Emotional resilience during challenging times can be such a gift to help make the passage more bearable, but is it a skill, a character trait or can it be learnt you may ask. In the yoga world it is a word that is often mentioned as a benefit that comes with a regular practice and through the social connections that are built with other like-minded souls. Yoga is by no means unique in that sense, but it’s been proven to be a great contributor to a more resilient self by building the ability to focus, through self-awareness and regulation of emotions, it provides the tools required for emotional resilience in challenging times.
So, let’s look at the meaning of the word resilience.
The Oxford Dictionary provides the following definitions:
- 1. The ability of people or things to feel better quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury, etc.
- 2. The ability of a substance to return to its original shape after it has been bent, stretched, or pressed
In short it is the ability to bounce back successfully from personal adversity which could take many forms and because we are all different, what may seem as nothing to one person may be challenging to another due to their personal experiences and frames of reference. Always acknowledge and appreciate your own uniqueness on the journey of life.
How can yoga help?
Through the physical practice of holding a pose for three breaths, resilience is built in the nervous system. By not giving in to the urge to give up but persist through the strain, slowly we increase the nervous system’s ability to cope with discomfort. It also comes back to becoming aware of your own body and emotional state which is encouraged through yoga. In her article Bouncing back Building Resilience through yoga Madu Hardasmalani confirms that, ‘Pushing ourselves during yoga practice to hold a pose when it seems we have reached our limit helps develop emotional resilience over time’.
The breath plays a big part in this process. It provides us with another tool. By focusing and becoming aware of our breathing patterns during times of emotional difficulty, it is possible to alter the stress experienced in our bodies and minds. The first step is to notice which part of the lungs are most active during the inhale by placing one hand on the chest and the other between the ribcage and the navel. Continue breathing and notice which hand moves the most. If the hand on the chest moves the most, it means the breathing is shallow and the body is in ‘fight or flight’ mode. By encouraging the breath to enter all the way to the lower part of the lungs, it is possible to move the body to ‘rest and digest’, the more calming state. This allows the brain to focus better and gives us more control over our own emotions.
Sally Kempton, in her Yoga Journal article Bouncing Back: Yoga to Improve Emotional Health puts the difference that yoga makes on our emotional wellbeing so beautifully when she says: ‘Yoga often provides people with a powerful experience of inner tranquillity. Knowing that such a state exists – and that they can get there – has given countless yoga students the support to move through difficult times.’ She goes on to say that resilience is not just a set of skills. It comes from our contact with the clear core of egoless awareness. Awareness is such a big part of what yoga brings into our lives on so many levels and with that acknowledgement also the ability to let go of that which holds us back.
Applying some of these yoga tools we may allow ourselves a moment of clarity to apply some wisdom to see the situation from a different angle and to remind ourselves that:
“Nothing is forever in this world, not even our problems” – Charlie Chaplin