The Gentle Art of Resilience

resilienceSeveral years ago, when I was working in radio production for a program in Los Angeles, I interviewed Dr. Andrew Weil, a renowned holistic health doctor. One of the questions I asked him was, ‘What is your definition of health’ to which he replied instantly, ‘Health is resilience’. What he meant by this, as he went on to explain, was that health is not something that can actually be measured in terms of a stack of test results, since the body is constantly in flux. Our physical processes are changing all the time in relation to many different factors. Health, therefore, is also not a static measurement. Ill-health occurs when things go out of balance to a point where one or more bodily system begins to break down. Health is not when the body is in perfect balance. There is no such thing. It is rather the ability of the body to cope with the stresses that are constantly being placed on those systems. This is resilience.

In other words, resilience is the ability to cope with changes in the body. But there is another extremely important kind of resilience — the ability to cope with changes in our lives. A change might be an enormous upheaval such as the death of a loved one or the end of a relationship, or simply the ability to deal with day to day disappointments or an annoying neighbour. As Heraclitus was famous for pointing out, ‘nothing endures but change’. Change is really the only thing we can rely on, so learning to cope with changes in our lives is nothing short of a super-power.

If our life resilience declines, the good news is that we can build it up again. We can begin by developing resilience to smaller difficulties, and through familiarity, we can learn to apply the same skills to the major challenges that we are all inevitably going to face one day, and to the ones we might face as soon as a few minutes from now. It’s a package that includes insight, kindness (to oneself and others), adaptability, creativity, and humour. Resilience creates a rubbery layer between us and change that provides a softer landing for life’s blows.

Yoga is a wonderful way to develop resilience that benefits both our bodies and minds. We learn to stay with a challenging pose in a compassionate space, exploring it for what it can teach us. We build strength and endurance through a gentle testing of our limits and discover new ways to go beyond them. We learn to giggle rather than tut when we topple over, as we inevitably will do at times. And we learn to breathe through the changes, rest when we’ve had enough, and conserve our energy for the next move.

Respect yourself, explore yourself