I have been practicing yoga and mindfulness meditation for the past forty odd years and I would like to share what I have learned about stress during these decades of practice.

There can be little doubt that there is a crisis in the area of stress and stress management that is adversely affecting a large portion of our society. Those in the corporate world are well aware of the cost of unabated stress, both in the areas of well-being and in the area of productivity. Numerous studies have demonstrated that poorly managed stress costs us immensely. Billions of dollars each year are lost in productivity and lost work time, not to mention the diminishment of quality of life. In terms of quality of mental health, we can say with near-certainty that mismanagement of stress is adversely affecting people all over the world.

Over the years I have seen tremendous growth of yoga and disciplines such as meditation and mindfulness practices. I don’t think it is any accident that the rise in stress-related disease and disorders correlate with the growth of interest in these particular practices; after all, they allow those of us who use them with consistency and focus to effectively understand and manage the stress levels of daily life.

What is it about these practices that’s so effective in mitigating the harmful effects of stress?

Why is it so difficult for most people to learn how to manage stress levels effectively?

First, let’s explore how our current cultural and societal values have played a part. As a society, we place a great deal of value on a certain standard of living and a great majority of us put most, if not all, of our attention and focus on earning a living and accumulating relative degrees of material and financial success. In almost every area of life, there’s an emphasis on success in an external fashion. Even in the yoga community, we can see this manifest in those who value the physical performance of yoga poses over the cultivation of internal values.

By placing our attention on the cultivation of the external aspects of life, we have a tendency to utilize and celebrate the intellect above most other human skills.

But the essence of any discipline such as yoga or meditation is the integration and balance of all aspects of being human—physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is the contention of many of these disciplines and their accompanying philosophical literature that the highest quality of human life and experience is grounded in the balance and integration of all the different parts of being human.

This means there is a great respect and appreciation of the intellectual aspect of human life, but not at the cost of neglecting other aspects, including one’s emotional life, physical well-being, and the more subtle areas of human life, which include one’s capacity for sensitivity and mindfulness.

In our current society, by placing such a high value on material/financial success and intellectual skill, we’ve neglected or compromised the quality of our emotional and spiritual values and awareness. In other words, how we prioritize external values and experience over and to the detriment of internal values impacts our capacity to successfully deal with stress.

This is why I think there is such a crisis in our culture with regard to mental and emotional well-being and health. There are far too many people in our society who struggle with depression, anxiety, substance abuse, sleep and eating disorders, suicide, and harmony in relationships (including the relationship one has with oneself).

There is tremendous value and effectiveness in referring to the timeless and ancient traditions of yoga and meditation in addressing this particular crisis and imbalance in our society and within each one of us.

It is important to note here that the deeper purpose of yoga and mindfulness practices is not performance or achievement. There is a lot of misunderstanding on this point, especially around the practice of yoga. Many believe yoga is generally for younger people who are physically flexible and the advent and popularity of social media has only enhanced that misperception.

Traditionally, the most significant purpose of yoga and meditation is the cultivation of a profound and practical understanding of oneself and the cultivation of deeper internal values.

You see, most of us in modern western culture have been conditioned to put so much focus on our external life and experience that we have either neglected or forgotten to put attention on the more subtle and important areas of internal awareness and experience. We have created a culture of immense physical and financial wealth, but suffer greatly in the areas of mental health and well-being.

I am incredibly happy to see increasing awareness about the value of these ancient practices. I’m confident the understanding that comes from these disciplines can bring value and healing to many parts of our society. I have talked to countless people from many different walks of life who are becoming aware of the fact that self mastery—especially in the area of mind and emotions—is transformative. Self-mastery in these areas are key in developing a powerful and effective way to mitigate and manage the effects of stress in their lives.

This may surprise you, but stress is not a problem.

The real issue is we don’t understand ourselves enough to utilize and access all the inner resources we all have within us to navigate the challenges of modern life. We have spent so much time developing and building outer resources, that we have underdeveloped the internal (which, by the way, are far more powerful than most of us realize).

What’s been emboldening to see is how many major institutions in our society are recognizing the value in focusing on these values, the importance of cultivating deeper levels of understanding about what it means to be human. I believe we are seeing a major shift in our culture in the way that we live and work.
The pandemic has forced many of us to look more deeply within ourselves and has actually brought about some truly positive change in the way many approach work and life. There’s been a collective shift, particularly in the recognition of the importance of mental and emotional well-being. More and more people are focusing on self-understanding, self-care, and healthy work/life integration.

I believe this is the beginning of a revolution of awareness and consciousness. The timeless wisdom and effectiveness of these ancient disciplines will have a significant effect on the quality of life, not only for individuals, but for the greater community and beyond.

Guest post by studio BE Senior Facilitator Govinda Kai.

Govinda is a Certified Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga instructor with over 20 years’ of teaching experience in North America, Europe and Asia. Deeply passionate about the transformative power of practice and yoga philosophy, Govinda encourages you to prepare for memorable chanting, powerful cues, and a remarkable yoga experience.

Join him for live classes on studio BE on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays at 7 AM ET / 1 PM CET