satsang by swami Sitaramananda Aug 2021
Thu, 8/19 11:36AM • 47:34
mind, fear, Covid pandemic, people, prana, anxiety, faith, life, stress, stress responses, energy, mantra, relaxation, detachment, attachment, crises, mental health, physical health, spiritual health, yoga teacher, emotions, positive thinking, meditation, yoga lifestyle.
The topic is fear, anxiety and stress. It’s a topic of our time. Some countries are experiencing the COVID situation, they are in lockdown. In some other countries, like in the US, it’s not currently locked down, but still the increase of COVID cases is very big and there is a different situation that creates anxiety and fear. So it’s very important for us to understand what is fear and anxiety, their symptoms, and also a few methods on how we can deal with this. It’s a short talk, but we also have some other videos and articles that we can share on the topic.
What is fear?
Fear is a primitive emotion. It is a very basic emotion for survival. We are afraid when there is a sense of threat, imaginary or real, and we feel that we are being threatened. We develop fear as a way to protect ourselves. We have different ways of stress response. For some people, it will be to fight, for some people it will be to run (flight), and for some people it will be to freeze. Fight means you go against, flight means you run away, and freeze is when you cannot do anything.
I remember one time one of my students was visiting India with me, and she opened the closet and a big rat climbed into her hand and walked up her arm. And she looked at it, and she didn’t scream, she didn’t move. She didn’t do anything. And she just looked at the rat moving on her arm. So, that is the freeze response, she could not do anything, she was paralyzed.
Different people have different reactions depending on their temperament, their type of nature. You need to recognize how you function and recognize how the people around you function so you understand them.
Fear and anxiety can happen any time. You develop fear when you encounter an unfamiliar situation. Normally, you have a routine, you go to work, everything is orderly. Now everything changes, your routine changes. So already that creates a certain kind of anxiety and then your imagination aggravates the emotional condition. You have a lot of imagination. Your mind starts to create different scenarios and different imagined outcomes, then you believe in it, because you believe in the mind. You do not have the practice to be detached from the mind and to be the observer of the mind and to know that what is in the mind is not necessarily true.
If you have not developed this technique of yoga to observe the mind, then you believe what the mind says. And at that time, you know it will be cascading, that means the thought which is in your mind and your imagination will be cascading into something more and more serious. The entire mind will become distorted.
The drama when the mind becomes distorted is that you lose the connection with your True Self. When you lost this connection, you don’t know what to do.
Manifestations of fear and anxiety:
The main thing that you know about fear, please remember this point, is that fear paralyzes you.
It means normally you have a lot of inner resources or creativity and you know what to do, but when you have fear, all of a sudden you don’t know what to do. You are paralyzed.
Let’s say you are watching TV or something and it happened to be a horror movie and you are very afraid. So the TV is just about three feet away, or one or two meter away, but you cannot switch it off. You cannot move, you cannot switch it off. You are there completely frozen, not able to breathe, because you are so afraid.
Then you react and you do things that are not reasonable when you are afraid. I heard somebody says that in Vietnam, some people are so afraid of catching COVID virus that some people go and tape their doors and windows, as if they can prevent the virus from entering. Obviously, they did not have the right information to know how to deal with COVID . When they tape the doors and windows or hold their breath so they do not breathe, what happens? They will not have sufficient energy, prana, life force and will get sick. So it’s a completely wrong reaction. In the contrary, you need to breathe deeply and you need to open the windows so that air, new air, can come in and change the air in your room. This is one of the examples when your faculty becomes paralyzed and then you make wrong decisions.
You also can have other kinds of impulses that also come from fear. For example, you will be hoarding, buying, buying, buying, to prepare yourself in case something happens. Another possibility is you will be in isolation, you don’t want to talk to anybody. You think people are a bother and you don’t want to talk and you’re afraid of people.
You also become blameful. You blame yourself, your father, your mother, the government, etc. If you are blameful, you have become negative.
You develop shame and guilt as well. This is quite common that you think that you’re not doing enough, you blame yourself for not taking enough precautions. You are afraid for your children and you want to protect everyone, so you develop a guilty feeling.
Then the other negative reaction is that you become depressed. You lose your motivation to live, because things are different, and then you don’t know what life is about, and then you become depressed. You’re not coping very well.
You can also develop what we call “ hyper-vigilance”. Hyper-vigilance is when you have extreme intensity in your mind, checking and double checking all of the information surrounding you. In an intense manner, you try to control everything around you.
This extra vigilance and control takes a lot of your energy. It makes you very tense, and then you imagine all kinds of things. Eventually, hyper-vigilance will take a toll on your system because you spend a lot of energy in tension.
The other problem of reaction coming from stress and anxiety is addiction. Addiction is a self-destructive habit. When you have addiction, you lost your sense of self control and you indulge in things that you did not do before. You can eat tons of sugar for example, which is an addiction, you can drink more alcohol, or you drink more coffee, something that you already have a certain weakness about. Addiction and over indulgence in self destructive habit is another side effect of fear.
Sometimes we don’t know that we are afraid, but we say that we are stressed. It’s the same phenomenon. So with stress you can see that you cannot solve the problems, you cannot be very clear in your mind because you have low prana, low energy and your negative emotions are plenty, you have a lot of negative emotion, for example anger.
Stress takes your prana away and consequently, you cannot adapt to a situation. Your mind fixates on a certain scenario, what you like to do. When things are not the way you like or expect and you cannot adapt, it creates a blockage in the flow of prana, and makes things worse.
The fear that you already have at the bottom of your mind which we call existential anxiety comes up. Normally when you function in daily life, you can control more or less this existential anxiety by having a life, a kind of a normal life, where you do things or you produce things, and then you enjoy yourself, more or less.
But when something happens that makes this fear , this anxiety of living comes up to the surface. Existential anxiety comes not just because something happened, but just because you are born in this body, and you don’t know, “Who am I? Where am I going and what is this life about? What is life? What is death? Why are so many people dying? And why are so many people suffering?” So all of these existential questions all of a sudden come up in the mind. If you can follow them and relate to them and you understand them, this is good. But sometimes you cannot formulate them, and this unknown anxiety attacks you. Then you can be depressed and do wrong things. At that time, it’s good for you to have some counseling, some kind of spiritual counseling. To deal with existential anxiety, you have to use spiritual counseling and philosophy of living.
Karma and stress:
There are certain life situations that you are experiencing which we call “karmic situations”. These difficult situations that normally you are already trying to manage, might come up to the surface and become aggravated in stressful situation.
Let’s say that your karma in this life is already having difficult relationships with people. But when you’re stressed out, yeah, this relationship issue becomes more serious as it takes more energy from you. You then go back to your old pattern, your negative pattern of reaction and you get things more entangled.
Stress resilience skills:
You need to build stress resilience, i.e. learning how to become stronger to face difficulty. You need to:
1. learn the basic skill of how to increase prana, how to have more prana, more energy, more vitality. For example: 1. going in nature and eating natural good food will give you more prana. 2. doing nice exercise like yoga exercise will help you to move your energy even though you think that you’re just moving your physical body. It’s not true, when the body moves, the energy will move the mind and the mind will become more flexible and will become more flowing when the body is moving.
You don’t have to go and run excessively, you just have to take some walks, move the body, do some asanas and breathing.
It is very important to have prana. So very important that you learn, that when you breathe with your diaphragm, you double the capacity of your lungs, you double your oxygen intake, and you also increase your prana, your vitality. And when your vitality is there, your mind will be uplifted, immediately, it changes wavelength. Instead of having the fear and the anxiety and the frozen rigid state of mind at its very low wavelength, now your mind will change wavelength and go higher.
So understand that prana intake is part of the breathing, not just intake of oxygen, but also the vitality, the life force that come into your system. And when life comes into your system, then your intelligence starts to work, your mind starts to think and then you know how to do and what to do, how to take proper decision.
So you need to learn to increase the prana, the life force, you need to build up your resilience, your strength and how to resist the stress so that you are not stressed and fearful, yeah, so that you can have some positive thoughts in your mind.
2. Skill of Adaptability:
Adaptation is an important skill to learn to reduce stress. As example, the situation of Covid virus is constantly requiring us to adapt to new situation.
For example these days, one day you close the business, then next day you open the business, and then you have to close the business again, and you have to open it again. You thought that you could be free to travel and then you cannot be free to travel, you have to cancel your journeys and your traveling plans, your meeting with friends plans or your meeting with family plans, you have to constantly change. This situation can become very unsettling. But that is how we exercise adaptability.
3. increase faith:
Faith allows you to have a vision because when things change, you don’t have a vision, you cannot see. When you are in the normal situation you can see. I can make the plan that in three months I will do this, in six months I will do this, in one year, I will do this. You have some long term plans. But with a situation of stress, negativity and fear, you don’t have long term plans, you have to do a few days at a time, one day at a time. That’s part of adaptability. Some people are more flexible, they change, they change, they change, and they are fine. And some people cannot change, they are slow in changing by nature. So when you deal with family members or friends, you have to know, you cannot expect people to be on the same level as you. Some people will change and some people will not be able to change, because of their nature. So don’t blame them. Don’t be upset.
Anxiety taxes your system:
Anxiety is a form of fear. Anxiety is a fear that has no name. It is the same as fear for survival and perceived threat, perceived danger. Perceived means it’s a subjective thing, it’s not certain that it is there. And then you become very anxious that you are hyper-aroused, that means that all your systems are on alert. The nervous system is built in order for you to save yourself. For example, when the system is on the alert, then all of a sudden you cannot digest your food because all of the energy goes to the extremities to get ready for running, and then you cannot digest food that normally you can digest, because there is no energy going to the digestive system. That’s called hyper-arousal, hyper-vigilance when you monitor the internal and external environment intensely. There is not necessarily any cause. Fear will can create a paralyzed state for the body (which means that you are not moving), but also a paralyzed mind which means you do not have resources, you cannot think. Normally, when you are relaxed, you know this and that, and you will always have some solution because the solution comes from inside, but when you are in that fear and anxiety, you have no solution, you panic!
Attachment is the root cause of fears and anxieties:
If you feel that you are desperate, that you have no solution for your life, and you have all kinds of negative thoughts, yeah, you need to know that you are
afraid. It is helpful to just being able to be aware of that state of mind and be able to name it, be aware that “for some reason I am very stressed and I’m very fearful”. The second thing very important for you to please understand is the yoga teachings say that fear comes from attachment.
Do enquiry: Why you are afraid? Of course it’s because of your survival instinct. It’s for the preservation of your life, but also it is because of your attachment to some aspect of this life. “Attachment is the root cause of fear and anxiety.”
What is attachment? Attachment is the identification, with something that you think that you will not be able to live without. That means that you are losing yourself in the thing you are attached to. Attachment doesn’t have to be equated with love. You still have love without attachment. Sometimes we make a mistake, we think that love and attachment are the same. They are not.
You can be loving but not necessarily attached. When you become very attached, that’s when you become very fearful. If you want to lower your fear and anxiety, you need to lower your attachment. But when you are strongly attached, and you identify yourself with it, it’s very difficult to detach, because you feel that you are losing your life.
When you feel that you have to detach, it’s like you are losing that which is your life itself, so then you cling on to it even more. That’s the reason why you have hyper vigilance, you want to control everything and you cling on to the thing that you are attached to. You go in the opposite direction of what will lead you to your well- being, you develop an opposite reaction.
Affirmation of courage:
So, there are a few things that you need to do. You need to know that the mind is imagining different things and projecting different ideas and reacting. You need to feel courage, do self-affirmation of courage, write it down or repeat it out loud, “everything will be fine.” You know, “I am fine.” and affirmation of courage, “I can do it.”
Let’s say you lost your job. If you have the courage and the inner resources, then you know that you can create a new way of living. But if you are feeling completely desperate and hopeless, then you will not be able to, and then you will fall down even more with the situation.
The power of now:
Fear and anxiety, often time, come because you’re thinking of the past, your mind is in the past, and then you project your future. When your mind is in fear, it’s either in the past or in the future.
So what do you need to do then? You need to be in the present. You need to know the power of now. Yoga techniques are helping you to have less fear and anxiety, by bringing you to the now.
How to be in the now? You have to be able to control the mind and put the mind in a concentrated state. Concentration of mind needs to be on something that is positive in order to bring you to the present. For example, repeating a mantra, which is a sacred sound, is very positive.
So instead of worrying and worrying, thinking of 10,000 scenarios, running here, running there, or running here, running there in your mind and lose energy, you can repeat your mantra with faith, devotion and concentration. You’ll be in the now, because your mind is not moving in the past, nor projecting into the future, because when the mind is calm, it can be in the present.
When the mind is calm, it can be in the present because it can look at something without zooming on something, then it just relaxes. When the mind is calm and relaxed, the prana is flowing, you are connecting to yourself and everything is working. Then you can be in the now and then when you are in the now, you can have resources.
Relax in the power of being:
Trust in what is called the power of being. The power of being comes when you are not all in your mind, your mind is not you. The power of being comes when you are relaxed. Yoga helps you to relax and to be yourself.
Improved breath and body awareness:
When you practice yoga, you need to be more aware of the relationship between breath and movement. So also, the yoga teacher will help the student to be more connected to their breath coordinated with their movement. The more that you’ll be able to do that, then the more that you will be able to regulate yourself in the breath and the movement.
It’s very important, this will bring in relaxation, because when you are stressed and when you are fearful, you have much tension in the body, and you cannot really relax. That’s why doing asanas is a very important practice. Then eventually you can do savasana relaxation which is successive series of tensions and releases.
So number one in being aware of body and mind is to slow down, slow down. Improved awareness happens only when body and mind slow down. When your mind is racing, you cannot slow down.
Elongate exhalation to switch the mind to relaxation state:
When you are breathing, the exhalation has to be longer than the inhalation in order to bring about relaxation. If your inhalation is for three seconds, then your exhalation will be for six seconds, if your inhalation is for four seconds, then your exhalation will be for eight seconds.
You can put a pillow or something heavy on your belly, so you can connect with the most important and basic aspect of life, which is your breath. You feel when you inhale and you feel when you exhale. Something heavy on your belly will help you to really exhale as it pushes on your tummy and helps you to exhale. You can do restorative yoga, which is basically the same. You put yourself in a very comfortable posture, breathe, relax and allow all the tension in the body to release.
Balance the prana with pranayama:
You also need to balance your prana. The best way is to do “anuloma viloma”, the alternate nostril breath.
What ratio, with retention, or no retention, and how long retention? For that you can ask your yoga teacher, but you need to balance the flow prana (that will directly influence your emotions) and balance your right and left brain activity.
Increase awareness and be gentle:
Increasing awareness means to be very gentle with yourself and others. When you are in a stressful situation, when your family member is in a stressful situation, or fearful, or paralyzing, you need to be very gentle with them. Be aware that they actually are very anxious and don’t force them. The one thing is don’t force them in anything,
When people are strong and healthy, yoga teacher can push them a little bit to break through their limitations, but not when they are anxious and weak. At that time, yoga teacher needs to give a lot of encouragement: “You are doing well. It’s very good.” And then, “Relax, you are fine.”
Increase Ojas, the power of sustenance and endurance:
How to increase Ojas Shakti, i.e. the power of sustenance and immunity? Increase immunity through breathing, relaxation, through deep good sleep. When people are anxious they cannot sleep.
Also, Ojas Shakti or the power of sustenance of life, comes from your deep heart when you have faith. When people are anxious, they are cut off from their faith, they don’t have faith, they only worry. You need to give them good quality food, that’s very important, good quality food, in order for them to nourish themselves and nurture Ojas, avoiding nervous eating which aggravates anxiety even more.
Gratitude and faith:
The general attitude to encourage is the attitude of trust and devotion, of love for God. When people are anxious, they do not think that God exists so they will be hyper vigilant and super controlling thinking that they are going to solve their problems that way.
Yoga teachers can help people to relax and encourage them to increase their faith. Because the moment faith returned, the fear and anxiety disappear. The feeling of gratitude is a good stepping stone to the feeling of devotion. Replace doubt with gratitude. As homework, ask to make a list of gratitude and repeat it daily. The heart will change.
Let go of desires, adopt attitude of contentment:
A very good attitude to adopt in the time of restlessness is the attitude of being content. Normally the mind is always restless motivated by desire. Now, the mind is content and turning inward. Tune into the heart and feel contentment, gratitude and relaxation.
Create security and emotional relaxation:
In Yoga practice, use props, blankets, pillows, to create the security, the warmth, the quiet and the support of you and your family members. Do comfortable posture and experience emotional relaxation. Listen to some nice music. For those who have a connection with a mantra, you can play the mantra such as, “Om Trayambhakam Yajamahe Sugandim Pushtivardanam Urvarukamiva Bhadanan Mritror Mukshia Mam Mritat”, the mantra that says that everything is happening by the will of the universe, everything is evolving, and it’s a prayer to help you health, healing and liberation. It’s a good mantra for disease, for healing, for everything! So you can play at very low volume the recording of this mantra, all day long, even when you’re sleeping. all day long, in a low voice, not loud. It will become the background of your mind and you will become reassured that everything is okay, everything is as it should be, you do not have to worry about this.
Detachment and remembrance of Self:
You can learn detachment when you can remember your true Self. In the beginning, if you cannot remember your true self, then you can do self-affirmation so you can eventually remember, because the Atman or your Soul is untouched by any kind of diseases, any kind of separation, any kind of threat. Affirm “I am satchitananda (existence, knowledge and bliss absolute), I am eternal. I am present all the time. I am knowledge and light, there is nothing that is in the dark for me. And I am bliss and happiness. You use the language with which you can connect and you assert your healthy Self, instead of thinking of disease.
The power of autosuggestion:
“What you think is what you become”. Instead of thinking: “I might get the disease, I will die and I will lose everything”, keep repeating, “I am healthy in body and mind.” The healthy thought that you repeat to yourself will help you to be healthy because the body listens to you.
The body is the subconscious mind. It listens to the order of the boss, and you are the boss. So you have to say, “I am healthy.” And the subconscious mind will say, “Oh, really?” And then it will start to produce, to work, to connect and do all these things that make you healthy. The moment that you give the auto suggestion to your mind, “I’m not healthy and I’m going to die,” this kind of thought is not going to help you. Do use the power of auto suggestion, of positive thinking, and know that at the bottom line, you are healthy all the time.
Cultivate the faith.
Faith is not blind faith, but it’s the knowledge that everything is fine. There are 3 aspects of faith.
First is faith in yourself, faith that you are not hopeless. Second is having faith in the Yoga practice. If you do pranayama and you don’t believe that it will do anything, it doesn’t help you. If you do breathing exercises, relaxation exercises, and you don’t believe that it will work, then it will not help you. So you need to develop the faith towards the practice. Now is the time for you to practice more. It is not the time for you to be worrying and to be criticizing or blaming. It is a time where you need to just really focus on the practice. Third, you trust inside that you know the answer. You have faith in the Divine Mother or in the universe, in Mother Nature.
Trust Mother Nature:
Of course the epidemic and the virus are here for whatever reason, but it doesn’t matter. You do what you can, use faith but also use the logical mind, the scientific mind, wear a mask and use social distance. Many people have studied all this. Now open the doors and windows to have air.
Be in nature. Be in the sun. It is very important to be in the sun, for 10 to 15 minutes a day, be in the sun. If you are not able to go out, stay on your balcony. If you cannot go to the forest, look at the tree in front of your house. Be friend with your tree. Love nature and try to see the big picture. Meditate, see the big picture, that everything is in the hands of the Creator and it is not in your hands.
The whole universe is in the hands of the Creator. So you do what you can and then you relax, you trust, okay? Life will never disappear. Life will always be there, it just changes from this way, that way and you trust and you will find. Don’t be too attached and let go of your attachment.
Avoid negative company.
Another thing I want to add to the list is try to avoid negative company.
When you are weak, don’t watch TV all the time. You do not need to see on news channel everyday that there are how many new cases, how many casualties how many people died.
From time to time, you need to be aware of the news. But if you indulge in news every day, the news become your sacred mantra. “How many people died? How many people got sick?” It doesn’t help you. Stay away from negative company. Negative company will kill your faith.
Try to control your fears and anxieties yourself. Be very gentle with yourself and others. Don’t be angry. Don’t be violent because when you are stressed, oftentimes you cannot control yourself, you become angry, and you are expecting more from other people.
Be aware that when people are anxious, it takes all their energy. They may be at home, but then they cannot do anything. Avoid blaming them: “Now you’re useless, you’re at home, you have so much time, why don’t you do this? Why don’t you do that.” But we have no idea that they are consumed by their anxiety. They’re at home, but they cannot do anything, because they’re consumed by their anxiety, because their life has changed.
Okay, so, live a simple life, because the more your life is complicated, the more you have fear of losing things.
You’ll notice that your children might be clinging more to you, they become more demanding, because the anxiety of separation might be there in the atmosphere sometimes now, children can pick up the anxiety, and you can pick it up also, because it is in the environment.
You need to be more positive. Any kind of faith that you have will make you stronger, so develop faith, any kind of faith, as it will make you stronger. Any religion, any faith that you have, it doesn’t matter which kind, just have faith that everything is taken care of, and then you will become stronger. The opposite of faith is doubt. So don’t allow doubt to enter your mind.
And ask the experts. Don’t be alone, don’t be isolated, don’t think that you are unique, okay? Use your logical mind because fear is an emotion. So therefore when you have fear you are not able to use your logical mind. At that time you can use the logical mind of somebody else who is logical, who is scientific, to balance out your emotions. So ask for help. We are here to support you.
Swami Sitaramananda is a senior acharya of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centers and is director of the Sivananda Ashram Vedanta Yoga Farm, California and the Sivananda Yoga Resort and Training Center, Vietnam. She is acharya of China, Taiwan, and Japan as well. Swamiji is the organizer and teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Health Educator Training (SYHET) program, an 800-hour program on yoga therapy, accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT).
Swami Sitaramananda is the author of “Essentials of Yoga Practice and Philosophy” (translated in Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Russian), “Positive Thinking Manual”, “Karma Yoga Manual”, “Meditation Manual”, “Swamiji Said, a collection of teachings by Swami Vishnu” in His Own Words. She is responsible for the Vietnamese translation of “Completed Illustrated Book of Yoga” (CIBY) and “Meditation & Mantras” by Swami Vishnu. Many of her video & audio lectures on Yoga life, philosophy, and psychology as well as articles and webinars can be found on this website.
Swami Sita is an ardent supporter of the integration of the Vedic sciences such as Vastu, Jyotish, Ayurveda, Yoga and Vedanta. She is an international teacher of the Sivananda Yoga Teachers’ Training Courses and Advanced Yoga teachers’ Training courses, as well as Meditation and Vedanta & Silence Courses both in Sivananda Ashrams in Vietnam and in Grass Valley, CA.