Last week one of India’s renowned Swamis (yogic scholars) was in London to talk about stress. Catherine Turner finds out the man swathed in orange has surprisingly simple ways for us to cope with this modern day malaise
On one of the hottest Friday nights this summer, I found myself in the basement of the Bank of India in the City of London to hear Pujya Swami Paramatananda Saraswati (more simply, Swamiji) speak to a room packed with suited and booted executives. This was not to be a physical yoga class - Swamiji’s expertise is in understanding the mind and human condition - he promotes the idea of EQ (emotional intelligence) rather than teaching headstands.
He has spent the last 30 years spreading yogic thinking globally, specialising in famous texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, and recently attended a G8 conference as well as being involved in discussions with US Government officials at Capitol Hill. Though he lives the ashram (monastic) life, he has a sharp eye on modern pressures, unravelling them through spiritual wisdom. There was a hushed silence as he glided through the throng, sweetly sparkling, cutting a colourful dash in the sleek stark office space. (The orange robes represent sun or fire, the sharing of light and knowledge, the burning away of ignorance). Before firing up the powerpoint, Swamiji chants in the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. Although I don’t understand, I know this is always done to invoke the teachings - certainly the blissful sound made me ready to listen. Here’s a summary of what Swamiji had to say:
A physical and psychological reaction to a harmful situation. It was always there - Stone Age man had stress - but the word didn’t enter into Indian culture until the 90s. These days, stress is more often a state of strain and anxiety caused by a strong overwhelming fear or apprehension in a situation where you feel you are helpless.
No need to ‘manage’ it
There is much talk of stress management, but there is no need for this if you take a pragmatic approach to understand the facts and bring about cognitive change to neutralise the response to the situation. You manage something when you have it, whereas it is possible to have inner calm, inner freedom in spite of challenges, whatever our activities.
In situations where we feel helpless or out of control, we blame others or external circumstances: the traffic; our partners; the boss; the social and political scene, it’s an endless list. This causes tension. Every person has crisis in their lives, we cannot change that, but one way of responding causes stress, one way doesn’t. We’re often stuck in thinking ‘I want to change but I can’t’; ‘I want to change others but I can’t’ - but why don’t you change for a change?
The problem is we don’t analyse day to day situations. There is always something we can change, an attitude or perception we can shift, it’s just we are in a comfort zone and often our ego gets in the way. We need to discriminate in order to work out which things we can change in our lives and which we need to accept. The longer we take to accept the facts, the more stress we create. Write down your stresses and learn to say ‘so what?’ to the things you cannot change. 'So what' in an unchangeable situation is acceptance, it’s pragmatic.
Understand that failure and success are subjective. Expect that expectations can go wrong, so, if we fail, we can say that our expectations were too high. Don’t judge yourself on a few situations, know you have limitations and that part of changing ourselves is being able to accept our errors and weaknesses. Say to yourself ‘I’m fine’. You begin to love yourself when you accept yourself with limitations.
Ask for help
Practically speaking, if you are sick you go to a doctor, when your finances need sorting you go to an accountant so rather than grumbling, ask for help from those who are willing and capable to give it. If you don’t, you will suffer as will those around you. It is an intelligent response, not a weakness. That can include prayer - simply: ‘give me the strength to change what I can; serenity to accept what I can’t; and the wisdom to know the difference’. Know you can give yourself strength, you are your best friend and can take action to change the things you can.