Resilience is defined as our capacity to recover quickly from difficulties, and challenges. But how does one become resilient? Is it wishful thinking, a positive attitude? Or is it a practiced and learned ability to cope with life? What is it about a person that makes them more resilient than others?
Resiliency in part only comes about after going through a challenge. Challenges can change the shape of who we are - our perceptions, our beliefs, and our thoughts. They help us to grow and to expand our consciousness. Certainly a positive attitude can lend towards resiliency, but the ability to move forward after encountering a difficult challenge goes far beyond having positive thoughts. It is much deeper than that, more complex; but it begins with the ability to show up.
Showing up simply means being present with what is.
Many of us, myself included, can find ourselves wanting to do anything but show up when we are going through something difficult. Depending on the circumstance, the idea of even getting out of bed can be unbearable. It seems far easier to close ourselves off from the world - to stay buried under the covers so to speak. For how can we possibly take a step forward, when we might feel so broken?
Showing up starts with first allowing ourselves to feel broken, confused, or uncertain. We do not have to be perfectly put together all of the time to be part of this world. All of us at some point or another, will go through a challenge that will test our resiliency. We cannot always predict when a stressful moment or crisis will come our way, but each of us can learn tools to navigate through them. When we let go of wishing we could change something that happened, we become better able to accept what is in that moment of our life, and moment by moment, we can begin to choose how to respond.
Becoming resilient doesn't happen over night. It comes gradually through difficult circumstances and practice. According to psychologists, some of the factors that makes someone resilient, are positive attitudes , the ability to create a coherent field and space, the ability to regulate breath and hence emotions to still the mind, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback.
Yoga and its practices we can strengthen these factors. As yoga means union, it affects our body, mind, and spirit and this is were we gather the tools and strength to find resiliency.
Yoga and the Body
It is important to take care of our physical body as its health directly translates in our ability to cope with stress. Under stress the sympathetic nervous system kicks in and a prolonged state of stress weakens the physical state of the body. Through mindfulness and movement, we can train the parasympathetic nervous system to be quicker in its response. For example, there are many studies now showing that the practice of yoga, meditation, and pranayama supports a healthy tone of vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is known for its ability to bring on board the parasympathetic response to recover from a stressful situation.
Practicing yoga asana not only strengthens our muscles and increases flexibility, but it supports steadiness as well. Each time we step onto the mat - we are not just exercising the body, but opening the door to witnessing and understanding who we are. We are showing up. We may discover that when we are challenged physically or limited in our ability to do particular poses, that frustration or anger arises. How we react to our practices on the mat, are similar to how we react to things in our life. By witnessing our patterns of reaction - we can learn how to work through the challenges we are experiencing. We may learn to let go of being forceful in our practice and instead settle fully into the space our body is currently in. We may open the mind to explore different ways of adjusting or modifying the poses we are in to bring about more stability.
Again and again, we step onto the mat, repeating postures we have done many, many times before, but over time we notice that our body is changing. We notice we are becoming more resilient. We can feel ourselves getting stronger, more limber, more open and spacious - and this leads towards opening our minds.
Yoga and the Mind
The mind is a tremendous culprit of stress. Our thoughts directly shape our experiences and when the mind is not steady, we are not steady. When our mind feels scattered or anxious, it affects our ability to concentrate, cope with stress, and reasonably process information. Practicing meditation offers us the space to sit silently with the nuances of the mind and for these scattered thoughts to filter out. Science has proven that meditation can change the structure of the brain and enhance the elasticity of the mind.
Yoga asana can affect the mind in several ways. As one researcher, Grace Bullock PhD shared, the challenge and unpredictability of practicing yoga teaches the brain how to flexibly adapt to change. The brain likes both novelty and repetition. The novelty of a new pose pushes the brain out of its comfort zone and to problem solve, creating new connections on the brain. These new connections can make the brain more adaptable to change and the repetition reinforces these new connections.
Yoga asana also improves circulation - not only is increased blood flow sent to the brain and elsewhere, but the physicality of the practice opens the body to improved breathing. Conscious breathing and circulating more oxygen rich blood nourishes the brain, organs, and tissues in our body. When we learn out how to steady our breath, we see how it supports the steadiness of the mind.
Yoga and the Spirit
We are emotional beings and our emotions affect us both physically and mentally. We don't like unpleasant emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness and we strive to avoid them and get rid of them as quickly as possible when they come. But we need to remember our emotions are temporary and trying to deny them only strengthens them.
Yoga teaches acceptance. The ability to sit with and directly feel our emotions instead of burying them. Facing our challenges openly and feeling our emotions fully is a key factor to building resilience. For denying or ignoring what it is, further binds us to that emotion and creates added suffering. We can learn how to untie ourselves, so that we are not bound to these emotions and recognize them as impermanent.
Our practice on the mat can reinforce this. We may fall out of a pose one day and remain steady in it in the next. The tight muscle that we thought would never release one day does. All of the changes remind us that the only thing constant in life, is change.
I have found that being resilient doesn't mean we always bounce back to our original shape. How can we if we are ever changing beings? This is one aspect of becoming resilient that I find so profound. If each difficult circumstance in our life is an opportunity to grow - then when we bounce back; we bounce back into something greater and stronger of ourselves than we ever knew before.
And that is a most beautiful thing.