“Freedom From Stress”

Freedom from Stress

Jeff Martens

To believe that we are free is a very popular notion in today’s Western society, yet at times it seems this freedom of choice only leads us to experience deeper levels of stress, distraction, judgement and anxiety.  Spiritual Masters from many disciplines define true freedom as the ability to choose our attitude in any situation.  If these masters know what they are talking about, then why do so many of us succumb to stress, anger, rage and frustration when we are born with the ability to choose otherwise?

The Sanskrit word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit yuj which means to yoke or unify.  Though the Western world identifies yoga primarily with its physical postures (called asanas) and their benefits, the ultimate aim of yoga is a state of true freedom known as Kaivalya.  Though we may believe that we are truly free, the 5,000 year-old science of yoga gently suggests that our minds often lead us around like a dog walking its master.

According to yoga philosophy, the true order of a balanced existence means that the Soul or Spirit leads the mind which in turn guides the body and senses.  Modern life has left many of us with these priorities completely reversed.  As a result we find ourselves on a wheel of pleasure and pain, constantly chasing after those things we want and running away from things we don’t like.

The problem with such a hamster-wheel state of existence is that when our expectations for pleasure are not met we experience frustration and disappointment.  Continual disappointments leave us in a constant state of stress that slowly begins to contort our physical, emotional and Spiritual lives.  By holding the body still in a pose or holding the mind focused within a flowing motion, we are balancing motion with stillness and sound with silence.  This creates a sense of being-ness that is not accomplished by ‘doing’ and ‘not doing’ alone.  As we become more aware of the spaciousness within ourselves, we are able to ‘do’ more efficiently.   Yoga teaches us on a cellular level to re-establish the correct order and balance in our lives so that we may experience the true unity that comes from following the still, small voice within.

A little stress or effort is good and necessary.  We need activation and activity to move in the world.  The experience we commonly know as stress, however, is actually the result of certain emotional and physiological reactions designed by nature to ensure our survival.  The fight or flight response made sure that we would be prepared to battle or flee from a dangerous situation.  Through a cascading reaction of instinctual emotions triggering neurotransmitters causing hormonal changes in the blink of an eye, our bodies and senses are placed into overdrive in order to face a life or death situation with as much energy and focus as possible.

In today’s world, however, life or death threats are perceived everywhere.  Many people have felt the rush of adrenaline at the sight of police lights flashing in the rear view mirror, receiving a letter from the IRS or suddenly realizing that we should have been at an appointment over an hour ago.  Though these events may not be life or death situations, our bodies have learned to treat them this way.  As a result we begin to store tension and stress in joints and muscle right down to our very cells.  Continual low-grade fight-or-flight responses can lead to chronic fatigue, spinal misalignment, pinched nerves, torn muscles and connective tissue and constant illness.

In Yoga, the root cause of stress is the inability to remain in the present moment uniting or being-ness (spaciousness) with our ‘ding’ (contraction or activation principle).  Ancient texts call such a pattern of stress the results of the Monkey Mind always jumping from the past to the future.  In such states it ie easy to forget that all pleasure and all pain passes.  Identifying ourselves solely with transient experiences based on our limited belief of what is right and wrong for ourselves and the world creates a constant state of frustration and disappointment.  By refusing to acknowledge the bigger picture beyond our limited world-view, we only experience our judgements and opinions of people and events and do not directly experience life itself.

Fear, comparison and judgement and all require the mind to leave the present moment and are the source of all stress and suffering in our lives.  When we leave the Now, we lose balance and perspective and identify with our pains and pleasures rather than realizing who we truly are a Spiritual being having a human experience.  Try a yoga pose of your choice, calm the gaze to one point and thake three conscious breaths.  you will emerge from the experience a changed person.  Or rather, more accurately, you will have become more truly yourSelf: the balance between activity and letting go that is beyond opposites and free to experience the next pose with equanimity and joy.

Jeff Martens is a teacher, writer and co-owner of Inner Vision Yoga. All suggestions are voluntary.  Consult a qualified teacher or your physician before you embark on any practice in which you are unfamiliar.
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