Whew! What a year. What a week! There’s never been a more important time to learn how to be more resilient.
With the global pandemic, we’ve been living in an unprecedented blanket of collective trauma for nearly a year.
If you’re in the United States…we’ve also had a year filled with radical upheaval, racial trauma, immense political discord and last week’s violent insurrection attack on our nations Capitol.
Many of us are experiencing more instability, fear and overwhelm than ever before.
Cultivating resilience is perhaps our most essential superpower. Why? Because we know we can never control our other circumstances. We only hold dominion over our chosen response. Now is the time to double down on our personal practices to solidify an abiding sense of strength and inner peace regardless of our outer circumstances.
After talking with my colleague and teacher Rick Hanson, Ph.D. about resiliency and his recent book Neurodharma: New Science, Ancient Wisdom and Seven Practices of the Highest Happiness, I was inspired to create a video sharing these three simple practices to cultivate resilience every day.
Watch the video to learn these three quick tips:
Rick explained that not only is it important to “reduce the negative” — minimize negative experiences, stimuli, triggers, thought loops that send us spinning — but we also need to “strengthen the positive”.
We want to strengthen our positive mental-emotional state so it becomes a habit. Then, these habits begin to forge new personality traits.
We often don’t realize that we are addicted to certain emotions and ways of being. So, we end up slipping into familiar patterns even if those patterns are not what we really desire.
Once we cement a new habit, we actually wire it into the nervous system. We can literally train ourselves to feel calmer in our body and mind.
A scientifically proven tip to feel calmer in your body is to extend your exhale. When you lengthen your exhale you naturally activate the Parasympathetic Nervous System (Rest & Digest Response).
PRACTICE: Pause and slow down your breath. Lengthen your exhale to be longer than your inhale. Let’s do it together:
INHALE for 1…2…3…4.
And, SLOWLY EXHALE for 1…2…3…4…5…6…
Now repeat slowly for 5 more rounds. Work for a 4 count inhale and a 6 to 8 count exhale.
How do you feel? Do you notice any difference in your physical or mental body?
The goal is to wire into our nervous system and physiology a calm, steady strength. Take a break several times a day to practice extending your exhale longer than your inhale.
Pro Tip: It’s one of the quickest tools to alleviate anxiety!
The second step to build resilience is to connect to your heart and extend a sense of genuine caring. This includes not only outwardly caring for others, but also receiving care from others.
What does it feel like when you feel loved and cared for by someone else? One of my favorite books as a kid was called “Warm Fuzzies and Cold Pricklies.”
Do you feel a ‘warm fuzzy’ when you feel nurtured, tended to and cared for? Where do you actually feel the sensation in your body? What does it remind you of?
How about when you are generous and caring for someone else? How does this make you feel?
Once again, the key is wiring a sense of caring into your “embodied state”.
PRACTICE: If you wish, close your eyes. Or simply let your eyelids soften and become heavy gazing down towards your nose. Focus on a sense of warm-heartedness. Perhaps you wish to bring your hand to your heart. Feel a softening; a warmth. Maybe you think about pets, children, or someone that you love. Experience a sense of caring flowing out from you. Extend caring to someone you love. Is there an image or color that comes to mind? Continue by extending caring to someone you feel neutral about. Finally, extend caring and kindness to someone that you feel frustrated with or adversarial towards.
Next, practice receiving caring. Imagine someone you love sending you caring and kindness. Imagine someone you barely know sending you love and caring. Imagine that there are thousands of people right at this moment praying, chanting and sending out peace and loving kindness to all beings. How does it feel to be included in someone else’s warm wishes?
Cultivating a “warm heart” and extending a sense of caring begins to naturally generate the release of oxytocin, the neurotransmitter know as the “Bonding Hormone”.
Did you know that women naturally have 5 to 7 times more oxytocin than men?
The good news is that we can work from the “outside-in” by doing visualizations and meditations like this to intentionally generate feelings of passion, caring, connection and feeling cared for which then ripples out to stimulate oxytocin production. Simultaneously, once oxytocin starts flowing, we are flooded with a sense of calm, connectedness and belonging.
Again, the key is that we’re building this warm heartedness into a trait, not just activating a temporary state. Once it becomes habit, it becomes hard-wired into our system and raises our default set point …so make it a habit to pause several times a day and extend “warm heartedness” to yourself and others.
Expanding our definition of “Self” beyond our individual, small self to include others is perhaps the most liberating tool for building resilience. By widening our purview we tap into perennial philosophies and timeless spiritual practices of unity consciousness.
We are one. We are all connected. Your actions affect you, those you love and those you don’t even know across the world.
Here are two ways to connect to a wider whole — visually and physically.
We’ll start in the visual realm which also begins to trigger our brains and may help reduce activity in the part of the brain known as the “Default Mode Network” (sometimes referred to as the “Default Network”). Meditation and visualization have been associated with reduced activity in the default mode network, a brain network implicated in self-related thinking and mind wandering. Training our mind into positive states is one of the best tools to learn how to be more resilient.
PRACTICE: With your gaze, follow your fingers as they extend outward to widen your peripheral vision. How wide can you get with your peripheral vision and still see your fingers? Even though you’re looking straight forward, perceive all the way out to the corners of your field of vision. Then, perceive as high above and as low below you as possible – all while gazing forward. This creates a widening in a physiological sense of your view. Pull focus into a wide-lens view.
In yoga, I often refer to the “Eagle’s Eye Perspective” – gazing down from a 1,000 ft. view. Imagine in life, how can you extend your focus to a wide-lens view?
Feel your sense of Self expand outward to fill the entire room…the whole building. Now, visualize your whole neighborhood. And, then keep flying up to envision your whole town…state…country and out and out and out and out.
Our definition of “who am I” begins to shift and expand to include others and eventually all beings.
Another way to tune into a “wider whole” is physical – which is where the benefit of yoga asana comes into play. Physically, when we move bi-laterally and multi-dimensionally, we cross-wire the brain so that both hemispheres of the brain are activated simultaneously. This is also known as “whole brain activity” and builds neural integration. Working with a more creative, integrated mind state is also one of the best ways to be more resilient.
As mentioned above, the Default Mode Network keeps us in a very self-referenced, myopic state. Because of this, we tend to filter everything that happens to us through the lens of “me, my, mine” and only allows us to interpret experiences based on a somewhat self-centered view – making it difficult to see from other people’s perspectives.
Our tendency is to only ask:
When we create this “wider whole” it helps us to expand outward and get more creative in our thinking and cultivate an integrated sense of Self.
One of the ways to do this is to focus simultaneously on the left- and right-hand sides of the body.
PRACTICE: Let’s try it now. You can close your eyes or keep them open. Notice the right side and left side of your body.
Notice the front and back of your body. What’s the same and what’s different?
Now, notice what’s happening on the interior of your body.
Notice what’s happening on the outside of your body: sounds, temperature, texture, the sensation fo your clothes touching you or perhaps the warmth of the sun on your skin, coolness.
Now, widen your perception to merge the inner and outer worlds, the right and left worlds, front and back of the body. Consider the way your body exists in space and moves through space (proprioception).
Again, close your eyes or have them softly open.
Can you expand that sense of self outward beyond the boundary of the physical body and beyond your skin?
See if you can feel out to the edges of your aura (about elbow distance around your body) or arm’s length distance in every direction?
And then come back to your center.
You maintain a centered individual sense of Self AND a wider, equally relevant whole. Simultaneously both are true at the same time.
This will quiet the Default Mode Network in the brain and activate our Allocentric Network in the brain. This is how we can activate “holism” – a sense of our interdependence and interconnectedness.
So, to recap, to build resilience every day try these three simple practices:
Carve out a little time each day to pause, align and orient here. It will help you build more wholesome habits and ultimately become your default. Help others learn this easy practice to build resilience by sharing the link to this blog!
Sending massive love amidst these chaotic times.