What do resilience and yoga have to do with weight loss?
One definition of resilience is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” Unless we are born resilient, it is likely that we come to embody resilience by way of necessity. Challenges and obstacles put in our paths necessitate the need for us to learn resilience in order to overcome them. Or, we may choose to give up and suffer the consequences.
More often than not, major accomplishments don’t come easily. For example, have you ever seen a photo of someone appearing resplendent in a difficult yoga pose and thought, “Yea right, that person came out of the womb strong and flexible!” Oh contraire, mon frère! More often than not, that person had to work arduously to overcome challenges and obstacles in order to hone the skills necessary for refining the yoga pose and making it look easy.
And so, the irony is that our challenges and obstacles become our gifts. The very nature of their difficulty teaches us, or even forces us, to become resilient. Challenges and obstacles push us to find another way when conventional methods don’t work, when we do not have adequate time to solve the problem, or, when we don’t possess the practical tools or innate skillset to get the job done. The list goes on.
While challenges and obstacles may, at first, be intimidating and dictate that we work harder and longer to overcome them, if we take note and learn from them we develop resilience. As we foster resilience it begins to inform us all the way down to a cellular level where it is stored for future use. Then, we have a reservoir of resilience at our disposal.
“Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.” C. S. Lewis
Doing something like learning a difficult yoga pose is not about the pose! It’s about how the challenges and obstacles involved in mastering the pose inform us along the way and mold us into who we become. We become resilient! We learn so much! We become sagacious, savvy, strong and supple in body, mind, and spirit. All of this creates a shift in mindset. It activates our ability to become challenge-tackling tigers!
At one time, we shuddered at the idea of a challenge or shied away from what seemed like an insurmountable obstacle, but because of resilience we now become intrigued, curious, and excited by challenges and obstacles. We find ourselves saying things like, “I just love a good challenge,” “He really embraces challenges,” or “She overcame the obstacle against all odds.”
Take note that resilience can be articulated in different ways. Having the discernment to know what type of resilience to employ comes with practice and life experience.
The classic definition of resilience calls to mind the type of people who are tough. They are “go-getters,” people who don’t take no for an answer, or don’t crack under pressure, etc.
However, there are those whose resilience expresses itself in the ability to be soft and yielding, to have the discernment to know that sometimes we need to go with the ebbs and flows and trust that the current will lead us in the right direction.
People who accept the invitation to work with the turning of the tides are very attuned to knowing that sometimes less is more and that trying to force things to happen in an extreme way will only prove to be counterproductive. We will end up having to swim upstream, become exhausted, overwhelmed, defeated and deflated.
An example of extreme thinking is when someone says, “I am a perfectionist; it’s all or nothing for me.” Yet, achieving “All” all of the time is impossible and doing “Nothing” all of the time begets nothing! This makes the all-or-nothing mentality much less than perfect and inordinately imbalanced!
There are times of crisis when extreme measures may be necessary for survival but in general, these extremes engage the sympathetic nervous system and drive us into a state of upheaval—think fight or flight. The post-digestive effect of triggering the flight-or-fight response is an assault on our physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Wouldn’t it be better if we implemented the Goldilocks method and strove for a moderate approach that was not too hard, not too soft, but just right?
Applying the Ayurvedic tenet of moderation is a sustainable solution. It is supportive of our success in achieving goals and creating lifelong transformation.
But how are we to know when our resilience should come in the form of stepping it up to face the challenge head on or when our resilience would better serve us coming from a place of compassion, yielding and going with the flow?
“Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.” Sharon Salzberg
Yoga to the Rescue!
Yoga is an omnipotent tool for achieving a high level of discernment and the ultimate benefit of resilience. With its infinite wisdom, yoga serves up a huge buffet of options for creating resilience and intuiting into which type of resilience will best serve us in any given situation.
When the combination of excess space and air elements (vata dosha) become over-abundant, the opportunistic anxiety, indecisiveness, fear, and inability to focus and concentrate to come creeping in.
Standing postures stabilize space and air elements and redirect the flow of energy downward by way of their grounding nature. Postures like Warrior I and II are power players for resurrecting feelings of strength, security, and steadiness in times that call for us to stay the course and rally our resilience.
- Warrior I
- Warrior II
- Mountain Pose
- Warrior Goddess
- Fierce/Chair Pose
Twists activate the parasympathetic nervous system (think calm!). Their cleansing actions are refreshing and therefore, offer a sense of being given a fresh start.
- Seated Half Spinal Twist
- Pose Dedicated to the Sage Marichi
- Revolved Side Angle
- Revolved Triangle
- Noose Pose
The weighted, static nature of the body in a forward fold provides relief for the symptoms of intestinal distress (constipation, gas/bloating, etc.) sometimes associated with facing challenges and overcoming obstacles. Forward bends also nurture our need for the introspection that is necessary for tapping into our resilience.
- Standing Forward Bend
- Standing Half-Forward Bend
- Wide-Standing Forward Bend
- Intense West Stretch
- Seated Yoga Mudra
Backbends are very heart opening. They generate warmth. When done gently and compassionately, backbends invigorate and stimulate the mind to open up to new ways of doing things and positive outcomes. Reciting a positive affirmation to yourself while practicing a backbend is a powerful gesture.
- Wheel Pose
- Bow Pose
- Cobra Pose
- Upward-Facing Dog Pose
- Reverse Tabletop Pose
Inversions literally and figuratively help us see things from a different perspective! This is key for finding solutions to our problems and developing resilience. They too are a boon for the parasympathetic nervous system!
- Downward-Facing Dog
- Shoulder Stand
- Legs Up the Wall Pose
- Dolphin Pose
Agni builders are postures for building up the healthy balance of one’s digestive fire. Balanced digestion is paramount to good mental health. Good mental health increases our capacity for making the right choices and decisions.
- Alligator Pose
- Boat Pose
- Locust Pose
- Fish Pose
- Bridge Pose
Tips for Practice
- First and foremost, more is not better. The duration and frequency with which you approach your practice should be slow and steady. Too much, too soon can create anxiety and exhaustion.
- Firm the muscles around the bones just enough to maintain the shape of the posture (avoid tensing the muscles too much).
- Many postures have an associated gaze point that suggests we look up toward the sky. Although, to become more grounded and calm, the gaze point should be directed at the horizon or earth.
- Focus your attention on the breath to refine smooth inhales and exhales in and out through the nostrils only.
- Transition from one posture to the next avoiding quick, jerking motions…slow and steady wins the race.
- At the end of practice, allow time for relaxation. Savasana (corpse pose) integrates your practice and provides a restful position for the parasympathetic nervous system to do its job of calming and rejuvenating the body/mind/spirit.
Because the breath is so subtle in nature, we often overlook its profound effects.
The breath bridges the gap between the physical body and energetic body. It connects the mind with the electromagnetic frequency and emotions of the heart. These pathways allow us to keep a pulse on our resilience.
- Alternate Nostril Breathing cleanses and clears the energy channels, balances the hemispheres of the brain, and is calming.
- Deep Diaphragmatic Breathing eliminates carbon dioxide build up, refreshes and energizes.
- Solar Breathing is warming; invigorates and stimulates.
- Lunar Breathing is cooling and reduces agitation and irritability.
What better way to cultivate and tap into your resilience than with a clean slate?
Simply put, meditation clears the mind of the distractive thoughts that constantly bombard us and create stress. This makes room for resilience to bubble up to the surface. And pay special attention to this—meditation helps improve impulse control! Remember this for later!
Tips for Practice
- If you are new to meditation, don’t try to force yourself to meditate for long periods of time.
- Avoid lying down while meditating—chances are you may fall asleep!
- Even a few minutes has a positive, cumulative effect.
- Break up your practice time-if you want to meditate for 20 minutes a day but don’t have 20 minutes all at once then, practice 10 minutes twice a day.
- Don’t have any expectations of how you think it will turn out!
Piecing Together Resilience and Yoga for Weight Loss
Scientific studies done on yoga have proven there to be myriad positive effects on psychological, physiological, and spiritual well-being.
Meditation improves impulse control! We are less inclined to binge or make poor food choices that don’t support our desire to lose weight and reach other goals.
State of calm and comfort in the body=resilience
Activates the parasympathetic nervous system—calms, aids in weight loss as it allows the body to let go of excess earth and water (aka weight!)
Healthy bodily functioning=resilience
Clears and cleanses the organs and systems of the body for optimal physiological functioning
The digestive fire improves digestion, assimilation of nutrients, and increases fat burning.
Confidence and positive self-esteem=resilience
Builds strength, flexibility, we like the way we look
Energy, lucid thinking=resilience
Revitalizes, rejuvenates, invigorates
Problem solving skills, self-healing=resilience
Increases intelligence of the body and mind
Connection to your core/source/self/spirit/energy/God/Gods=resilience
Shifts perspective, opens the heart and mind, makes us capable of letting go of what is not serving us and allows us to receive what we need