|Stress, said a wise man, is the common cold of the psyche. How true! Only,
while the common cold strikes twice - or at the most, thrice - a year, stress has
become a constant presence in our minds and bodies.
How deeply stress has penetrated our psyches is evident when you consider this
image. Imagine yourself standing eyeball to red eyeball with a giant
Psychology tells us that in life-and-death moments like these, the body
prepares for a "fight or flight" response. In just about thirty seconds of
panic, look what happens to your body. Your palms tingle. Your hair stands on
end. Your temples start to sweat. You break out in gooseflesh. Your spine
shivers. Your eyes dilate. Your heartbeat quickens. Your blood pressure rises.
Your stomach turns an angry red, and digestion switches off. Your bladder
loosens. A prominent nerve stands out on your forehead. The blood drains from
your face. Your body releases dozens of emergency chemicals to deal with the
Now imagine something even more frightening. Imagine your mind trapped in this
situation for a whole waking day. Hour after hour, day after day, year after
year. Through your lifetime. The fight-or-flight developed as a sudden
response to a life-threatening situation. Not a constant state of mind--and
body. But unfortunately, that is just what is happening in the modern world.
How Ayurveda Looks at Stress
Ayurveda, the 5000-year-old system of healing that originated in India,
advocates some very common-sense ways of dealing with stress. To treat
stress, an Ayurvedic physician, known as a vaidya (literal translation: one
who knows), will first try to get to the root cause of your stress. This he
will do by asking you questions about your diet, sleep habits and general
lifestyle. Vaidyas are trained in pulse diagnosis - just one minute of silently
holding your wrist, and they can glean a wealth of information about the
inside story of your body, and mind.
Though vaidyas recommend stress-busting measures based on your individual
body-type (Ayurveda believes that every individual is a unique combination of
three doshas or body types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha), there are some general
guidelines that will benefit just anyone, irrespective of body type.
Start Your Day Right
Even if you are terribly rushed, don't miss breakfast. Make it a habit to eat a stewed apple
every morning. Here's how to stew it: Skin and quarter an apple. Then stab a
clove into each section, and lightly cook the apple in cinnamon-flavored
water. Discard the cloves and eat the apple. Cooked this way, an apple a day
can keep Mr. Stress away, say vaidyas.
Don't go Hungry
As always, thin is in, and stout is out. But in your zeal to shed weight,
don't go empty-stomach. A hungry body leads to all sorts of problems:
disturbed digestion, restless sleep, mental fatigue. In fact, eating your
meals on time is a must, say Ayurvedic text-books. Stress does slow down the
digestive fires, but if you persist in your efforts to keep to regular
meal-times, your system will be back on track. Lunch, say vaidyas, should be
the main meal of the day, for that is when the body's digestive fires are at
Work toward a Good Night's Sleep
Sleeping on time every night is perhaps the biggest favor you can do yourself,
say Ayurvedic physicians. When you give yourself eight full hours of rest and
rejuvenation, you set the body's natural clock in harmony, regulating
digestion and allowing the heart and the mind to function at full efficiency.
If you are a late sleeper, try shifting your bedtime half an hour earlier each
night, until you begin sleeping before 10:00pm. Shift gears into calming activities as bedtime draws near--avoid violent or excessively stimulating entertainment; instead, listen to some soothing music or try a relaxing warm bath to lull your senses. One good indication that you are getting your full quota of rest: you should feel hungry enough to want a good breakfast.
Heal Your Heart
Ayurveda believes that humans actually have two hearts: the physical heart
that works as a pump, and the emotional heart that feels joy and sorrow. For
holistic heart health, it is very important to look after both hearts. If you
are upset or unhappy for some reason, chew on a juicy pear and feel your heart
lift. Add cracked black pepper to your daily diet. Black pepper is a
bioavailability-enhancer and stimulates the free flow of oxygen to the brain,
thus helping your heart stay calm, too.
Reconnect with Yourself
Just twenty minutes, twice a day, snap your connection with the outside world
and tune in to yourself. This is a major part of holistic healing the Ayurveda
way. Transcendental Meditation in particular, the relaxation technique
introduced by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, has been found to be extremely effective
in healing stress and leading people to realize their full physical, mental
and spiritual potential. Do whatever works for you, but yes, do find a few
minutes to get in touch with yourself. Within days, you will find yourself
going from stress to bliss.
Moderation is the Key
Avoid anything in excess, advise vaidyas. Eat well, but not too much: they
recommend eating only as much as fits into your cupped hands at one time.
Similarly, vaidyas realize that exercise is essential for a healthy heart and
a more resilient body, but they wouldn't want you to overdo it. Use up only
half of your total energy and conserve the rest. This concept is called
"balaardh" (bal: strength, aardh: half of ) in Ayurveda. Yoga and Pranayam are
excellent ways to ensure your heart is strong both physically and