Building and Bolstering Resilience

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In the height of the holiday season, the pressure to show up for others starts to rise. There are parties to go to, deadlines to meet before the close of Q4, family and old friends to see. It can seem like the last four weeks of the year move at lightning pace. As the stressors and obligations start to ratchet up, we have some choices to make: get knocked down and swallowed up by stress or choose to bounce back. We call the ability to bounce back Resilience. What is Resilience? Psychologist understand the idea of resilience as the ability to rebound from less than ideal experiences or stressors. Those experiences or stressor can be anything from the death of a loved one to the loss of a job to a particularly hectic time at work. Each of us responds differently to every experience. What stresses one person out might not have the same effect on another person. Inevitably though, we all face moments of challenge, change, struggle, and stress. The ability to bounce back sounds great. But how do we cultivate resilience? There are many different ways to bolster resilience but in my own life, I have found the tools from my yoga practice to resonate the most with me.

Tools from the Yoga Practice

1. Introspection - Knowledge is power. Self knowledge allows us to show up authentically. Introspection is how we figure out things about ourselves like how we respond to stressors, how we handle change, our thoughts, our feelings, the kind of support we need, the can of support we can offer, what we are passionate about. Introspection gives us the ability to respond, in which we chose our actions by understanding their consequences, instead of react, in which actions happen impulsively without much forethought. In any mindfulness practice, the idea is to observe our thoughts, our patterns, our learned behavioral reactions. It is through awareness that we give ourselves the choice to act habitually or choose something different. Self knowledge allows us to truthfully encounter ourselves, our needs, and what we can offer. The holiday season comes with a mixture of emotions, situations, and memories that can be both wonderful and volatile - sometimes in the same breath. Family is complicated and the pressure to be something doesn’t make it less stressful. Introspection allows us to know when we need a timeout from the craziness. Go for a long walk; meditate; jump into your favorite group fitness class. Introspection will reveal to us how we need to take care of ourselves in order to bounce back from challenges or stressors.

2. The Kula - Kula translates to spiritual community. In the yoga practice, a kula can be the people you practice with every day or maybe the people you did a teacher training with. Understanding that the roots of the yoga practice come from a collectivist culture, one that values the elevation of the group over the elevation of the individual, the idea of kula becomes increasingly significant. Whether it is a moment of overwhelming stress or a serious life even that has derailed your carefully crafted plans, lean on the support of the community to get back on track. Missed a workout? Reach out to a friend and become accountability partners. A parent gets seriously ill and you need to be with them? Ask a neighbor to watch your kids. Had a horrible day at work in general? Ask a confidant to listen without judgement to your mess of a day. Human beings are social creatures; we were made to interact with others. With the help of introspection, we know what kind of support we need from the community and the type of support we can offer to others who may be feeling the same pressure in the holiday season.

3. Take Action - Though the cultural zeitgeist might picture yogis as tree-hugging-vegan- pacifists, the Bhagavad Gita tells yogis to stand up and fight for what is right. Essentially, the Gita instructs yogis to take action, especially when it is challenging, instead of practicing inaction because of fear. Apply this to our modern lives: there are always moments of moral dilemma. There are always moments of stress or challenge. We can let these moments freeze us because of how overwhelming it all seems, or we can make a plan. Create an action list: a list of things that you can do to start the momentum, a way to mobilize, a path to move forward. A dream with a deadline is a goal. A goal with milestone markers is an action plan. Has the hectic nature of the holiday season made you miss one too many workouts? Schedule in some rejuvenating alone time and go on a walk. Call up the Kula, find a workout buddy, put something on the calendar for the next three weeks. Give yourself a deadline for all of those end-of-year projects. Set aside two days to knock out the rest of your holiday shopping. Make the action list and then one by one, take action instead of sinking into stagnation.

4. Encourage Flexibility - The asana practice encourages physical flexibility and fortitude. That translates into the psychological and emotional. Even our most carefully constructed plans can hit an unforeseen road block. Maybe you schedule a workout but now your child is violently throwing up. Life happens. Just like way to deepen a posture is not through a harsh push, but a gentle coax, remain both flexible and agile. Take a look at the the moving pieces and see where you might be able to rearrange. Throw on an at home Cyberobics workout while the kids are napping. Flexibility might also mean ditching some plans or ideas all together based on what is happening in the given moment. Know that it is okay to ask for help or take the time you need to restock your mental, emotional, and physical energy supplies. This will allow you to reengage with a perceived problem with a bit more perspective.

These last few weeks of the year can be a time of great celebration and reflection. What have I learned from both my triumphs and my failure this year? What energy am I looking to take with me into the new year and what am I finally ready to leave behind? What experiences can I transform into moments that bolster resilience? No matter how the next few beats of time roll out, remember that you have a choice in how you respond. Let the comeback be even more spectacular than the setback.