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Introduction to Indian Philosophy - 

(Text written by Mitra Ray)

 

Yoga and Health - STRESS

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Let me start from the very basic questions, about human life and destiny, raised by the great old Indian philosophers and answered by them through their realizations, which have not been superseded by the striking achievements of science and technology of the modern age. The questions are eternal in nature.

The wise old study and cultivation of Indian Philosophy, though remote from us in time, is not remote from thought. There is no more inspiring task for the students of Indian thought than to set forth some phases of its spiritual or transcendental wisdom and bring them to bear on our own life.

 

Let us in the words of Socrates

"Turn over together the treasures

that wise men have left us .....".

 

The central message of Indian Philosophy, which is essentially spiritual is said to provide us with a complete chart of the unseen Reality, to give us the most immediate, intimate and convincing light on the secret of human existence.

 

The vision of Truth is the ceaseless quest of the great Indian thinkers and this quest is still our ideal.

 

In this context we may mention the British mathematician,  logician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, who in his book " Science and the Modern World"  speaks to us of

 

The real, which stands behind and beyond and within the passing flux of the world,

Something, which is real and yet waiting to be realized,

Something, which is a remote possibility and yet the greatest of present facts,

Something, that gives meaning to all that passes, and yet eludes apprehension;

Something, whose possession is the final good, and yet is beyond all reach;

Something, which is the ultimate ideal and the hopeless quest."

 

The metaphysical curiosity for a theoretical explanation of the world, the passionate longing for liberation is to be found in Indian Philosophy. Their ideas not only enlighten our minds but also stretch it. They help us to rise above the glamour of the fleshly life.

Human life contains the clue to the interpretation of nature. The wise Indian thinkers show the way of the inner ascent, the inward journey by which the individual self realizes the Ultimate end and the Ultimate Reality.

 

Truth is within us. We have to explore it.

 

Apparently, man is a bio- material creature. He is made up of the same ordinary chemical elements as Carbon, Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen, etc., which are abundant in this planet earth.

 

Man's biological make-up has its requirements, which he like any other animal, fulfils according to his needs.

Question arises:

            "What is our need?"

            “Do we really know what we need?”

We need so many mundane, material things. And there is ignorant, narrow, selfish way, which leads to transitory satisfactions.

 

But are we happy with whatever we own from our material needs? It is a fact that this process of ‘wanting and owning’ is endless.

 

Indian thinkers show the way, which leads to our real need that is the truth that is unconditional. But knowing the truth is not theoretical learning. It is to be known by self-discipline and integral insight.

           

Question comes:

            what is that truth,

            what is that reality,

which remains identical and persists through change, which one strives to attain?

 

One may raise the questions —

 

Is there any inner truth over and above the empirical existence of the world and of man?

 

            Is man the same being as is seen apparently?

Or,

            Has he some inner reality, which extends the empirical existence?

 

The answer to these questions cannot be given empirically. These are metaphysical / transcendental questions regarding one's own self.

 

Indian thinkers have seriously asked these questions to themselves and searched for the answers vigorously.          The uniqueness of Indian Philosophy lies here which no other philosophy of the world before has ever raised.

 

Indian thinkers meditated on the deeper problems of existence. They were struck by the immensity of the universe and the inexhaustible mystery of life.                  

Hymns to gods and goddesses were replaced by a search for the reality underlying the flux of things. “What is that which, being known, everything else becomes known”.

           

The transcendental knowledge of the truth is not only speculative thinking but very pragmatic and at the same time practicable.

 

Earlier I mentioned about the bio- material aspect of human life. But over and above this aspect he has a surplus within him. This is evident in his aspiration for realization of the truth. He wants to look within himself and strives to transcend his biological nature, and to attain the inner truth.

 

This is possible to achieve in this life. For this we are to look within ourselves,

            find out the truth,

            the truth that is universal,

            the truth, which is true for all men and things for all time,

            the truth,  which is bliss, which is beauty and happiness.

 

The process of finding out the inner truth is not very easy but it is not impossible. To begin with we have to think correctly, perceive correctly, evaluate our own life and determine what is unconditionally meaningful for human existence.

 

For all these we have to open our mind wide. We will then be able to realise the unconditional truth.

 

We all have perfection within us.

            We have to manifest it, unveil it.

 

If one focuses his bright light of mind to his thinking he will definitely find the right answer.

 

We need not look to the sky for the bright light; the glorious fire is within us. Our inner self is the keyhole to the landscapes of the whole universe.

 

Here is the significance of Indian Philosophy, which throws light upon the way to the truth of life, the way of emancipation of the mind.

 

Now, I come to the specific question,

what is the significance of YOGA PHILOSOPHY in present day life?

 

We are at the dawn of a new century which has gone through the experience of paramount developments of the 20th century science and technology, extremely fast and easy life which is at the same time complex, stressed and tensed.

 

As a sum total result of the fantastic scientific advancement, the qualitative status of human society might have gone up.

The material achievements might have fulfilled all worldly pleasure but it is a hard fact that most individual is lacking peace of mind within.

 

The modern age can prescribe only transient, readymade means of pleasure, only superficial cultural practices to ornament our outer life. But searching for peace, stability, happiness and emancipation of mind are the inherent desire of man;

 

but the paradox is that in this materially sound, comfortable but hectic, hypertensive daily life, how to attain the desired peace and happiness of mind!

 

QUESTIONS HAUNT.

 

CONFUSION PERSISTS.

 

Here comes the Yoga Philosophy, which for thousands of years has been recommending a very simple method consisting of meditation, breathing exercises and yogic postures to attain that end.

 

ANY INDIVIDUAL CAN ADOPT THIS METHOD.

 

 

 

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YOGA AS A PSYCHOPHYSICAL SCIENCE - YOGA & HEALTH

 

 

I will talk about Yoga and the stresses in our lives and how Yoga can help us to relax and to calm the mind, in this busy stressful modern world.

 

In Indian Philosophy, Yoga covers a wide range of knowledge. For our purpose here, we will limit ourselves to that part of yoga, which deals with the yogic postures and meditation.

 

Just for your information, we also have Yoga that deals with the dark side of our life –which means a period of hesitation, despondency, dejection and sorrow that one has to go through in order to understand the real situation and to come to terms with it.

 

YOGA is a philosophy dealing with the psychophysical aspect of our lives. It is a psychophysical science, as depicted by the Vedic Indians thousands of years ago. It is a science to bring about wisdom, a sense of right proportions, patience, self-restraint, and calmness.

 

Yoga is not a set of dogmas and practices just for the initiated.

Yoga is for peace of mind.

 

Ever since yoga became popular in the West, the word has become almost synonymous with its physical postures, which appeal to the west’s physically oriented society – part of yoga’s modern popularity is precisely because yoga blends with the present day culture of body fitness.

 

It appears what has taken hold in the west is the physical part of the yoga system.

 

But how do you do the mental exercises and build and strengthen the mental muscles?

 

Yogic postures (or exercises) are not practised to shape up the body like one does in a fitness centre, or to lose a few pounds or kilos, but the main purpose is to prepare your body for MEDITATION in order to fortify the mind to quell the disturbing mental storms that we often experience in our lives.

Meditation consists in the continuous flow of the same cognition (knowledge) of the object of attention undisturbed by any other cognition.

 

The science of meditation was developed in India for the purpose of supplying the mind with the necessary nourishment and food and for giving it exercise, rest and relaxation.

 

Mind is rejuvenated when mind rests. Without this exercise, mental muscles will become flabby.

 

All yogas teach meditation, the mind being the final obstacle to be overcome and the most difficult to surmount. The mind works harder than the body. Our mind is always in a state of agitation.

 

You do of course need a healthy body where mind resides in order to practise meditation. 

THE BODY HOUSES THE MIND. CARE OF THE BODY IS ESSENTIAL.

 

It is acknowledged that the condition of the body has some hand in determining the state of the mind, and hence instructions cover not only the discipline of the mind, but also the control of the body.

 

By practising yogic postures, one can experience the effects of various poses on the body and the mind.

They invigorate your body and keep your mind healthy and calm.

They bring about a feeling of freshness and relaxation and remove physical lethargy.

 

And Meditation will strengthen the muscles of your mind.

 

The mind body experience is what distinguishes yoga from conventional exercises, promoting fitness from inside out. Mental toughness over sheer physical strength is important. Yoga is more a work-in than a workout.

Not only Yoga strengthens all of the systems in the body – but also teaches us how to rest. You can create a perfect harmony between your body, your life and your mind. You can live in amity and concord with your own self.

 

 

STRESS IN OUR LIVES

 

What is stress?

 

Stress is something that stimulates us and increases our level of alertness. Life without stimulus would be incredibly dull and boring. Life with too much stimulus becomes unpleasant and tiring, and may ultimately damage our health or well-being. Too much stress can seriously interfere with our ability to perform effectively.

Too little can lead to boredom and "rust out" - but too much can produce "burn out".

 

Stress is the physical and mental response of the body to demands made upon it. Stress arises when we are unable to get rid of our negative feelings that pile up as a result of our reactions to the daily events.

Stress affects us mentally, emotionally and physically. It affects efficiency and effectiveness, undermines relationship and influence physical and emotional health.

 

With the recent growth in corporate mergers and acquisitions, laying off people is a regular thing; it has generated a lot of stress. Staffs are being reduced to increase efficiency, and the ones left have larger workloads.

Office environment is stressful in most cases. Stress manifests directly in the body. Stress affects interactions with the co-workers. Job stress causes physical symptoms – headache, backache, stomach problem and sometimes anxiety.

Stress is a part of everyday life, and learning to manage stress is an increasingly valuable tool for modern life. There is a way to reduce stress. Many techniques are available to deal with stress.

 

EFFECTS OF STRESS

 

Stress has following affects:


Physically through the experience of physical symptoms like pain in the back of your neck, tightening sensation between your shoulder blades, tension headaches, etc.

 

Psychologically & emotionally through negative behaviour, poor relationships at work or in your personal life, as well as poor lifestyle choices.

 

WHAT CAUSES STRESS?

 

Different things cause stress in different people. Some of the things are: deadlines, difficulty in organizing work, poor time management, out of control debts, noise, adjusting to life in a new environment, difficulties with personal relationships (e.g. splitting up). Very often stress results from an accumulation of many different pressures, which build up gradually without us noticing.

 

Today with the fast pace of life, repeated change in jobs, homes, frequent divorces and marriages, and advancement of modern technology with which we cannot keep pace, numerous tensions are created. In this unrelenting struggle for existence, we try to keep a calm exterior but conceal a disturbed mind. Mental stress and strain is the penalty we pay for becoming modern. This has resulted in the phenomenal increase in psychosomatic disorders, that is, the disorders of the body caused by the disturbed mind.

 

Sleepless nights follow and the next day’s life is one of depression. You will live in a fool’s paradise if you live in the world of sleeping pills and tranquillizers, which bring an apparent respite, but no cure. You only become dependent on them.

 

Stress is really more a psychological factor than a physical, quantifiable one. The tranquillizers only suppress the symptoms.

 

Stress is not only bad for the body and the mind; it also causes us to bury our true nature beneath the debris of tasks, deadlines and worries.

Stress is most created when we can’t cope up with the demands that we are subjected to.

Our everyday life is full of demands taxing on our physical, emotional and mental energy.

 

MANAGING STRESS

 

Our lives are full of stresses and pressures, some we create ourselves, others we cannot control. Coping with the stresses of modern life is an essential skill and there are many techniques available to us, techniques with a long long history.

 

YOGA – consisting of Yogic postures / exercises, breathing exercises and Meditation – is one of the simplest methods to combat stress in our fast modern life.

 

Yoga helps relieve the stress of the daily routine and teaches us how to relax and release tension.

Yoga gives you the opportunity to experience calmness of mind.  Stretching the body and working with the breath engages the body's parasympathetic nervous system - allowing the body to normalize, gradually improving health and posture - defeating fatigue, increasing alertness and leading to improved productivity, feelings of well-being.

 

We function best when we are in a state of relaxation. Relaxation is a breathing space in the rush of daily living. This breathing space is necessary to prepare the body and the mind for greater energy and clearer vision. Even a change or place of work brings about relaxation.

 

Relaxation lowers blood pressure, respiration and pulse rates, releases muscle tension and eases emotional strains.

 

Our nerve cells get invigorated because during relaxation they are relieved of their routine burden of working.

Don’t you think that 8 to 10 hours of work a day should be followed by a period of relaxation, just like nature has ordained that there shall be sleep after a waking period?

 

Sound sleep is never possible with the fast pace of life, particularly in big cities. People keep running in frenzy and hardly find time to sit down and think or read a book or even listen to music.

 

We who live in the Western world have neither the leisure nor the opportunity, and frequently not even the will, to practise meditation. Our busy life seldom allows us to look inward.

 

It is wrong to think that we cannot spare time. It is not so much the lack of time as the feeling that there is no need for such relaxation, which is the cause of the mad rush. Money made in a life of such tension will leave one no life of retirement. A life of “rush rush” is a life of tension, nervousness and anxiety.

The problem has to be tackled at the root. 

We must learn to relax.

Yoga helps relieve the stress of the daily routine.

 

You meditate to beat the stress.

 

MEDITATION will help you to relax.

 

Some do jogging after a stressful and tiring day. They usually think sweating and physical exertion can refresh them. Yes. It does. But you will get a bonus if after jogging you sit down and allow your mind to rest. You do the mental exercises by resting your mind. Learning to relax is a key to a physical, emotional and mental health.

When your mind rests, it gets exercised; it gets its nourishment. Mind is then invigorated. You become calmer, you become patient, and you become alert.

 

But don’t meditate on your office project – it will then bring the office stress with it, which you want to get rid of.

 

It is of no use to enter the closet with the daily paper and the business file. Even if you leave them outside and shut the doors and windows, you may have an unquiet time with all your worries and preoccupations.

 

Yoga will counteract physical and mental fatigue. It will establish emotional steadiness.

 

Medical studies have shown what Yoga has known for thousands of years:

Meditation is beneficial to the body and the mind. As it is accompanied by deep relaxation, it unstresses the body, causing a feeling of physiological and psychological ease, rejuvenation and heightened vitality. At more advanced levels, the practitioner experiences deep peace and tranquillity, which carry over into everyday life.

 

The most important thing is that we should learn the mental discipline that will teach us how to be in harmony with our own selves, our own instincts, emotions, sentiments, and ideas.

 

Yoga will help you to learn that discipline.

 

  

YOGA VS OTHER EXERCISES

 

Now let me talk about the yogic postures from the physical point of view.

 

There is a fundamental difference between Yogic exercises and other types of exercises.

The common misconception is that Yogic exercises are physical exercises. Physical exercises are repetitive movements, whereas Yogic exercises involve very little movement and are only poses, which are to be maintained for a period of time.

 

The postures and the breathing exercises help you to change the reaction to stress and thereby minimise the ill effects of stress. These postures involve concentration on certain parts of the body, and, therefore, the result is a toning up of both the mind and the body.

Yogic poses when maintained for a definite period help to conserve energy and give a feeling of relaxation and exhilaration.

Yogic exercises are also meant to improve the functions of the organs.

 

HOW DOES YOGA AFFECT US ON A PURELY PHYSICAL LEVEL?

 

The muscular system is the one we are usually most aware of when we do the poses. Even the muscles that we do not know much about are involved.

 

The yogic postures concentrate on a deep stretching movement. Muscles are given a gentle, controlled stretch, without any strain. They are thus able to extend gradually and safely. A flexible muscle is also a strong, well-toned muscle.

 

The skeleton system also benefits. As the muscles loosen and stretch, so do the ligaments, which hold the bones in place.

 

The circulation system improves through regular deep breathing. Yoga helps you become more aware of your breath, even when you are not doing the breathing exercises. The inverted postures enhance blood circulation, reversing the venous blood flow and also improve lymph drainage.

 

The digestive system is helped by the internal massaging action which some of the postures perform on the organs.

 

The nervous and endocrine systems are affected. Yoga’s concentration on the spine, through which the major nerve pathways flow, helps to control nervous energy.

 

The common purpose of all the poses is to establish a proper tone in the neuromuscular system as a whole.

 

Yoga encompasses both physical and mental stimuli. Yoga is ideal. It not only exercises the body, but also through the act of breathing it calms down the nervous system, it oxygenates the blood and tissues and it brings changes in the brain functions.

 

Yoga is a form of lifestyle that is beneficial in regulating the bodily functions, psychic processes and improves well-being.

 

AS COMPARED TO OTHER PHYSICAL EXERCISES,

 

Yogic postures are easier than aerobics and weight training.

They need no special place or equipment.

They are a slow dynamic and static movement.

There is low risk of injury of muscles and ligaments.

They involve minimized effort; you spend much less energy.

Yoga improves oxygenation of blood.

Yoga improves circulation of blood and lymph

Yoga exercises help to maintain good body posture

Yoga has no age limit

 

Yoga exercises take into account the body's natural movements. Yogic postures result in static stretching which actually is very effective in removing cramps and preventing soreness. Static stretching is safer than dynamic.

 

Most of the Yogic postures and breathing exercises unlike physical exercises do not strain the cardiovascular system.

 

Emotional stress causes the back muscles to become tense. Gentle yoga stretches help reduce physical tension directly. When muscles relax, the mind becomes more tranquil.

 

They are useful for the body as well as for the mind. They change the reactions of the body to the day-to-day tensions, which are so rampant today.

 

What really makes yoga different is the mental focus and attention that we bring to bear on the body - the stream of attention we focus as we do the posture. The result is a toning up of both the mind and the body. In adopting and maintaining a posture there is a co-ordination between the nervous system and the muscular system, which set up a kind of tone in the body and influences the physical and mental behaviour.

 

It is a comprehensive system to keep the body fit and mind alert.

 

That the autonomic system could be controlled through the slender connection with the nervous system was a great discovery of the Yoga system and it still retains its title to the sole possession of the technique to bring that about.

 

Let us not forget some very important things about Yogic exercises, these are:

 

·                                  Yogic discipline is not a group activity but an individual one.

·                                  Yoga needs commitment and regular practice.

·                                  It is a non-competitive activity.

·                                  Your body is not like anyone else’s body. What you can do, it is perhaps impossible for someone else to             do the same.

·                                  It is a game of inches /mm; you improve by slowly inching forward, (mm by mm).

·                                  You are developing internal skills that cannot be measured by how far you can bend your bodies.

·                                  Yoga bans hurry from all its methods and favours the slow-but steady approach.

 

 

CONCLUSIONS

 

Now I come to the concluding part of my speech.

 

A Sanskrit saying:

 

OUR INNER SELF CONTAINS THE CLUE TO THE ANSWER OF OUR LIFE.

 

The Vedic Indians preached ATMANAM VIDDHI – KNOW THYSELF.

 

You will even find these two words, written in Greek in the temple of Delphi in Greece.

 

This idea Know Thyself is also reflected in the great psychologist Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of individuation.

 

Rainer Maria Rilke in his famous book “Letters to a Young Poet” wrote, “ I can give you no other advice other than this, retire into yourself and probe the depths from which your life springs up”.

 

In meditation, it is like letting the mud in a muddy pool settle down. When mind settles down, the mind becomes clear and when mind becomes clear, you can explore and find what’s in it. You will be able to monitor your feeling, from moment to moment.

 

MEDITATION will help you to eradicate the complexes in your mind, eliminate agony that you created.

 

MEDITATION is the cultivation of the mind. It is the reconditioning of the mind. It is an act of attention, an effort of will. Meditation is the self-change.

 

Carl Gustav Jung said “You have to open up the unconscious and not suppress it, silence it with drugs.”

 

Yoga attempts to explore the inner world of consciousness and helps to integrate the conscious and the subconscious.

 

The fact that there is a conflict in us proves that we have the will to control our mind – but often our will loses the battle. Sometimes our mind becomes extremely unsteady and extroverted and flits constantly from one object to another.

 

Control of thought is liberation. Mystery lies in disciplining the flow of the mind.

 

By suppressing all fluctuations of thought and the distractions of desire, we allow the mind to settle on the object, penetrate it and become one with it.

 

By changing our thoughts, we change our life and indirectly we change the character of the world.

 

It is our mind that organises the world about us, which builds our relationships, which creates our various feelings. Mind control is therefore a fundamental condition.

 

If the ancient system is now followed almost all over the world, and often in CNN news it only shows that it is needed and has a part to play in our lives.

 

Yoga is a tool that you can use to improve your overall sense of well-being.

 

Yoga offers              Physical Poise

                                    Mental Peace

                                    Intellectual Clarity

                                    Emotional equanimity

                                   

BUT YOGA DOES NOT PRESCRIBE A QUICK SOLUTION.

 

If you only have a few minutes to work out and want to burn calories, yoga will disappoint you. But the overall results of the mind body experience are phenomenal. It will certainly help you to think more clearly, act more decisively.

 

 

I end here by quoting the Vedic philosophers who said more than 3000 years ago:

 

“Understanding or intelligence is the driver of the chariot of the body,

Driven by the horses of the senses, which are controlled by the reins of the mind.”

 

 

 

 

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References:

 

        Indian Philosophy by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

        The Principal Upanishads by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

        Our Heritage by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

        The Cultural Heritage of India published by Ramakrishna Mission, Institute of Culture, introduction by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

        Inner Reality by Dr. Paul Brunton

        The Conquest of Happiness by Bertrand Russell

        The Dhammapada by Dr. S. Radhakrishnan

        Yogic Therapy – by S.S.S. Saraswati, Translator Dr. B. C. Ukil