5 ways yoga helps to build resilience
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing” ― Alfred Wainwright
Before the pandemic, when I wanted to get out of town, I would find a cheap flight to somewhere in Europe. Consequently, and ashamedly, I have travelled very little in the UK. With travel abroad limited, I started to discover the natural beauty of my own country and was rewarded way beyond my expectations.
The only problem was that everyone else in the UK was doing the same thing and it was almost impossible to find accommodation. When camping was suggested the ‘inner city girl’ in me who fears being cold and wet was not convinced this was a viable (or comfortable) option.
I am someone who never has suitable clothing. And when you don’t have the right clothing bad weather can equate to a bad time. So, to properly equip myself for various UK adventures I invested in things like walking boots, waterproofs, warm fleece (shout out to my new favourite store Sports Direct)!
First stop, camping in the Lake District. The scenery was so gloriously beautiful, we spent all day wild swimming and rambling along glacier lakes nestle between lush valleys. To my surprise, with the right equipment, there’s no such thing as bad weather! In fact, I slept better in my tent than I do in my bed.
Equipping for bad weather got me thinking about resilience. The Oxford Dictionary defines resilience as “the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant”. Much like bad weather, difficult life experiences can hit us from out of nowhere. Perhaps that’s being made redundant, an illness, a death of a loved one, or something else painful. Dealing with pain is inevitable and unavoidable in life. Fear of facing these difficult life experiences can even stop us from fully living. For example, fear of heart break may stop you forging a loving relationship.
So how can we better equip ourselves for life’s grey clouds? How can we learn, build, and develop resilience?
Yoga teaches us that by dealing with pain without getting caught up in suffering opens us to possibilities in every situation. Difficult life experiences become your teachers, and pain and loss become occasions for profound transformation. This is easier said than done, but you don’t realise how much difference your yoga practice has made until the day that you find yourself in a crisis.
Here are 5 ways yoga has helped me to build resilience:
1) Asana – the physical poses of yoga helps strengthen your body. Next time you hold a yoga pose, you may feel your muscles activate, hold it a little longer than comfortable and you are building resilience. Straightening your physical body will help you be emotionally strengthened too.
2) Pranayama - breathing practices highlight what we can and can't control in life. We can't control what goes on in outer world but by practicing conscious breathing we can learn to control our inner world. An understanding that we can't control what goes on outside will help to build resilience when things don't go the way we want them too.
3) Meditation & mindfulness – teaches us to sit through emotional upheaval, practicing deep acceptance of how things are, and not how we want them to be. Sitting through difficult emotions assists in building resilience.
3) Self-Compassion – practicing kindness for ourselves or Ahimsa (one of yoga's 8 limbs), teaches us to confront our own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment.
4) Surrender - we cannot control life, like we cannot control the weather. Yoga teaches us to surrender to the unknown future and learn to be content OK with not knowing what’s coming next. Having faith will bring more resilience. Surrendering is about practicing deep acceptance, without constantly wishing that things were different.
I am not saying I have mastered these practices. Sitting with my father for a week while he passed away was the most painful and challenging experience of my life. My yoga practice didn’t lessen the painful intensity of the experience, but I do look back and think how the hell did I get through that. My ability to endure the toughest of times, I believe, was supported by the teachings and practice of yoga.
Surrender is a difficult one especially when talking about grief. I still wish things were different and acceptance has taken me a long time. The process of building resilience with the help of yoga is as winding and mystifying as the Lake District valley’s - and a lifetime’s practice.
Challenging life experiences, like bad weather, is inevitable. But we can better equip ourselves with yoga's help hand. Eventually after the storm the clouds will clear and make way for the sun; so don't forget when times are tough they will pass too. Without the challenging times, the good ones wouldn't be sweet. and without the rain of course we wouldn’t have the flowers.
Oh and speaking of flowers, the Lake District has some of the prettiest I've seen. No wonder so many of the world's greatest artists and poets loved visiting the Lakes. I'll finish with sharing this beautiful poem ‘Daffodils’ which William Wordsworth wrote in 1804 after taking a walk in the Lake District:
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
- William Wordsworth (1804)