The glorious setting of the National Botanical Gardens was a splendid location for the two talks given by Rishi Vivekananda. It seemed to the author that there were a significant number of health care professionals in the audience, rather than just “the usual yoga crowd”, who attend such meetings.

Managing Stress, Anxiety and Depression with the Help of Yoga

Stress was defined as the personal distress caused by stimuli interacting with personal vulnerabilities, whilst our stress response can be both physiological and psychological. We are vulnerable in many ways to stress, the effects can be major and varied: Major depression can result, ( in which case it was best to take anti-depressant tablets and then to begin yoga- in contrast, if the result is anxiety- then drugs are not the best course of action ); cognitive impairment can result and lead to impairment of both thought form and content; behavioural responses can change either leading to acting out the stress or to avoid it; physiological effects are the well known “fight or flight” response or to develop withdrawal symptoms. Many of these effects result in postural changes and yoga can be given to oppose these effects (e.g. a forward stoop would be treated by giving backwards bending postures etc). Additionally ten minutes of holding a happy facial expression will result in the creation of that mood within you.
However, it is wrong to try to avoid all stress, especially since he felt we were on the earth for the express purpose of learning. It is all a matter of judgement. In some instances, it is necessary to cope with the situation; in others it is better to change the stress whilst in others to change oneself! The best way of determining which to change was to draw up a “balance sheet” and assess the gains and losses that would occur.
There are numerous ways in which yoga can help us deal with stress, hence the ways different paths of yoga, namely Hatha in which postures and breathing are used; Raja, in which ethics and a personal code of conduct are used; Jnana, in which an expanding awareness leads to wisdom; Bhakti yoga uses devotion and service and Karma yoga which uses meditation in action.
Some of the techniques that we can use to counteract stress included: all postures, abdominal breathing, Bhramari and Ujjayi, Moola bandha, Yoga Nidra and meditation- including Trataka. For those people suffering a lack of motivational energy (common for those suffering from stress) was to do Moola bandha.

Yoga in the Management of Addictions

Addiction was defined as a behaviour that resulted from the compulsive pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. – These are inherent to us as a species and are vital for the self-preservation and propagation of the species- hence are very, very powerful motivators. In its widest sense, we are all addicts of one sort or another! Alcohol, drugs, TV, computer games co-dependency, sex, marathons etc, it just depends on one’s social group. The major problem with drugs is the withdrawal effects afterwards (since the drugs in fact enable us to experience heightened states of awareness in some cases and remove our conditioning temporarily). Hence, in fact it is possible to say that we are addicted to our enlightened state!
The body produces its own drugs, for example melatonin is a tranquilliser, endorphins are equivalent to heroin, nor-adrenalin is equivalent to speed or cocaine, serotin is equivalent to stimulants and anti-depressants and dopamine is equivalent o alcohol. Yoga also encourages the body to make its own drugs, so it is quite possible- and much cheaper and more beneficial to become addicted to yoga!

Some of the basic causes of addiction included: Stress- drugs such as alcohol are used as an escape: passing time; peer group pressure; getting back at our parents; tempting death, and causing death. However, as we evolve we rise out of these motivations. The five dimensions of human consciousness could be described in terms of the Koshas and, when used in conjunction with the six chakras could be used to describe the whole range of personality traits that exist for the human condition. (This echoed his talks he gave two years ago in the UK and Holland.)

Drug dependency was related to imbalances in the chakras, for example: at Mooladhara the issues are security- the lack of leads to anxiety/insecurity for which people often take tranquillisers, alcohol, seek financial security or gamble, whilst at Anahata drugs are used to relieve feelings of loneliness/ isolation from others and at the Tamasic level in Anahata leads to self defensiveness and protectiveness.
At Vishuddhi addiction to talking, ‘their scene’ e.g. a pub etc. drugs, a compulsion to have people around one or to be a hermit!
At Ajna drugs are used to relieve obsess ional rumination such as can occur in information addicts or intellectual addicts.
People who are in the tamasic state generally feel bad who take drugs and will assume the good feel they get was due to the drug, however the effect is simply the temporary removal of some of the energetic blockages that they suffer with.

How can Yoga Help?
It was emphasised that a balanced yoga lesson was needed. It was stated that simply working on one chakra would lead to other imbalances and was counter-productive. Since all yoga practices work directly on the chakras, it is best to aim to balance out the whole system, as this will allow the energy to flow more freely. The yoga can lead to an immediate relief to the physical, mental, and emotional pain that drives addicts. Then on a deeper level, it works more slowly to free the elements that trap us in the tamasic state and enable us to progress to the higher and higher states naturally. According to Patanjali, there will always be some residual pain- the Kleshas until we realise our oneness with the Ultimate.
As to which practices to use, awareness of breath was the key to all this, of course.
For people in rehabilitation, karma yoga has been found to be the best thing to do- for example in Alcoholics Anonymous becoming a ‘Buddy’ or sponsor is well known. Since yoga is not simply things to be done in the yoga room, but is a lifestyle, then consideration needs to be given to this whole area as well. Simplicity, moderation, regularity are all factors to be considered. The food we take affects us, sugar is a drug. The things we take in through our eyes and ears affect us, witness the violence on TV and all the stories of death in the newspapers- these all affect us in many subtle ways. It is best to ignore bad news about things that one can’t do anything about. We should choose to associate ourselves with people who are on a positive path and avoid the negative types.
Our personal ethos and well-being are important and attention needs to be given to the yamas and niyamas. Where we should harmonise our social interactions( as the form of restraint ), bramacharia- often wrongly translated as sexual abstinence actually means to walk with Bhrama. (Swami Satyananda has said that celibacy is against the laws of nature), harmonise our inner feelings and aim for a purity of the koshas.
Karma yoga was described as action in the world for the world, one should not seek rewards or be attached to rewards, develop a positive attitude to things, try to be efficient all we do- without being perfectionists, have a balanced attitude to matters, limit our egos and aim to dedicate all our activities to a higher power.

Clearly, trying to do all this at once would be a very tall order and very daunting to most, so it was suggested to simply start with a well balanced yoga session and allow all these things to develop in their own good time.