We are well aware of Stress Response occurring in our body instantaneously without our knowledge, will or wish i.e. automatically. But natural, it is brought about by our Autonomic nervous system & Hormonal axis, mediated by Hypothalamus. Hypothalamus maintains Homeostasis to sustain our life with the help of food intake, sleep, fear to protect & procreate to continue our existence. These are the primordial functions of life.
The Stress Response built in our body is a must for our survival. But in present life style, instead of appearing as and when need arises & vanishing soon, it is persistant. It’s persistant presence, instead of helping our body is posing multiple disturbances in our body functions. This if not attended in time leads to various diseases & disorders.
So the need is felt intently to
- Minimize the duration of stress response.
- To learn its counter response called Relaxation response (Our body has the infrastructure for counter response, but we are not programmed to use it.)
- To minimize the duration of Stress Response the technique of Pratyahar from Ashtang Yoga is very useful. This technique teaches us the pathway of sensory inputs generating emotions, thoughts which govern our actions. The ongoing practice of Pratyahar identifies the triggers in the form of sensory inputs, which leads to stress response. We need to identify them, so that they can be avoided or managed before their flare up.
This will help to reduce the persistant stress response leading to its short burst but vanishing soon.
The practice of Dharana &Dhyana will help us in this journey by ability of not getting involved in each and every event occurring around us & not being judgmental about it. This practice teaches us to observe without attachment.
Repeated attempts & practices develop new neuronal connections, strengthen existing connections to be more effective.
- To learn the counter response called Relaxation response- We know the acute stress response is mediated by Sympathetic branch of Autonomic nervous system. Its’ associate branch which works when we rest has the ability to minimize the physiological effects of Sympathetic branch. We need to learn & practice the voluntary efforts to stimulate it.This is learning the generation of Relaxation response.
Science of Yoga offers various techniques to reach Parasympathetic nervous system. They are-
- Conscious muscular relaxation- in the form of PMR –Progressive muscular relaxation. It is to be learnt as a process of Shavasan. We need to lie down or sit comfortably, close our eyes & pay attention to our muscles part by part to relax them consciously. Though appears simple requires long term practice.
- Conscious Deep Breathing- Our breathing is an involuntary function controlled by a center in Medulla Oblongata. It is gifted with automatically & rhythmicity. It sends signals to muscles of breathing leading to inhalation for 2 seconds & exhalation for 3 seconds.
Nature has given us a limited capacity to work on duration of breathing.
This is the principal of Pranayam, as defined by MahamuniPatanjali, to change the area, duration, frequency, subtleness & holding it.
Our rib cage can be expanded to increase its’ transverse, vertical & anteroposterior dimensions. Lungs expand with its expansion. Vagus-the 10thcarnial nerve carries afferent impulse from stretch receptors of lung, bronchial airway & larynx. Working on rib cage expansion by conscious deep breathing (Bucket handle & Pump handle thoracic breathing & Abdominal breathing) helps in stimulating the para-sympathetic system
Conscious deep breathing leads to decrease in rate of breathing which increases the Para sympathetic tone.
Contracting laryngeal muscles in Ujjayi Pranayam leads to generation of afferent impulses in Vagus nerve,which helps in stimulation of Para sympathetic nervous system.
Relaxation response can be generated at body level by working on body as mentioned above.
It can be generated at mind level by other techniques such as music, sports, being with nature, exercise, hobby, loving relationships.One has to choose it according to one’s preferences.
Lastly the relaxation response may be generated at spiritual level by finding the meaning & purpose to one’s life.
So choices are plenty, we have to choose any one or multiple to generate relaxation response, to minimize the harmful effects of persistant stress response.
* This information is applied in Medical Yoga Therapy to help the patients.