How yoga can support your emotional Resilience

Emotional resilience is a muscle, flex it enough and it will take less effort to get over the emotional punches each time.” – Alicia Moore aka P!nk

Yes, P!nk sums it up right, we can train our emotional resilience! It is a measure of how we can bounce back from whatever life throws at us – a change, a loss or a pandemic. 

The nervous system is fascinating, the human body is truly amazing.

The Autonomic Nervous System automatically regulates our basic functions, such as our heart beat, our breath rate, our digestive functions. ANS is the key of our resilience. It keeps us in the window of tolerance, where we feel calm and focused.  When  we are facing a challenging or unfamiliar situation, the Systematic branch of  the ANS is activated. We need to consciously activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System and come back to that window of tolerance..

All sensory information first enters the thalamus, which acts as the brain’s relay station. From there the information is sent to the neocortex aka our “thinking brain”; and then to our amygdala aka our “emotional brain”, which then send the right emotional response. 

When we find ourself in an unfamiliar situation, the thalamus relays the information both to the neocortex and the amygdala. When the amygdala senses danger, it makes the immediate decision to initiate the flight or fight response before the thinking brain overrules. The body get flushed with stress hormones that increasing the heart rate, boosting energy levels, increasing blood supply to the legs, among other responses.

Have you ever been hijacked by your amygdala? Have you ever overreacted in a situation? Have you felt like you “lost it”?

Sometimes our amygdala is overworking and keeping us safe even when there is no threat. And it often overreacts. But the good news is that we can train the amygdala and the whole nervous system. 

How Yoga Can Help

On the Yoga mat we are not only strengthening the body while make it more flexible but also strengthening the mind and making it more flexible too by :

  • consciously learning to release muscle tension 
  • mixing the familiar and the new postures and sequences to keep the nervous system feeling safe, while allowing it to move into new and challenging situations but staying calm and focused.
    If you’ve been in my classes before, you probably noticed I teach some recurring sequences that feels so delicious and calming. Then we move to something new, something challenging – while focusing on releasing tension from the shoulders, jaws and forehead and keeping the breath steady. Staying calm and relaxed in a new or a challenging situation on the mat ( like standing strong and focused in warrior pose (virabhadrasana) with consciously softened upper body while the legs are on fire ) teaching the nervous system to stay calm and focused in a challenging situation off the mat as well.
  • staying in the witnessing, mindful state of mind. Keeping our relaxed focused attention on the breath, the gaze, the alignment and the heartbeat; and simply noticing the thoughts when they arise will tune our interoseption and teach us dharana/concentration. This allows the practice to become a meditative and oh so soothing. 
  • practicing to stay detached and simply noticing the thoughts of the present moment without judgment but with kindness. The mind writes its own narratives and we learn to regulate the emotions rather than being consumed by them. We learn to be kind, starting with being kind to ourselves. Which is often harder then being kind to others.
     Ahimsa/ non-violence is the first principle of yogic living.
  • practicing Pranayama/breath exercises we learn to control our breath patterns which allows us to come back to the safe window of tolerance. 
  • Practicing balancing poses. It offers us opportunity to learn concentration and centering the body as well as the mind.
  • practicing mindfulness and meditation. Research shows that it supports neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form new connections, build new pathways, and adjust our response to changes in our environment. With some practice we can take back the control from the amygdala’s often unpredictably autopilot mode.

A regular yoga practice will  help you to gain the tools you need to build physical  and emotional strength, flexibility and self-compassion; and you will become a happier, more emotionally resilient YOU!

Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.” – Bob Dylan
Be the one who feels and enjoys the rain!

Thanks for reading.

Kati Cooper

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