How Yoga Builds Resilience 

What is resilience?

Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from difficulties or the ability to withstand life’s challenges. It can refer to both the emotional and physical, which are of course intrinsically linked. It can be described as how effectively a person is able to cope, adapt or deal with adversity. 

Yoga and resilience 

Yoga is a really effective practice to build resilience for so many reasons! Yoga practices create the necessary conditions for the nervous system to find balance and self-regulate, training resilience. 

There are many different avenues we could go down with this theme, but for today let’s focus on one simple way that we can build resilience through yoga. Through core strengthening exercises and other strength building postures we can work with purposefully putting the body under just a little bit of stress in a controlled way to then bring it back down to relax. This is one way that through yoga we can build resilience, by training the mind and body to deal with challenges and moderate amounts of stress in a safe scenario. 

For example when you’re holding Utkatasana (Chair Pose) heat starts to build in the thighs and the body starts to fatigue. It sends messages saying “I want to get out of this posture NOW!” By holding the posture and focusing on a calm steadying breath, you send signals to your nervous system that everything is okay and that you can hold the pose a little longer than you may have originally thought. This same process can be mirrored off the mat, for example you may find it easier to stop and take a breath during a conflict with a loved one rather than react from a wounded place emotionally.

Yoga and the autonomic nervous system

Research has shown that some types of more active yoga like “power yoga” or ashtanga can activate the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight response) but that followed by restorative postures, this activation can lead to a deeper relaxation than practicing relaxation on its own. So yoga can actually activate both the sympathetic nervous system response (fight or flight) and the parasympathetic response (rest and digest). After playfully engaging the sympathetic response, the body is able to relax even deeper into the parasympathetic nervous system baseline, which is essential for deep healing and rest.

Yoga in the garden of Kinspacha, Urubamba

Some homework for fun!

This homework is inspired by Wim Hof who is known as the ‘iceman’ because he can stay emerged in ice for 1 hour 13 minutes and run marathons in the snow! He uses a particular breathing exercise that he says affects change in the autonomic nervous system allowing him to endure extreme cold temperatures. 

So, a simple way to train resilience at home is to take a cold shower everyday or jump into some cold water like the sea or a lake! This imposes a little bit of stress on your body to train resilience through a process called hardening. It helps your nervous system to get used to being able to handle moderate levels of stress. This helps you in the long run to deal with stressful situations in everyday life.

If this interests you check out Wim Hof being interviewed on Russel Brand’s podcast here.  

Want to deepen your yoga practice? Join us in The Sacred Valley, Peru, on our flexible affordable yoga retreat. Find out more here.

Blog post written by one of our current resident Yoga teachers Jasmine Sara @jasminesarayoga

photo by @tui_anandi

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