Bouncing Back: 6 Yogic Tools to Build Resilience

Let’s face it: getting older requires resilience. Changes due to health, illness, surgery, finances, living arrangements, and a host of other factors test our resilience skills. So you might be wondering: Is resilience something we are born with, or can it be cultivated? How can we bolster our “resilience toolkit” to meet life’s challenges? Here are six ways to build resilience in your life.

Resilience: Inherited or Learned? 

It’s true that some people are born with more resilient traits than others. These people live with a “glass half-full” mindset. But we can also cultivate resilience through intentional practices. These practices enable us to develop a strong connection to mind, body, and spirituality. In fact, science tells us that resilient individuals routinely embed resilience-building practices in their daily lives.

According to psychologist Susan Kobasa, resilient people:

  • View difficulties as challenges: Resilient people view difficulties as challenges that to be overcome, not as paralyzing events. Instead of seeing their mistakes as failures, they see them as lessons to be learned from and as opportunities for growth. Most importantly, they don’t view them as a negative reflection on their abilities or self-worth.
  • Are motivated and committed: Resilient people are committed to their lives and their goals. They are motivated to get out of bed in the morning and face challenges. In addition, commitment isn’t just restricted to their work. They are committed to their relationships, friendships, social causes, and their religious or spiritual beliefs.
  • Focus on things they can control: Resilient individuals spend their time and energy focusing on the things they have control over. Because they put their efforts where they can have the most impact, they feel empowered and confident.

Domains of Resilience inforgraphic

6 Ways to Build Resilience with Yoga

The practice of yoga is an ideal way to build resilience. While all forms of exercise can help you feel good, yoga is the only form of exercise that helps you connect with three important aspects of resilience: body, mind, and spirit.

Yoga literally means “union” of the body with mind and spirit via the breath. Your breath is the cord or connection between your physical body and consciousness. Yoga facilitates this connection, making it easier to control anxiety and develop positivity.

So exactly how can yoga foster your ability to be resilient? Here are six resilience-building “tools”:

1. Face Your Fears

During stressful times, your fears can feel so big and boundless that you can feel overwhelmed. Getting on your yoga mat and chipping away at a posture that scares you a little (think balance poses) is a great way to grapple with a sense of fear. Even a baby step toward conquering your fear can leave you feeling powerful and strong and better able to face life’s more daunting challenges.

2. Change the Narrative

Over and over on your yoga mat, you have the opportunity to edit your inner narrator. Instead of thinking, “I can’t ____,” you can shift your mindset to “I can’t … yet.” You can use your practice to shift your focus away from mistakes and celebrate what you got right instead. In other words, you can choose the mood of your own story. It may not alter reality, but it will absolutely change the way reality feels.

3. Practice Self-Compassion

Self- compassion practices to build resilience.

Fears and adversity can make you feel alone. You wonder why you’re the only one feeling this way and what exactly is wrong with you. In these situations, practicing self-compassion and recognizing that everyone suffers can be a gentler and more effective road to healing.

Self-compassion (known as Ahimsa in yoga) involves offering kindness to ourselves—confronting our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and gentleness and without judgment. Your yoga practice is the perfect time to practice this. If you’re exhausted, do less. If you’re twitchy and anxious, choose a more vigorous practice. If you’re sad, let those tears roll down your face as you move and breathe. There is no right or wrong way to feel on your yoga mat.

You can also practice self-compassion off the mat any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress by engaging in these three steps:

Be mindful: Without judgment or analysis, notice what you’re feeling. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” or “This is stress.”

Remember that you’re not alone. Everyone experiences deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life,” “We all feel this way,” or “We all struggle in our lives.”

Be kind to yourself: Put your hands on your heart and say something like, “May I give myself compassion?” “May I accept myself as I am?” or “May I be patient?”

4. Meditate

Beautiful plus-size woman meditating concept of practicing a resilience-building meditation.As mindfulness gurus often remind us, our most painful thoughts are frequently about the past or the future. We either regret and ruminate on things that went wrong, or we get anxious about things that have yet to happen. When we pause and bring our attention to the present, we usually discover that things aren’t as bad as we imagine.

Meditation brings us into the present and offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise. Through meditation, we learn to work through challenging emotions deliberately and with awareness rather than get carried away into fear, anger, or despair.

You can also approach your yoga practice as a moving meditation. As you synchronize your movements with your breath, notice how your state of mind shifts away from worries and into the present moment. Practicing mindfulness (both on and off the mat) keeps you focused on the present rather than the uncertain and uncharted future.

5. Mindful Breathing

When feeling nervous, afraid, or anxious, humans and animals alike take short, shallow breaths. Shallow breathing makes use of the “back up” breathing muscles of the neck and chest to inhale. The result is over-inflation of the ribcage. While we may be able to sustain this for short periods of time when under stress, we are not designed to be on alert all the time.

Being able to control or regulate the breath allows us to tap into our autonomic nervous system. By learning to very intentionally use the natural rhythm of breathing in and breathing out (the practice of pranayama), you can cultivate a sense of calm in the body and access deeper well-being. Try this simple breath practice:

  1. Sit comfortably in a chair with your back gently pressed against the support. Rest your palms softly on your thighs and begin to feel your feet on the floor.
  2. Allow your attention to draw inward toward your breath and its natural pattern. Notice the pace of your inhalations and exhalations. Witness the pauses in between each breath. Visualize roots growing from the soles of your feet into the earth beneath, grounding you. Observe the way that you are breathing—shallow, short, full, or deep—without changing it. Simply place your attention on this natural breath.

6. Practice Gratitude

Photo of emotional female touching her heart with both palms, demonstrates thankful gesture- Gratitude.

Like changing our narrative, gratitude builds emotional resilience by reorienting our attention toward the positive things in life. With gratitude, we can replace negative ruminations and rebuild pessimistic thoughts with optimistic ones. According to research, people who practice gratitude are happier, less depressed, and more resilient. Acting grateful can actually make us—and those around us—more grateful.

Be well!

Reprinted with permission from Beverly Davis-Baird/WisdomTreeYoga.
Beverly Davis Baird

Beverly Davis-Baird, MA, e-RYT200/RYT 500, C-IAYT is a New Jersey-based yoga therapist, writer, and educator. She specializes in making yoga accessible for adults 50+, offering classes and workshops for back care, arthritis, bone health, balance, posture, and healthy aging. An educator at heart with over 20 years of experience as a public school teacher, Beverly brings her knowledge of individual learning styles to her classes, providing instruction that is clear, concise, inclusive, and compassionate. Bringing over 30 years of experience and training, she considers herself a lifelong learner and believes that the practice of yoga should bring spaciousness and release from tension, not create it. As such, she strives to make yoga accessible to people of differing abilities, believing the real benefits of yoga come from what is taken with you outside of class and into your life. To read her blog or learn more about her teaching schedule and latest offerings, please visit www.wisdomtreeyoga.com.

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