“You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice” –Bob Marley
We all expect to hit a few bumps on the road of life from time to time. There are times that the bump is just a tiny blip on the radar. Other times, that bump can cause us to veer drastically off our intended course, and we are forced to create a whole new plan of action. According to Merriam-Webster, resilience is the “ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.” It is with those course-altering bumps that we dig deep to find our own strength and resilience, and often emerge with profound personal growth.
We need to be ready to change and adapt. For some of us, change may be something as simple as a change in our daily routine or our usual commute to work; others are juggling working full-time and helping with virtual learning for their children; and others are having to create new plans for their future as their jobs have been eliminated. It is through these challenges and changes that we come to find our own strength and ability to adapt, as we envision a new future for ourselves, and how to turn that future into a success.
But what if we have never encountered this kind of drastic change before? What if we have never had to alter course and change our five-year and 10-year plans to something we hadn’t previously imagined? It can be scary to jump into the unknown, to take a leap at something new, or to try our hands at something we have wanted to for a while, but have been afraid to fail at. After we set our goals and lay out our plans, what can we do to focus our energy on bouncing back and being stronger than before? Yoga and meditation are two powerful tools that can help us to stay focused, flexible, and adaptable.
Yoga and Resiliency
In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, yoga also has the ability to help reduce our stress, sharpen our attention, and balance the nervous system. A restorative yoga program offers benefits that transcend the mat, that you can take with you into your everyday life.
Yoga helps us find resiliency by:
- Calming the body. When we release tension in various muscles throughout our body during a yoga pose, we send a message to our brain that it is ok to relax or surrender. We begin to relax our nervous system, which takes away the need to always feel on guard, and gives us the opportunity to find more mental clarity. It is in this clarity that we are able to identify a stressful situation, and observe it for what it is, rather than react to it.
- Teaching the brain to be flexible. The brain loves repetition, safety, and security. The constant movement and change throughout a yoga sequence challenges that security, forcing us to venture into unknown or unpredictable movements and postures. We force our brain out of its comfort zone, present it with a challenge, and force it to adapt to those changes. Once presented with new postures, the brain finds it easier to relax in uncertain situations, allowing us to think more clearly. We embrace the uncertainty, rather than fighting it—allowing our brains to relax and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
- Responding to everyday challenges. Balance poses offer us the opportunity to center and align ourselves. When standing in tree pose, for example, we must learn to focus, remain calm, focus on our breath, and be aware of subtle changes in our balance, making corrections as needed. We gradually hold the pose longer to help us to build endurance. This practice can be applied off the mat when faced with challenges that throw us off course, by applying the focus and internal calm that we learn from mastering a balance pose to our life. We give ourselves room to fail, but learn to brush ourselves off and try again.
- Building emotional strength. Confidence helps us to trust in our decisions, gives us the power to get through most situations, and understand our abilities. When we stand strong in a Warrior pose, we are able to find peace in the moment—despite our muscles firing up. We find a way to comfortably sink into the pose, and allow our bodies to relax as we hold the pose and build physical strength—all while finding the courage within the endure the challenge of the pose. We build mental strength that helps us to endure the obstacles we must face in life.
Meditation and Resiliency
Research has shown that meditation enhances our brain’s neuroplasticity—the ability to form new connections, allowing new pathways to appear, and adjust our response to sudden changes in the environment. Through a regular mindfulness or meditation practice, we train our brains to remain calm in times of stress. We allow the rational thinking part of the brain to take control back from our amygdala, the emotional side of our brain, and reduce the fight-or-flight response.
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Meditation helps us find resiliency by:
- Cultivating the witness. In A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle tells us, “Rather than being your own thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” Our mind creates its own narrative for everyday life—we learn to witness our thoughts, giving us the control of how we respond. We are able to separate emotion and thought, and observe the change around us, rather than finding the emotion within it. We can place ourselves in the present moment, giving us control over our feelings, increasing our self-awareness, and allowing us to manage our thoughts and emotions—rather than being consumed by them.
- Learning how to detach. We find the awareness to release thoughts and actions that no longer serve us, allowing new patterns to enter into our life. Meditation helps us understand that we cannot plan everything. Once we come to that realization, we are able to more easily surrender to the unknown. We transcend any fear or hesitation we may have, and find ease and satisfaction in the change.
- Helping us to adapt. Meditation provides many of the same benefits that an adaptogen does; meditation helps our body recover from stress and return to balance. When change occurs, our brain immediately goes into “What if” mode, and envisions countless scenarios, stirring up a mix of positive and negative consequences. Meditation helps us to change that habit and increase our capacity to choose our response when presented with change.
- Promoting self-compassion. Change can be scary—it forces us to leave the comfort of what is “known,” jumping into scenarios that we may have never envisioned. Mindful self-compassion allows us to focus on our feelings, but then shift those feelings. It enables us to accept our emotions, to realize that we are only experiencing those emotions, and allows us to shift our perspective to the bigger picture—understanding we can make a shift and embrace change.
Incorporating a regular yoga and meditation practice in your life now will help you to face uncertainties when they come your way. You will begin to grow the tools you need to build the emotional strength, self-compassion, and flexibility that you need to respond to the challenges that you will face, and become the resilient and strong individual that you can be.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.