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Resilience through yoga and meditation

'The resilience of gold varies with the temperature'. This description echoes how we sometimes feel, as strong as metal or softer and more vulnerable depending on external conditions. Resilience reflects our ability as individuals, and communities to recover from trauma, shock or extreme events. So how resilient are we – and how can we use yoga and meditation techniques to cultivate resilience?

What is resilience?

Resilience relates to being strong through adversity, to persist and survive mentally and physically after challenges and difficulties. People with greater levels of resilience can tap into this strength when things get tough. This strength is not all internal; our resilience as a society is also essential. Cultivating our resilience includes knowing when we need to reach out to others and ask for help. We do not need to have an apple tree in our garden if our next-door neighbour is proficient at making juice from theirs....all we need to do is interact, connect and share. In a world where challenges are plenty cultivating our resilience has never been more critical.

Resilience through yoga and meditation

Using components of Resilience defined by the American Psychological Association here's a yogi's take on cultivating resilience through yoga and meditation. There are many ways that the practices of yoga and meditation can build our inner strength and resilience. The Toolkit to cultivate resilience includes many of the practices covered in this blog and other simple actions that can help us to be hopeful and positive for the year ahead.

Connection to cultivate resilience

We can find a connection at several levels. Arguably the most important being a connection with ourselves. A regular yoga and meditation practice can create space to connect to ourselves and develop a greater understanding of our physical boundaries and breath. Cultivating a greater connection with ourselves can guide how we connect with others. We sometimes need to disconnect to reconnect, turn the focus inwards before we look outwards.

The next crucial connection links us to the people around us. Conscious connection within our social circles and communities can support a sense of wellbeing and resilience. Adopting a mindful yoga approach helps us to be present without distractions when we engage with others. We can share our energy with people who support our lives and energise us too. This presence and purpose can strengthen meaningful relationships and the support circle we draw on in times of need. The sense of community can also help us to be grateful and hopeful for the future.

Connecting to the world around us extends our level of connection beyond human contact. To realise that we are part of nature, not separate or distinct from other life on this planet. By spending time outside (even better with a yoga mat) we can cultivate a sense of appreciation. We are acknowledging the miracle of a world that continues despite humankind's best efforts to drain it of resources. The practice of being a yogi extends well beyond the mat. Recognising our role as a global citizen can be empowering. We all have a responsibility for the way we act, keep ourselves healthy, and protect ourselves and the world we inhabit.

Wellness to cultivate resilience

Yoga and meditation both support a sense of wellness. They are simple and easy practices to use regularly. By learning techniques when times are smoother, the ability to dig into them when needed is greater. Healthy minds and bodies will always be able to stand stronger in the storm than tired souls. The benefits of yoga for physical and mental wellbeing are plentiful. Simply moving the body in a yoga practice can reduce stress levels, improve mood and psychological wellbeing (1), and help to have a good night's sleep.

The scientific community increasingly recognises the physical and emotional benefits of meditation. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association acknowledged that studies suggest a possible benefit on cardiovascular risk and that meditation should be considered an adjunct to lifestyle modification and risk reduction (2). Research demonstrates that mindfulness-based techniques can help to improve psychological functioning and improve wellbeing (3). By adding these practices to our lives, we can control our health and how our bodies respond to stressful events.

Healthy thinking to cultivate resilience

As humans we innately have a tight grasp on 'normal'; we don't like the boat being tipped; we desperately cling on until we can longer hold the sides. Adapting our conscious mind to accept circumstances that are outside of our control opens our mind to reality. The yoga and meditation practice of being truly grounded in the present moment helps us to identify what is right in front of us. Being resilient doesn't mean that we don't feel or experience the crises, but rather we acknowledge them and get to the other side. In the middle of emergencies, we can choose to adapt, life cannot be as 'normal' but we can find a different way. To take decisive actions in adverse situations is challenging and needs careful consideration and timing. Decisions for populations are best left to the scientists and public health teams, but decision making at the individual level is crucial. Healthy thinking practices can strengthen how we respond to crises. Journaling and gratitude practices can support reflection on the present moment. Learning from how we react to improve our response in the future.

Creating meaning to cultivate resilience

The yoga and meditation practices of intention setting can ensure that we keep our thoughts and actions aligned with our core values. The way that we live each moment impacts us, the people closest to us and the environment around us. Creating meaning for our lives can keep us centre track and help us to identify when we are wavering off this path. Developing a sense of self-compassion, self-worth and appreciation both for ourselves and the life that we want to lead is pivotal in feeling confident with our chosen journey.

Even with the simple act of considering resilience, we can start to strengthen our own. By starting to add techniques and practices we can make sure we have all the tools we need at the time that we most need them.

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(1) The effects of yoga on positive mental health among healthy adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis. 2017

(2) A scientific statement from the American Health Association Meditation and Cardiovascular Risk Reduction 2019

(3) The effectiveness of mindfulness-based stress reduction on the psychological functioning of healthcare professionals: a systematic review 2020


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