How Yoga Can Reduce
by Michael W. Smith
From our book
Bypassing Bypass, published in 2002
In a 1980 survey, I asked a
group of people “How do you personally deal with stress?” I received
answers such as “eat Cadbury Bars, jog, panic, cry, play the piano,
churn inside, get a headache, go to a movie, get into a hot tub,
blow up, get sick to my stomach, take pills, overeat, scream. These
are actually not ways of “dealing” with stress, but show reactions
to stress. The usual ways of responding to stress are with food,
drugs, alcohol, and television. Other responses might be to quit
one’s job, move, divorce, or become chronically ill and dependent.
At work one might hide in one’s office, fail to communicate openly,
not confront a problem, take frequent “mental health” days, gossip,
or work at one’s job halfheartedly. By failing to confront stressful
situations or by tranquilizing and repressing the symptoms of
stress, the true sources of conflict might remain unchanged, and
tension will continue or probably increase.
There are six helpful ways to
deal with stress, each more dynamic than the one before:
Ventilating. Getting it out.
Crying, shouting, getting angry, and vigorous exercise might
dissipate tensions, but might not provide any insight as to
their underlying cause. Talking with an insightful friend might
Diversions. Diversions are
methods to manage stress by “changing gears” usually through
recreations and hobbies. One might go swimming or play tennis.
Diversions, however, can be negative or positive and should not
be just the substitution of one stressor for another. Getting
into an all-night poker game with drinking, smoking, and very
high table stakes would not be a good diversion. Better ones
might be to relax in a hot tub, take a leisurely walk in the
country, or work in the garden. The best kinds of diversions are
ones which are essentially calming and also contribute to a
greater awareness of the relationship one has with the situation
felt to be stressful.
Changing the Situation.
Something in the environment causes stress, and one seeks to
eliminate it. In the workplace this might include repairing a
noisy ventilator or adjusting one’s chair. If one is in a
dangerous neighborhood or an abusive relationship, the best
strategy might be to get out.
Because people identify so much with their job, stress seminars
generally promote such things as how to become more efficient at
work. Companies like these strategies because they increase
profits. The mind-set is: “I am stressed because I am not
productive enough.” But to see oneself only as a worker does not
respect our multi-dimensional nature.
Values Clarification and
Self-transformation. The actual source of stress might not be
outside circumstances at all, but might lie in one’s values and
attitudes, in one’s choice of goals and habits of thought. When
a person ceases to project his inner conflicts onto the external
world and decides to take
responsibility for them himself, then a total shift occurs.
Instead of saying, “I wish I could organize outside things
better, a person says, “I wish I personally were better
organized.” Quite a bit of soul-searching might have to take
place here because the blame can no longer be shifted to
externals. If one’s relationships with others creates tension,
one looks first at oneself. The blame factor would be replaced
by examining how one might have contributed to one’s own
difficulties. An illness might bring a person to the awareness
that a major change has to take place in his personal lifestyle,
and one might start on a physical fitness program and change his
diet, learn relaxation techniques, etc. The important thing to
realize here is that often nothing significant can be done
insofar as eliminating stress if a person thinks that the cause
is entirely “out there.”
Centering. To be able to change one’s attitudes and lifestyle
requires a process of self-examination. It is at this point that
hatha yoga and meditation might be very useful because such
techniques not only provide the means for alleviating the
symptoms of stress, but also permit the exploration of any
underlying conflicts. When the mind is not preoccupied with
outside distractions, then a certain stillness can be
established from which to view emotional fluctuations. “When the
breathing is regulated and the mind stilled, one can then begin
to observe and investigate the irrational thoughts and
self-talks that have acted to initiate, strengthen, and maintain
any upset.” (Harvey)
Do not rush about trying
to multi-task, especially when eating.
Do not overdo caffeine,
sugar, alcohol, drugs, and junk food.
Do not play the “Ain’t
everything awful” game with people.
Do not let your job run
your life; do your job with the small toe of your left foot.
Do not judge yourself by
what you have, who you know, or what you do.
Do not compare yourself
to others. You are the best you there is!
Do not catastrophize.
Do not create stories
and label people as villains and heroes.
Do not overexpose
yourself to the negative elements in our society, as laid
out in newspapers, TV, movies and magazines.
Slow down, be patient.
Rest, relax, get enough
sleep at night.
Do one thing at a time.
Center yourself by
letting your breath be smooth and rhythmic.
breathing-breaks about once an hour.
Learn a systematic
relaxation and meditation method.
Maximize your exposure
to the positive things in life (nature, children, flowers,
Take time to contemplate
what is truly valuable to you in life and make adjustments.
Schedule regular times
to be with those you love and to be alone by yourself.
Forgive others; forgive
Love is the answer. (No
matter the question.)
Quiet Mind by Andrew Harvey
Weeks to Optimum Health by Andrew Weil
Feeling Good by David D. Burns
Resources (in Minnesota)
Meditation Center, 631 University Ave. NE, Mpls., MN 55413 (612)
Yoga-Meditation Center, 1290 Polk St., Shakopee, MN 55379 (952)
Alpha Center, 1317 Summit Ave., St. Paul, MN 55105 (651) 645-1291
Meditation Center: www.themeditationcenter.org
Michael W. Smith
is one of the fine instructors
at the Meditation Center in Minneapolis
and can be reached by calling 612.379.2386
or by visiting their web site: