Studies show that 77-90 percent of all disease is caused by stress.
Working as a yoga therapist and teacher to people with cancer, I am confronted all the time with how stress can make us sick and weaken the immune system. If we are unfortunate enough to come down with an auto-immune illness, the treatments and financial commitments cause even more stress and make it hard for our immune system to kick into full gear and help us heal. Seeing this vicious cycle and living in our highly industrialized, high-stress society, and knowing the causes of stress, stress me out!
What is this stress?
Lets look at the body, a self-regulating machine, amazing and beautiful. If something threatens the body’s equilibrium, our body responds to meet the demand by releasing hormones in response to the stressor. Under stress, the sympathetic nervous system sends information to the muscles, organs, and endocrine glands to help the body react. Power chemicals such as adrenaline, neurotransmitters and cortisone are sent into the blood causing increased heart rate, blood pressure and muscle tension.
Yoga has been a great tool for reducing stress because it teaches us to respond. It also gives us something other than alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and other stress inducing coping mechanisms to rely on. Yoga helps us cope with stress, and rather than inducing more of a stress response, like the others mentioned above, it actually teaches us the art of relaxation. When we consciously relax, which takes practice, our body releases hormones into the blood that heal and restore us back into a state of balance.
Still, we live in a world of distractions and logically cannot always find an escape to Tulum for the perfect yoga retreat, or even five minutes away during the day to practice relaxation.
As I listened to all the things that people around me, including myself, were stressed about, I realized there is another way we can approach all this stress.
Americans are the most stressed out people in the world.
There are times when we have real things to stress about, like the possibility of not keeping our house, or being able to put a meal on the table, but most of the time it is the blessings that we don’t have time or patience to hold.
The fact that our family or business is growing, we don’t have time to fold the 80 percent too many clothes that we have, or clean the 90 percent too much junk that we own… are usually the things we are stressing about.
Yoga also has a beautiful tool that Sri Patanjali speaks about in the yoga sutras called Pratipasha Bhavana. This means to “think the opposite of.” It is used as positive imagery to cleanse the mind just like we use our green juice to cleanse the body. Ayurveda teaches us that 99.9 percent of disease begins in the mind. What if we begin looking at all the things that stress us out as blessings? Rather than having to practice meditation for two hours a day, which is not possible for the average householder, why not put some energy into recognizing how good we have it?
This is where most of us, as spoiled householder Americans, should be meeting this ancient art and science from India. I have had enough with stressing out about how busy and stressed I am. I am ready to embrace how blessed I am.
If you want less stress in your life, ask for less blessings.
The American mentality has been one of “more,” yet it hasn’t made us any happier than those in other countries who have less. Why? Because this attitude of more is one of always living outside of ourselves and the present moment. We continually think we have to be better today than we were yesterday, or we are not living to our full potential. When our full potential is, in fact, one of realizing that we are already full.
What happens to the mind when we accept ourselves in this moment and stop being pulled in all directions of the millions of possibilities, blessings, and choices that we have in this country? The body stops sending out hormones for us to react and allows us to be in a state of balance. It is like the old Chinese proverb that states:
“Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.”
In a world where we are constantly bombarded with advertisements telling us we are not enough, we don’t get much of a chance to relax. Let’s face it, most of our stress in America is caused because we have more. Embrace the fullness of your life in all the abundance that you have. Let’s have a movement from changing our minds about being one of the most stressed nations to appreciating all of our blessings.
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Ed: B. Bemel
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