By Dr. Rita Khanna
What is the importance of Yoga in the armed forces? Yoga is a holistic science of life, that deals with physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Yoga practices increase physical fitness, discipline the mind, make you more focused and confident. Additionally, Yogic methods cure health disorders. Also, they give you a calmed and relaxed mind, which is equally, if not more, relevant to the Army personnel.
There is no doubt that the normal PT schedule improves flexibility, endurance, etc.; but a one-hour Yoga program has much to offer. Such a class consists of Asanas, Pranayamas, Prayer (Omkar and Gayatri Mantra Chanting), and Yoga-Nidra practice. In this case, practice will have great effects on the autonomic equilibrium between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Therefore, these systems modulate, and optimize, sympathetic activity in stressful situations, and immediately restore equilibrium.
Stress can be physical, environmental, psychological, or emotional. To clarify, stress can originate in the physical environment. Significantly, we are talking of soldiers located on the snow-clad mountains of the Siachen glacier. It must be remembered, this is where they are exposed to the physical extremes of high altitude and hypoxia. They are also exposed to the psychological stresses of isolation, monotony, separation from family, with firing and shelling, at times, coming from across the border. In this way, they are exposed to both physical and environmental extremes.
If we go to the Southern Peninsula, we have the other extreme of a hot, humid environment. Stress can also originate in the family environment – when there is incompatibility amongst family members. The occupational environment can also be stressful – when people working together in an institution do not get along with their seniors, colleagues, or subordinates. The social environment can be another source of stress. If your norms, and the norms of others in your society, are not parallel, there is a gap or conflict, which can lead to stress and distress.
Stress at Work
Stress, at work, has become an integral part of everyday life, which makes importance of Yoga in the armed forces an important issue. Within the armed forces, unfortunately, occupation-related stress, and associated hazards, is increasing day by day. Quite often, we hear of soldiers committing suicide, and the news of soldiers running amok and killing their colleagues, is not uncommon. The growing stress level -resulting in mental illness, resulting in suicide, and killing of fellow soldiers, has caused an alarm among the armed forces top brass.
At this juncture, in order to deal with problems, the authorities are embracing various means and measures to combat this menace. Yoga is being recognized as a highly effective and multi-beneficial tool to get over this problem. In Yoga, we have three levels (steps) of perception towards stress management.
The first step towards stress management is to moderate the quality of perception. It is our attitude towards the perception of stress. If we do not perceive a factor within a situation as stressful, then it is not stressful. We can moderate our attitudes, our values, and our personality traits – to react to stress constructively, to recognize the stress for what it is.
Once we have rated a stress, at a particular level, our reaction is then dependent on the quality of our perception. As these behavioral reactions are both physical and psychological, they are amenable to moderation by Yogic practices. (On these two levels, Yoga practices help to moderate our reactions to stress, by harmonizing the sympathetic and parasympathetic activity, These also help in regulation of heart rate, blood pressure, sugar levels, etc. Capability to counter stress is enhanced, and the whole physical infrastructure becomes a more efficient and stronger medium for performance at levels one and two).
The third level of stress management, in Yoga, is stress release. After a hard day in the office, when you go home, you can practice Shavasana and Yoga-nidra to release stress. Therefore, Yoga helps with the management of experiential stress on all the three levels of perception.
Various Methods to Deal with Stress
Asana and Pranayama
The practice of Asanas and Pranayamas, improve and sustain physical, as well as mental, efficiency. Although the Army personnel regularly practice physical training for strength, speed, endurance, and flexibility, there is a lack of synchronization of breath and relaxation. Rather, it can be said that this synchronized practice could bring them in balance of the homeostatic efficacy on psycho-neuro-immuno-endocrine network, which helps to enhance strength, endurance, vitality, body-mind harmony, balance, mental agility, flexibility, neuro-muscular coordination, and concentration. Thus, this could contribute to reduce physical and mental stress levels.
Pranayama practices are relevant in another way. The Army, today, is operating under hostile climate conditions, such as high altitude, where there is a lack of oxygen. This lack of oxygen can only be overcome by proper breathing, to utilize maximum, out of minimum. This is where Pranayama has its deeper efficacy. Likewise, in hot climates, as in deserts, there is need to maintain and regulate the body temperature. The specific breathing techniques take care of this aspect, in economizing human efforts and energy, and the body is able to sustain a higher core temperature.
Yoga-nidra has a positive healing effect on military personnel suffering from post-traumatic stress disorders (PTSD). It creates a deep rest, by improving physical, sensory, and mental equilibrium and control. This ultimately helps to have a counterfoil to existing stress, pressure, tension, anxiety, and improves overall well-being. Therefore, it is responsible, in a big way, to reduce the stress level.
Omkar and Gaytri Mantra
Omkar and Gayatri Mantra recitation has a positive impact in reducing stress, by improving neuro-psycho spiritual benefits. We know that such recitations contribute to creating positive stimulation and vibration on nerve plexus and Chakras, whereas concentration, on the meaning of Mantra, will encourage positive thinking, which helps in the reduction of stress level.
Yoga Chakras and Military Personnel
There is a need for a number of personality factors to be developed to make a military unit into a well-knit fighting force.
• The qualities of Mooladhara Chakra (the lowest of the Chakras) are the feelings of security and courage.
• In the field, when the going gets tough, sometimes, what is desperately needed is a sense of humor. Humor and joy are qualities of Swadhisthana Chakra.
• Military personnel need to be strong-willed, confident, and brave. Here we are talking about Manipura Chakra, which deals with power or guts, which is exactly where it is situated. Military personnel needs to be able to relate to each other with compassion, camaraderie, and faithfulness. They need those qualities because that is what binds a unit together.
• The relationship, between the people in that unit, and the compassion, the love for one’s fellow man, is an aspect of Anahata Chakra.
• A military unit also needs a facility for communication, so that people know what they are doing. This facility for communication is Vishuddhi Chakra.
• Clarity of mind, the ability to see clearly what is going on, to see clearly one’s relationship with the other people of the unit, is an aspect of Ajna Chakra.
We are talking about the actual psychology of these Chakras, the personality aspects. Rather than the more esoteric aspects because this is the most relevant aspect here. So, for a military unit to be on top in the field, these qualities need to be developed within.
The role of Yoga and Pranayama
By moving different areas of the body, the physical practices, or Asanas, activate the channels between the discs of the Chakras, and the different centers of the nervous system, associated with these aspects of the personality, in a physical way. After all, the emotional aspects are especially centered on the limbic system, and the hypothalamus in the brain is also directly activated. In Pranayama, a similar process occurs on the level of Pranic energy. At the same time, the practice of Mudras and Bandhas redirects this Prana throughout the body.
In the beginning, the practice of meditation is simply a process of internalizing awareness. Pratyahara, the ability to go within and eliminate outside stimuli, is important for military personnel in a number of ways. For instance, there are situations when a military unit is undergoing continual bombardment. When experiencing stress from outside, there are periods when the soldiers need to get as much rest as they can.
Yoga practices are a way of introverting the mind and consciously eliminating external stimuli. With this in mind, there are techniques to eliminate thought processes. For example, thoughts such as, “Wouldn’t it be terrible if one of those mortar bombs landed on me?” Nevertheless, that facility has to be developed, because a human system that is under stress continuously, twenty-four hours a day, becomes an inefficient system. As a result, men in continuous combat, need to be able to switch off when the opportunity is there.
If we are looking for a system to develop ourselves to peak efficiency, as human beings, as ordinary citizens, but also, and very importantly, as military personnel, then the practices of Yoga are extremely effective. Therefore, the importance of Yoga in the armed forces is that the practice has a highly positive impact on the management of stress-related problems.
They are easy to learn; and the beauty of them is that they are already ours, and have been ours, for 5000 years. Additionally, the strong need is that the various aspects of Yoga may suitably be embraced as a part of regular training, particularly among the armed forces. It does not mean that Yoga needs to replace physical training, which is being followed in the Army. However, it can supplement it to achieve even better results. Finally, this finding also encourages the scope to carry out various research and studies in this very regard.
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Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in the field of Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by the world-famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh (India).
Dr. Rita Khanna believes firmly that Yoga is a scientific process, which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also particularly involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has been successfully practicing these therapies and providing succor to several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet, and Naturopathy. In fact, she is also imparting Yoga Teachers Training.
At present, Dr. Rita Khanna is running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).
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