Coping with Fatigue – a Practical Lesson

by Yogacharya BKS Iyengar

In this article B.K.S. Iyengar explains what causes fatigue, and how to adjust our practice to lessen it.

It was reprinted in our members’ magazine, Iyengar Yoga News, in Spring 2021 with kind permission from Yoga Rahasya (2009) Volume 16, Number 1

Mind is fluid and body is solid. Mind being fluid, fluctuates bringing fear to perform. It is a natural phenomenon. But, the purusa, the ātma or the spirit in us has to be brought to the surface. Not only have I to keep the mind under control but also learn to come out from the compulsions of age. One has to be above the mode of mind and build up a frame of thinking to reach the ultimate of the body’s mobility.

“The first indication of this ascending fatigue is felt on the nerves.”

Mental fatigue is experienced mainly when the brain and nerves get tired. The excessive use of the brain, nerves, senses of perception; mainly the eyes and ears, cause mental fatigue. On the other hand, physical fatigue is felt mainly in the structural body. When overworked, the neuromuscular system begins to get affected, causing the nerves to suffer. Obviously the brain does not respond along with the motor functioning of the body, affecting the mental functioning like thinking or reasoning.

Let me refer to āyurveda here which refers to the derangement of the three humours in the body. The derangement occurs when there is either loss or excess of humour. If one humour is vitiated, the other two also get disturbed. The vāyu or vāta is basically the nervous system. Over-exertion, shock or fear, and mental disturbances cause the loss of nerve force. This can cause languor, dullness, oversleep, uneasiness, absence of happiness or hilarity, shortness or loss of speech, etc. This may happen when there is loss of vāyu.

On the other hand, when there is excess of vāyu, one feels tremor or trembling of limbs, insomnia and decrease of bodily strength. In other words, whenever there is loss or excess of vāta, pitta and slesma it affects the body in the beginning and later the mind. Similarly, if the body fatigue is allowed to continue, it will lead towards mental fatigue. The first indication of this ascending fatigue is felt on the nerves.

Loss of pitta increases bodily heat and digestion is impaired. The disturbed functioning of the digestive system causes mental depression. Obviously, loss of physical strength will lead towards mental fatigue. Excess of pitta causes weakness of the sense organs and diminishing strength. For example, when the eyes suffer with glaucomial tension, it causes brain fatigue leading towards mental fatigue.

So as a teacher, I see the reason behind the fatigue. When I know that a person is suffering with insomnia, or oversleep or indigestion, the programme of practice has to be changed.

When physically tired, the limbs, nerves do not respond. The system gets dried up. I then resort to rejuvenation practices through inverted āsanas, Adho Mukha Vṛkṣāsana and backbends such as Vīparita Daņḍāsana and Kapotāsana.

Adho Mukha Svanasana, Uttānāsana, Sirsāsana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana, Pincha Mayurasana, Vīparita Daņḍāsana, Kapotāsana, Setu Bandha Sarvāngāsana, Sarvāngāsana, Halāsana and Paschimottānāsana help in recovering from physical fatigue.

When I am mentally tired, I feel the fatigue at the back of the brain, I resort to āsanas for resting the lobes of the brain and rejuvenation of the mind. For this I do Sirsāsana on a rope, forward bends such as Jānu Śīrsāsana, Triang Mukhaikapāda Paschimottānāsana and stay for long periods of time in these āsanas; backbends, Sarvāngāsana, Halāsana and their variations and finally Śavāsana with weights on the thighs with back of the chest on hard rectangular planks.

The extent of fatigue also depends upon the profession of a person. A surgeon after performing a complicated surgical operation may feel physical as well as mental fatigue. Then I have to change the course of practice and give resting āsanas like rope Sirsāsana, Dwi Pāda Viparîta Dandāsana on chair, Setu Bandha Sarvāngāsana on bench, supported Halāsana and Śavāsana with bearable weight on the forehead with eyebrows moving towards the eyes.

Physical fatigue is lessened with inversions and forward extensions like Jānu Śīrsāsana, and so forth, whereas mental fatigue is lessened with inversions as well as backward extensions.

“One cannot demarcate between body & mind, so also one cannot demarcate between body & mental  fatigue. When body fatigue culminates, mental fatigue too culminates.”

Fatigue causes hormonal imbalance which could be temporary. The mental pressure comes with physical exertion. In the forward extensions like Jānu Śīrsāsana, obviously the over stimulated adrenals are quietened. But on the other hand, if mental fatigue has caused the physical dullness and laziness, then back-bendings such as Dwi Pāda Vīparita Daņḍāsana are helpful. The adrenals will be stimulated. Therefore, the adjustment in one’s practice requires vast discretion. Physical exertion done beyond one’s physical capacity, like carrying heavy weights or walking may cause breathlessness. The supine āsanas open the thoracic cavity, expand the chest and bring freedom in diaphragmatic region. Therefore, Supta Baddha Konāsana, Supta Vīrāsana, Supta Svastikāsana. As the breathlessness is removed, the mental freshness is felt.

Therefore, as one cannot demarcate between the body and mind, so also one cannot demarcate between physical and mental fatigue. Often I say where the body awareness ends, the mind awareness begins, so also where the body fatigue culminates, the mental fatigue too culminates.

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