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Everything in the universe follows an ebb-and-flow pattern that you can count on. Seasons change, and newborn babies eventually become elderly adults. Yogic wisdom recommends that you adopt the same natural patterns into your personal life. You may spend much of your time being serious, but you need to play, too. In fact, you need to make time to just be with no expectations and no guilt. Taking time to just be is good for your physical and mental health. Work and rest, tension and relaxation belong together as balanced pairs.

Often, people desperately maintain a hectic schedule because they can't envision an alternative that includes time out. They fear what may happen if they slow down. But money and standard of living aren't everything, and the quality of your life is far more important. Besides, if stress undercuts your health, you have to go into low gear anyway, and your climb back to health may prove very costly. Yoga gives you a baseline of tranquility to deal with your fears effectively, providing that you engage it at the mental level and not just the physical level.

Your inner wisdom tells you that your body and mind are subject to change and that nothing in your environment permanently stays the same. Therefore, there's no point in anxiously clinging to anything. Yoga recommends that you constantly remember your spiritual nature, which is beyond the realm of change and ever blissful. However, it also asks you to care for others and the world you live in, but all the while appreciating that you can't step into the same river twice.

Detach yourself

Yoga shows you how to cultivate the relaxation response throughout the day by letting go of your hold on things. This phrase was coined by Herbert Benson, MD, who was among the first to point out the hidden epidemic of hypertension (high blood pressure) as a result of stress. In his #1 national bestseller The Relaxation Response (Harper Paperbacks), he calls the relaxation response "a universal human capacity" and "a remarkable innate, neglected asset."

Yoga teaches you how to tap into that underused capacity of your own body-mind. The yogic equivalent of the relaxation response is vairagya, which means literally "dispassion" or "nonattachment." We call it "letting go." Feeling passionate about what you do (rather than having a lukewarm attitude) is good, but at the same time, you merely invite suffering when you become too attached to people, situations, and the outcome of your actions. For most people, this lesson is difficult to learn; it's pretty much a lifelong lesson. You can start any time, but the best time to begin is now.

Yoga recommends an attitude of inner detachment in all matters. This detachment doesn't spring from boredom, failure, fear, or any neurotic attitude but from inner wisdom. Unfortunately, you can't turn on some tap to pour forth wisdom whenever you want it. You must acquire wisdom, either bit by bit as life presents opportunities or deliberately through an intelligent study of the yogic tradition. The latter approach can involve listening directly to the teachings of bona fide masters or studying the same teachings in book form. Yoga's traditional teachings are contained in many books — all translated from the Sanskrit language for the benefit of contemporary students.

For example, if you're a mother, you love and take tender care of your children. But if you're also a yogini, you don't succumb to the stress-producing illusion that you own your children. Instead, you always remain aware of the fact that your sons and daughters have their own lives to live, which may turn out to be quite different from yours, and that all you can do is guide them as best you can.

Of course, you can do many practical things, which are described in books on stress management, to reduce stressful situations. These suggestions include not waiting until the last minute to start or finish projects, improving your communication with others, avoiding confrontations, and accepting that we live in an imperfect world.

^ Your daily Hatha Yoga routine, especially the relaxation exercises, can help you extend the feeling of peacefulness or calmness beyond the session to ■ foj ■ the rest of the day. Pick some activities or situations that you repeat several times a day as reminders to consciously relax, such as when you go to the bathroom, wait at a traffic light, sit down, open or close a door, look at your watch, or hang up the telephone. Whenever you encounter these activities, exhale deeply and consciously relax, remembering the peaceful feeling evoked in your daily session.

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