Spirituality, Resilience and Yoga

‘Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient’. — Steve Maraboli

Here at Special Yoga we walk alongside children, young people and families who have often needed to draw upon unimaginable reserves of courage and resilience in their lives. The root of the word ‘courage’ is cor, which is the Latin word for heart. Nicole Schnackenberg takes a look at the convergence of spirituality, resilience and yoga.

Somehow, when faced with frightening circumstances and emotions, the human heart finds a way to survive. Resilience has been most frequently defined as positive adaptation despite adversity. Research into resilience has gone through several stages. Following an initial focus on resiliency within young children, psychologists began to notice that much of what seems to promote resilience originates outside of the individual. This led to a search for resilience factors not only at the individual level but also at the family, community, and cultural levels. There is a growing interest in resilience as a feature of entire communities and cultural groups.

A core resiliency factor highlighted in the research is that of spirituality. Spirituality typically describes a sense of wholeness, a feeling of connection or ‘oneness’ with people and other phenomena, and a notion of self beyond the body and mind. In a national study conducted following September 11 th , for example, it was revealed that turning to spirituality and religion (prayer, religious or spiritual feelings) was the second most common way of coping (90%) after talking with others (98%).

Elsewhere, African-American women struggling with poverty in another study reported the strength they gained from their religious faith and sense of spirituality. Researchers Pargament and Brandt suggest that spiritual coping is effective because it offers a response to the sense of ‘human insufficiency’ in particular. Seeing events or circumstances from a transpersonal (beyond personal) point of view can offer explanations and a sense of purpose beyond the immediate experience.  Some level of healing can also be facilitated, stemming from an understanding that whilst past events cannot be altered or undone, a sense of wholeness can, nevertheless, prevail.

Spirituality is often strongly based on a quest to understand ultimate questions about life, meaning, and relationships with the sacred or transcendent. Therefore, a sense of spirituality may have an important influence on how people interpret and cope with difficult experiences in their lives.

Yoga is a spiritual practice, rooted in the union of all aspects of a person’s being. The word yoga, in fact, comes from the Sanskrit root yuj being to unite, join and to bind. Yoga has been found in multiple studies to engender and deepen a sense of spirituality through increased interoceptive awareness (a lived sense of the body from the inside, related to the experience of emotions), improved self-perception, increased engagement in life, deepened interpersonal relationships, a stronger notion of the subtle energy (prana) of the body, a heightened state of consciousness, an experience of a sense of the self beyond the physical, and a felt sense of oneness. Yoga has also been found repeatedly to improve resiliency through physical and emotional self-regulation, facilitated by the balancing of the nervous system using asana, pranayama and mindfulness.

The yogic sage Patanjali claimed that Ishvara pranidhana (surrender to the higher reality) strikes at the very root of suffering. Yoga can both promote this sense of a higher reality whilst also inviting us, and refining our ability to, surrender to it. When we find a way to welcome all of life without psychological resistance, including those experiences that most terrify and confuse us, we uncover the innate courage and resilience that has always been at our core. This courage and resilience is, in actuality, who we truly are.

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