Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Core Qualities of Yoga, Part 10: Resilience

This post is part of a series that explores a variety of core qualities and suggested practices to consider for inclusion in your classes and private sessions (whether on a mat, in a chair, or a combination of both).

by Beth Gibbs

“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.” — Lena Horne

Feeling COVerwhelmed? Suffering from CORONAphobia? If so, you have lots of company. Elana Amsterdam, cookbook author and lifestyle blogger, coined these helpful words to describe what many of us are feeling right now.

It is disheartening to hear about the growing number of Covid-19 cases and deaths. It is scary and stressful to think about what might happen to our loved ones and to us. How to cope? Building resilience will help us carry this load. Embodying resilience is one way to manage anxiety, reduce stress, and get clear about what we can do to get through this global pandemic.

Resilience is the ability to rebound quickly from a crisis, tragedy, trauma, or a serious case of ‘stress mess.’ In this current crisis, highly resilient people won’t fall apart easily and when we do ('cause we will!), it won’t be for long. Why? As yogis, we’ll call on our inner resources and ask for outside help when it’s needed. We’ll ‘tweak’ our expectations to fit the new reality of physical distancing, over-the-top personal hygiene, and wearing face coverings or masks (if we can find them!).

A major obstacle to being resilient at this time, is fear. In the yoga tradition, fear (abhinivesha) is the fifth klesha; kleshas are the obstacles to self-awareness and Self-realization. I. K. Taimni, in The Science of Yoga defines abhinivesha as “Desire for life or will-to-live.”

In the West, fear is generally defined as an uncomfortable feeling resulting from something we recognize or perceive as an immediate danger or threat. Fear shows up in many forms: anxiety, alarm, panic, insecurity, uncertainty, etc. In terms of the fight/flight response to stress, fear is the flight response—pushing us to get physically or emotionally as far away from the situation as possible. In this global crisis, the only place we can go is home.

There we stay and do our part to flatten the curve of the pandemic, avoid infecting others, and lessen the pressure on our local hospitals and health care systems. We count on our yoga practice to support us as we ride out the storm, find ways to run our business and help our students and clients build their resilience through the practice of yoga.

Not surprisingly, research has found that resiliency varies from person to person due to a variety of factors, including genetics, but like any skill, resiliency can be learned. Resilient people tend to share several common characteristics. I reviewed lists from Psychology Today and a second source and selected six characteristics that relate closely to the goals of yoga.

Resilient People
  • Know how to handle their emotions
  • Keep calm in stressful situations
  • Are empathetic
  • Cultivate self-awareness
  • Practice acceptance
  • Practice self-care

The difference between those who are more resilient and those who are less may be in how self-aware the person is and how they put resilience into action. It’s recommended that we build our capacity for resilience before we face difficulty. If we have a consistent yoga practice, we’ve been building resilience right along with flexibility, self-awareness, and peace of mind.

However, it’s important to know that even if you are highly resilient, you can still have moments of falling apart. That’s when your will power plummets, your body slumps, your breath becomes shallow, and your mind moves from optimism to mucking around in your personal well of despair. If you are resilient, you will recognize this, call on your Witness, figure out the 'what' and the 'why,' and take right action. Remember, when resilient people fall apart, it won’t be for long and yoga can help us put ourselves back together.

This happened to me around week three of being home with everything cancelled and the number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in my state growing daily. I was aware of the 'what' and the 'why,' knew I needed a huge dose of right action, but felt stuck. My Witness was watching and shaking its head at my reluctance to follow its lead. Sometimes, the nudge we need comes from an external source. The next morning, when I dragged myself from bed and opened my email, I saw a message from the owner of the yoga studio where I teach (or taught until it closed for the lockdown). It contained this advice:

Routine is medicine
Movement is medicine
Sleep is medicine
Breath is medicine
Consistency is medicine
Laughter is medicine
Storytelling is medicine

That was the nudge I needed and it was right on time! I picked three items from the list (routine, movement, and breath) and got to work. An hour later, my mood shifted and my resiliency re-surfaced.

Here is a helpful practice for routine, movement, and breath.

The Half Sun Salutation

I like this sequence because it can be done standing or seated. As a yoga routine, it stretches the whole body and involves awareness of both breath and movement.

Mountain Pose: 
Stand or sit with your feet hip width apart and your spine comfortably straight. Relax your arms by your sides.

Upward Salute: 
Inhale and raise both arms overhead.

Half Moon: 
Exhale and bend to the right. Inhale to center and repeat on the left side. Inhale to center.

Standing/Seated Back Arch: 
Place your hands on your lower back, fingers pointing down. Inhale, lift your chest, soften your shoulders and arch your back. Keep the head up or drop it back as long as your neck is comfortable. If standing, bend your knees a little. Hold for a few breaths. Come up on an inhalation.

Forward Fold: 
Inhale. Raise both arms overhead. Exhale and come into your Forward Fold. If seated step your feet wide and fold forward as far as you can. Place your elbows on your knees or relax forward and place your hands on the floor. If standing, soften your knees, fold forward, and place your hands on thighs, knees, lower legs, ankles, or the floor.

Standing Twists (Rishi’s Posture):
Hold your Forward Fold and breathe slowly. With your left hand on your left foot, knee, or thigh. Inhale and lift your right arm out to the side and overhead as you twist your upper body to the right. Exhale and lower your right arm. Repeat on the left side.

Upward Salute: 
Inhale and raise both arms overhead.

Mountain Pose: 
Exhale, lower your arms to your sides. Rest for a few breaths.

Note this quote: “Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.” ― Yasmin Mogahed

 Elizabeth (Beth) Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is a guest faculty member of the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. Her masters’ degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health is from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children. For more information please visit her website at:

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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