Updated: Dec 21, 2021
Why and how to intentionally build resilience in your daily routine
Just the other day, while I was watching an old interview of Jenn Hyman's (owner of RentTheRunway.com) on YouTube (4:05/5:18), I was struck by her response to the following question "how have you made entrepreneurship sustainable given the demands of your job?"
She spoke about resilience as her superpower and the role that her family played in helping her hone it: “I had it because it was the part of the culture of my family."
One of my favourite podcast 'How I Built This' did an entire series on Resilience. Guy Raz, the host of the podcast spoke to the likes of Emily Powell of Powell's Books, Kara Goldin of Hint, Jeremy Stoppelman of Yelp and many many others on how they were navigating these turbulent times. It seems that it wasn't the existing business model or financial buffer that differentiated the swimmers from the sinkers. It was Resilience.
The good news is that resilience or the ability to bounce back from adversity is not something that you either have or you don't. It is like a muscle that you build with patience and intentionality. Highly resilient people have practices which hone this quality while those who don't have any such practices simply rely on what they've got. For the most part, relying on what you've got doesn't paint a pretty picture. The later group of peeps meet change with a higher degree of fear and anxiety; they find it harder to take courageous actions or cope with stress effectively. This makes sense because we are hardwired to resist change. The amygdala part of the brain interprets change as a threat and releases the hormones for fear, fight, or flight. Even if you know that the change is good for you such as sleeping earlier, quitting smoking. Your body is actually protecting you from change.
So what science tells us is that you need to embed resilience-building practices in your daily life cause your default is to meet change with anxiety.
There are many science-backed strategies that resilient people cultivate - they build a strong support system, they keep working on their problem solving skills, they practice deep self-reflection, perhaps even journal ,etc. but on today's blog, I am going to talk about Yoga as a Resilience Building Practice. Guys, Yoga is HUGE when it comes to building resilience and I'll tell you precisely why.
Truth be told, I sometimes don't even realize how much difference my practice has made until the day that I find myself dealing with a crisis without going into an absolute meltdown.
So let's dive in!
No 1: Yoga reveals the inner workings of your mind and empowers you to transform unserving habit patterns.
Yoga can be so yummy and inviting when we flow with ease, know our postures inside out but what happens when your teacher introduces a challenging pose that has you wobbling and falling apart? Or perhaps you have been trying to get into 'Birds of Paradise' for months and it is just not happening...
How do you respond when the practice feels messy? Do you get impatient with yourself and wonder how long will it take? Do you judge yourself for not being strong enough, fit enough ,etc.?
Do you worry what your teacher may think or perhaps you start to laugh it off - partly ''cause you are embarrassed and partly, cause you want to throw off some of that edge.
If you tend to get impatient, judgemental or even frustrated, that's valuable information: The way you react on the mat when met with difficulty is normally how you react towards stress in life.
I always tell my students to replace judgement with curiosity; replace frustration or even anger with loving acceptance of what is...Since your practice is reflective of how you behave off the mat, why not use your yoga to build healthier mind-set? Why not face resistance and flow with what is, rather than trying to force what isn’t?
No 2: Yoga changes the structure of your brain, making it stronger to meet stress head on
Yoga takes advantage of neuroplasticity or the fact that your brain is like plastic - it can change itself in the way you use it. Your brain loves two things - novelty and repetition. You crave your holidays and you're a slave to your routines - novelty & repetition. You have the desire to learn new poses and love doing the ones you are good at - novelty and repetition.
Novetley requires your brain to problem solve. It gets out of its comfort zone to learn new poses. This creates new connections in the brain that makes the brain more adaptable to change. Repetition solidifies new learnings by making the connections stronger. (As an aside, this is also one of the reason that I find taking up new hobbies rewarding). The better your brain becomes in adapting to change, the easier it is to meet uncertainty head on. The trick is to embrace the messiness and wobbling.
A good yoga sequence should introduce you to new poses while providing ample opportunity to finetune familiar ones.
No 3: Learning and imbibing Yogic philosophy brings resilient qualities.
In India, yoga is a philosophical system that gives us a framework of how to practice yoga in its entirety (beyond just the physical practice). Yoga is simply a way to reduce our suffering.
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, there are five factors that cause human suffering - these are called kleshas. The kleshas or factors are avidya (ignorance), raga (desire, grasping), dvesa (aversion), asmita (the story of I, me and mine) and abhinivesa (the fear of death). These are the root to our impulses, what we like and dislike and we cling to these all the time. They work like emotional, physical and mental biases - difficult to see and very much embedded in how we naturally react to things. These imprints become deeper and stronger and are called samskars.
Kriya yoga, the path of action, are designed to reduces these kleshas. Kriya yoga consists of
Iswara pranidhana (giving up expectations)
Let's look at these three components in the context of working out on our mat.
1. Tapas means heat or discipline - taking radical responsibility of all our actions.
Our asana practice is a skill or discipline in action. We need to be realistic about what we can do and commit to doing it to the best of out capacity. If a women with a career and children can realistically do only 5 minutes of yoga (or meditation), then its better than struggling with anything more than that. Only with a consistent practice, can one reduce kelesha or unseen habitual patterns.
2. Svadhyaya – Read and reflect
Svadhyaya means self-study or our efforts towards increasing self-awareness. For example, studying yoga philosophy (or any other scripture) and applying it in your daily actions is Svadhyaya. In asana flows, Svadhyaya is the practice of learning to observe the patterns of your natural breath, subtle sensations of your body,tendencies of the mind, and gaps between your thoughts where your intuition, wisdom and life-force resides.
Iswara pranidhana – Give up expectations
The third practice of kriya yoga is iswara pranidhana, which means surrendering to the higher truth, to life itself. In kriya yoga, it is performing all the actions with devotion as offering to the higher truth, without any expectations of the results. It is giving up the attachment to the fruits of your achievements.
I tend to teach this concept a lot in my sessions, encouraging students to give up the attachment to 'master' a pose but to simply enjoy the sincerity of their effort on the mat. You may come to your yoga class with a strong desire to achieve a specific goal and that's okay, even helpful but once you start, you've got to let go of all expectations - that's Iswara Pranidhana. This is a paradox of life and also a lifelong practice.
Those who practice Iswara Pranidhaha on and off their do not covet the fruits of their effort before they start their work. By remaining unattached and approaching all that they do with a mood of service, their best qualities emerge.
Like I said, this is a lifelong practice but an essential undertaking. In my own journey, each time I have left go of the results and made space for my actions to become its own reward, I've remained contended with whatever results I've got. This is a deeply satisfying way of working towards ones' dreams - one that doesn't bind you to the constant up and down of life but actually sets you free.
As you grow into your meditation, pranayama (breathwork) and asana practice,
You build discipline and focus as a by-product of consistency (tapas)
You learn to see and remove the blind spots - those unserving, subconscious habitual patterns dictating much of your life. (svyadhaya)
You learn to let go of the results (ishwara paridhana).
I hope this give you ample to chew on. And here's a quick refresher:
Resilience is like a muscle that can be build with patience and intention.
Most highly resilient people have habits that hone this quality. This is important as we are hardwired to meet change with an unnecessary amount of anxiety.
Yoga on the mat is a practice towards building resilience
A yoga class is an opportunity to mould ourself into who we want to become when faced with resistance and stress.
A good yoga sequence and regular practice changes the physical structure of your brain matter. In other words, a yoga brain adapts to change fast and better than a non-yoga brain.
Learning and applying yogic philosophy both on an off the mat builds resilient qualities.
It doesn't matter if if you step on your mat with an intention to become more resilient or not - just know that it is working.
On a side note: If you would like to subscribe to my emails for weekly blog alters, please enter your email address below. My blogs are all about how to apply the wisdom of yoga both on and off the mat. As a thank you to being part of my community, you shall also receive a free pdf - see below for the topic and an opp to sign up.