Stress: Root Cause Of Desease

"It's not the load that breaks you down, it's how you carry it"...Lena Horne

The science and practice of yoga and yoga therapy have, at their center, the common theme of stress reduction in our daily lives. The healthcare professions are one of the most taxing physically and emotionally of all the career choices out there. The thoughts and emotions associated with the practice of dentistry and hygiene on a daily basis, promote unhealthy, chronically high levels of stress in the body. The recognition of, and the constant work necessary to reduce these levels of 'dis-ease' in the body is the goal of the practice of yoga.

60-90% of all doctors' visits in the USA are for stress related conditions according to Dr. Herbert Benson, researcher at Harvard University Medical School. A stress-related condition is any condition that is: 1) caused by stress, 2) worsened by stress, 3) a condition where increased stress greatly affects the prognosis, 4) any condition where stress leads to behaviors that cause or worsen the condition or symptoms and 5) any situation that causes stress. According to Dr. Timothy McCall, a renowned yoga therapist, even if the medical condition isn't caused by stress, being sick is stressful in itself. Stress due to illness can undermine healing so, it's important to shed the responsibility for your sickness during healing.

Here's a brief list to drive home why all of this is so important.

The Health Effects of Stress
Decreased Immune Function
Increased Inflammation
Decreased Bone Density
Problems with memory(due to increased cortisol in the nervous system)
Increased appetite (binge eating)
Increased weight gain
Increased fat deposited in the abdomen (the most DANGEROUS kind)
Increased resistance to insulin
Increased blood sugar, cholesterol, triglycerides and blood clotting
Poorer sleep
Increased Muscle Tension
Increased Sensations of PAIN

For some of us, the first realization of stress in our lives may come from recognizing one or more factors or conditions from the list above in your physical makeup. Stress isn't all bad. It can help you overcome a potentially dangerous of life threatening situation. It becomes dangerous when the stress response activation system stays 'turned on' due to repeated stressful episodes in your life throughout the day, day after day, year after year..

Yoga recognizes the relationship between stress and pain in the body. It is an accepted principle that the pain you experience daily in your neck, shoulders, hands, back, hips and lower extremities is not due to just one factor, say poor posture. Although we were taught from day one in school the damaging effects and pain brought on poor posture. There's more to the problem than that.

The pain that we all experience in our bodies, according to yogic philosophy, is related to the incredible amount of tension and dis-harmony retained in the tissues of the body. As you 'are what you eat', so too, the thoughts and sensations that flow thru your mind constantly either increase or decrease the level of stress you're under. Stress is thought to disturb the normal biorhythms of the body, setting up blockages in one or more of the nerve and energy centers of the human organism. Chronic disturbance of these centers cause blockages in the normal flow of energy and breath(prana) throughout the body. At the site of these blockages, painful sensations are felt. The main thing to retain from all of this is: your pain is both a combination of BOTH the PHYSICAL AND EMOTIONAL demands placed on your body. Furthermore, that pain cannot be alleviated WITHOUT treating BOTH the physical and emotional causative factors.

The science and practice of yoga equips the student with all the necessary tools to begin to reverse the effects of stress-induced and physical pain in the body. Over time, the student can begin to recognize when the stress response is turned on and actually reverse the harm before it escalates out of control. It is known that medications(pharmaceuticals) produce immediate effects that decrease over time... .the effects of the practice of yoga begin very slowly and subtlety, but grow stronger and deeper as time goes on... Which would you deem more valuable?

Armed with the knowledge that the origins of pain have two origins, we will begin to address yoga postures that will begin to relieve painful sensations in the body over time. Like anything else, the more time and energy you put into your practice daily, the greater the fruits of your endeavor.

The key to any yoga practice is the development of the 'yoga breath'. While there are quite a few different breath techniques, the one most frequently employed in yoga is The deep rhythmic breath. This breath is done thru the nostrils only... .no mouth breathing. It involves basically, developing an inhale that is 4-6 times the length of your normal inhale followed by an exhale of the same length. By doing this, one strengthens the entire breathing APPARATUS of the body while beginning to slow down the breathing PROCESS, thus breaking the cycle of the stress response characterized by shallow breathing. As the breath gets deeper and slower, the body chemistry begins to reverse itself from the stress response cycle to the relaxation cycle. All of this is done consciously in the yoga practice as the emphasis in yoga is on the breath primarily and the posture secondarily. Thus , the differ rence between yoga and stretching, calisthenics or Pilates, is the overwhelming powerful and mindful control and use of the breath.

As with any new physical practice, consult your physician first and make sure you're in good enough physical condition first. Begin your practice slowly at first... .20 minutes at a time to begin. This will enable you an opportunity to assess the effects of your practice without becoming overly tired or sore. The last thing you want to do is create more tension and suffering in the body. Wear loose fitting clothing and dontt eat for 3-4 hrs. prior to practice. Buy a sticky yoga mat, cork blocks and a strap. It's a good idea as well to purchases 2 or 3 yoga blankets (the Mexican style blanket is good because it is large and very dense... it can be tightly folded to act as a prop or support). These are essential for any beginning student. Drink plenty of water before and after the practice. This will flush the body of toxins and poisons that will arise, not allowing them to resettle into the tissues. Find a certified yoga teacher in the style of yoga that suits your needs. Most importantly, begin slowly and exhibit 'loving kindness' and respect for your body..Remember, you have everyday for the rest of your life to develop proficiency in this ancient healing art. There's no beginning and no ending or finishing line. There's no score to keep, no goal . Everyone begins this journey with what they bring to the table... no more, no less. Try to have fun and don't be too critical of yourself. Keep your practice light and stress free and you'll always look forward to getting back on the mat the next day.

Curles C. Colbert, Jr. , DDS, RYT, CYT-C
April, 2009