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During our life all of us are exposed to stress that originates from various sources including financial difficulties, problems in the family, overload at work etc. Stress may be the result of environmental factors as well such as the lack of natural light and fresh air, the presence of chemical material in food, the consumption of stimulants including coffee, tobacco and alcohol.
According to Ayurveda, stress is a condition in which our consciousness is imbalanced. A balanced mind is characterized by peace, strength and resolution. A person with a resolute mind is in his full capacity to act or not to act while retaining the balance of his consciousness.
Consciousness may exist in three different states (guna): sattva (knowledge, purity), rajas (action, passion) and tamas (inertia, ignorance). Disturbances or psychic anomalies develop when sattva reduces while rajas and tamas increase.
With sattva decreasing, our psychic strength, resolution and our ability to recognize differences (to tell right from wrong) become weaker. If this state prevails for a long time, our mind will be overpowered by stress which may lead to psychic disorders such as depression, fear and neurasthenia.
As we have already noted, in today’s accelerated world everybody is exposed to stress to a lesser or greater extent. Some people handle stress more easily than others and each of us has experienced situations where we managed to survive a serious stress. On the other hand, we sometimes fail to cope with really insignificant stresses. Our performance in such situations depends on the amount of our sattva in the given moment. When you posses enough sattva, your mind is in a calm, thoughtful, patient and constructive state. However, in a state of high rajas and tamas we are overcome by hopelessness, despair, impatience, fear and restlessness. Under such conditions we cannot think clearly, we feel lazy and start losing our psychic strength. In a negative state of mind we cannot cope with any psychic load. Therefore, we need to increase sattva and try to decrease rajas and tamas.
But then again, rajas and tamas are responsible for various bodily functions such as actions (dynamism, passion) and dreams. With a proper amount of sattva, the functions of rajas and tamas play a positive and constructive role helping us achieve balance and health.
For instance when you express passion (rajas) feeling angry or while at a business meeting, you are able to regain your balance provided you have a lot of sattva. In this case negative feelings are directed towards the outside world and do not damage your psychic health.
On the other hand, when you do not have enough sattva, the same action receives a negative tone and results in imbalance. In such a state people are filled with rajas or tamas and are capable of destructive actions such as engaging in physical fights, being angry with or jealous of their own relatives, exploiting anybody who is weaker or younger let alone using brute force or committing homicide. This goes to show how crucial role sattva plays in maintaining psychic health.
Observing some of the following methods to increase sattva enables you to quickly achieve the desired result:
Ayurveda considers food to be the medicine for mind and body. In order to reduce stress you should choose food that increase sattva. We recommend you to consume fresh fruit, fruit juice, vegetables (raw, roasted or steamed), vegetable juice, seed-buds, nuts, dried fruit, honey, milk, ghee (melted butter), fresh butter and pahta. Do not believe the promises printed on the packaging of frozen vegetables, fruit and other dishes, instead buy fresh seasonal food.
Also try to reduce or avoid the consumption of black tea, coffee, products made from white flour and beet-sugar, chocolate, hot spices and dishes fried in deep oil since they all increase rajas.
Food increasing tamas lacks prana or life energy. They include meat, fish, eggs, food which is made with added chemical material or food that is not fresh. Although some of them may provide our body with nutrient, they have a harmful effect on the brain.
Since Ayurveda looks after not only your brain but also your body and mind, it recommends you to observe the principles of vegetarianism. Being vegetarian does not mean that you can only eat tasteless dishes with low nutritive values or raw vegetables and salads. There is a wide range of delicious and nourishing dishes that are easy to prepare and which are of a sattvic nature.
Breathing and consciousness are closely connected. Restless or stressed people breathe fast and superficially, while breathing is deep in a relaxed and happy state. Next time you experience stress observe your breath and try to calm it down. Sit down in a relaxed posture, breathe in deeply using your abdominal muscles but do not expect to feel immediate relief. It is always useful to keep short breaks at equal intervals in your tight daily schedule in order to relax for a while with the help of abdominal breathing.
3. Physical exercise
Doing exercise is beneficial to physical health but it is also useful to restore and relax our mind. Physical exercise changes the hormone level in the blood, has a positive effect on the brain and raises the spirit. You should do exercise suitable to your current strength at the same time of the day, preferably in the morning. The exercise should move each group of your muscle system. Yoga is an excellent form of physical activity but indoor sports or home games and (non-professional) swimming are also suitable to relax the body.
Meditation is a method of harmonizing your thoughts by concentrating on a specific subject for a set period of time. You can focus on any object, image, sound or mantra. During meditation, sit down in Lotus position or any other comfortable posture. Research has revealed that as a result of meditation breathing slows down, blood circulation becomes normal, muscles relax while stress and restlessness decreases.
During work, have several breaks to relax your mind. Shavasana or the so-called Corpse pose is a simple way of relaxation. Lie down on your back with your arms and legs slightly apart at an angle of 15° to your body. Relax all your muscles. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Breathe deeply focusing your thoughts and attention on your breathing. You should repeat the posture once or twice a day for 5 minutes. A slight head massage (with or without oil) in the presence of your favourite scent or accompanied by peaceful music, a repeated mantra or prayer also help to relax your mind.
6. Ayurvedic methods of reducing stress
Administering oil on the body (abhjanga) once a week helps you relax your body and mind. Another popular Ayurvedic method to work off nervous stress is called sirodhara when a thin stream of oil is directed on your head. If you can get Ayurvedic herbs, take Brhami or Sankhapusli powder.
7. Other methods
First you need to make a list of the factors causing stress then try to eliminate them. We usually keep thinking about our past or future without being aware of our actions in the present. You should learn how to focus on your actions here and right now in order to be able to recognize your negative thoughts and other factors triggering stress. After that with the help of positive and rational thinking you can get rid of them.
Another way to strengthen and consolidate sattva is to get to know your own self. Reading spiritual literature and practicing spiritual exercises may help you reduce stress by teaching you how to look at certain situations in your life from a different aspect.
Since the above methods help you reduce psychic stress, it is important to make them part of your everyday life. This way you can keep your mind in its sattva state enjoying good health, happiness and peace.
Szkopincev Dmitrij MD
Internist, family doctor, Ayurvedic doctor
The founder and head physician of Calendula Clinic since 1997.
Nádasy E.Tamás MD
Szkopincevné Proszenyák Diána MD
Family doctor, Ayurvedic doctor