” As I look at these six causes, I know that I have owned a few of them over time, and am working to disown the remaining few. How about you? It is unreasonable to expect that we will be able to discard any or all of these causes overnight. Speed cannot be the answer, because it is one of the listed causes of negative stress! So, what can we do to overcome them? Could we try slowing down, for a few hours every day?

How do we slow down? Like a gentle rain which effectively moistens a parched land, we can choose to regularly “mist our nerves and muscles with the moisture of positive tension.” One effective way of creating positive tension is through physical exercise. I am sure that all of us have experienced the ‘nerve soothing’ benefits of physical exercise. In the right amount, and at the right time, physical exercise actually energizes us, rather than making us tired – doesn’t it? Some of you know that I refer to my martial arts practice as “walking meditation”. When we modulate the movements of the physical body, we modulate the nerves, the breath, and the mind. The result of modulating the nerves is that negative stress dissipates – it flows out of us like the river flows into the ocean in a warm embrace. Positive tension creating energy and vitality for us!

There are three other ways of dissipating negative stress and strain. “Works done with devoted practice” – those done by consecrating the results – where we dedicate the results to a higher cause or higher power. Secondly, “Wisdom that comes from understanding the self and the world” is a great relief valve for negative stress. And finally, “Worship in the form of surrender” – the knowing that there are many things out of our control – allows our mental, physical and energy bodies to relax.

All of this is well and good, and I hope you have derived some benefit from this ‘dynamic energy of stress’. If you would like to state your thoughts and views, I invite you to join us on twitter in our weekly chat in #SpiritChat on Sunday September 7th at 9am ET / 2pm UK / 6:30pm India. I look forward to hearing from you. I am holding off on having my conversation about stress, until I hear from some of you 🙂

Namaste, and be well – free of negative stress,

Kumud

P.S. All “quotes” in the text are from “Light on Life” by BKS Iyengar. Highly recommended. If you have any resources on this topic that you would like to share with us that have helped you overcome negative stress, please share in the comments below. Thank you!

Ready? Q1. Reflect on the phrase "energy of stress" ~ what does it mean, feel to you? #SpiritChat
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508601791605637121

Q2. What are some signs that the energy of stress is working for us? Against us? #SpiritChat 
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508603297545355264

Q3. Do you believe that frequent stress is harmful to your (spiritual) health? Why or why not? #SpiritChat 
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508605080636243968

Q4. Can we get better at perceiving stress, having a healthier response to it? How so?  #SpiritChat
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508607047718694912 

Q5. Which strategy works best for you - avoid stress, manage it, or try to eliminate it? Why? #SpiritChat
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508608664950013952

Q6. We all experience the energy of stress - what is the opportunity that it presents to us? #SpiritChat 
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508610033907945472

Q7. Think on the most stressful situation you ever experienced. What helped you deal with it? #SpiritChat 
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508611339766751232

Q8. How do our social relationships/communities help us resolve our stress? Do they? #SpiritChat  
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508612328544534530

Q9. Stress can help us strengthen our 'dynamic inner energy', vitality. Agree or Disagree?  #SpiritChat 
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508613575343366145

Final Q10. What do you want to tell us about stress? What do you want to ask us about it? #SpiritChat 
http://twitter.com/AjmaniK/status/508614270637330432

Full Transcript (with stats) and Storify summary