The Practicing Yoga Beginner: 3 Strategies To Build Resilience
I used to chuckle to myself when my yoga teacher welcomed the “new beginners” to class. It sounded redundant to me. It took me years to realize that his phrase was not redundant.
“New beginners” were people showing up to class for the very first time. As opposed to what I now call “practicing beginners.” Practicing beginners have been to class many times, and they know that every time is still a beginning. An opportunity to learn, apply, and grow. We show up with a different body to each yoga class. We show up with a clean slate to each day of life.
Every class — and every day — is a chance to begin again, no matter how many times we’ve begun before. Ironically, I’ve been familiar with the concepts of beginner’s mind and letting go of attachment to outcome for years. Somehow the “practicing beginner” insight has opened up new avenues of reflection, particularly with regard to resilience.
Resilience as a way of being
Resilience is often defined in relation to adversity. How we overcome setbacks. How we recover from disappointment or catastrophe. I see that as one aspect of resilience, but not the whole story. Resilience also includes who and how we are on a daily basis, whether we’re facing adversity or not. They say that how we do one thing is how we do everything. Resilience, then, is a way of being. Every day we have infinite opportunities to practice building resilience. And the more we cultivate resilient practices when we’re not stressed, the easier it is to rely on them when we are.
Resilience to me encompasses three pillars: grounding, connection, and power. Strategies to strengthen our resilience are rooted in each pillar:
- Ground in reality
- Connect to people and purpose
- Embrace the power of perspective
Ground in reality
While it may feel like the current global reality is unpleasant at best and catastrophic at worst, it is the only place we can start if we want to create a new reality. At the individual level — even when not in a pandemic — we often spend time pressuring ourselves to be somewhere else or someone else, or to be an earlier or “better” version of ourselves.
We have advanced degrees in creating visions. Organizations talk about vision all the time. Business building programs and coaches encourage us to create visions for one year, three years, five years, or longer. I’m not knocking them — visions are beautiful! I read my short and long-term visions almost every day. But what tends to happen is that we focus on the vision without investing quite as much energy defining where we actually are. You can achieve your vision, but only if you know where to start. Sounds easy, but it’s not. What we usually try to do is start from where we think we should be or where we wish we were. Alas, that’s like trying to drive from New York City to San Francisco with directions that start in Chicago.
We follow our directions, but almost immediately we get lost. We lose motivation. We have a great plan, but it’s not working for us. No wonder! We need to get to Chicago first. Let’s start with those directions.
Start here and now
I used to run barefoot a lot. At the height of my practice, I ran a 10-mile race without shoes and without blisters. After a few intervening years running only sporadically even in shoes, I’m starting to run barefoot again. No matter how much I want to, if I were to start from where I used to be or where I wish I was, I’d sideline myself with an injury in no time.
If I’m patient and accept where I am — running ¾ of a mile to a mile — and if I give myself permission to begin each run without expectations, I will actually progress faster to my steady-state goal of easily running five miles with or without shoes. When I start with my current reality, every step is an integral part of the journey and an opportunity for joy, discovery, and re-vision. Resilience naturally emerges as I enjoy the process without pressuring myself to be somewhere or someone else. Achieving the goal will just be icing on the cake, because every step has been fulfilling in and of itself.
To build your resilience, ground in reality and allow yourself to practice beginning.
Connect to people and purpose
To see the power of connection to build our resilience, look no further than the current pandemic. As the entire world has faced restrictions in movement and human contact, we’ve realized how much we took connection for granted — and how necessary it is for our wellbeing.
We’ve seen an explosion in creative solutions for connecting virtually and from a distance. People are reaching out to help one another on an unprecedented scale. At the same time as “distance” is prescribed, humanity is actually pulling together more than ever before. And connection isn’t just about other people.
We’ve been handed a golden opportunity to connect with ourselves. In this time when many of us have paused from the daily grind — or been thrust into a new kind of grind — we can examine:
- What about our old way of life do we not miss?
- What systems can we actually live without?
- What are we doing more of that we love?
- What freedoms have we found in the midst of restriction that we want to keep?
- When the world adapts to whatever comes next, how might we adapt our own rituals and routines to do more of what brings us joy and less of what doesn’t?
Even in tragedy, we can find purpose. Some spring into action. Others slow down to rest and renew. All are reconnecting to what’s really important. We’re reconnecting to the earth, to nature, and to the universe itself. What you learn from connecting with yourself will yield clues to what motivates and inspires you. Practice shining your own light, and humanity as a whole will shine brighter. The world that emerges from this pandemic will be fundamentally and permanently changed. We will all begin a new way of life — together.
To build your resilience, connect to people and purpose and allow yourself to practice beginning.
Embrace the Power of Perspective
About five years ago I lived in Las Cruces, New Mexico, on the west side of a beautiful mountain range called the Organ Mountains. I loved watching the moon rise over the mountains. One morning, my work group had an offsite on the other side of the mountains. I remember pulling some materials out of my car in the parking lot, looking up, and suddenly feeling like I was on an alien planet.
The full moon was setting over the mountains. This hit me like a thunderbolt. “Wow,” I thought. “The people who live over here have a completely different experience of the world.”
This might seem like a silly realization. I was long familiar with the idea that the sun, moon, and stars rise over the ocean on the east coast of the U.S. and set over the ocean on the west coast of the U.S. But something about driving only 20 minutes away and having my perception of the world change so dramatically — from something as simple as noticing the moon — left a deep impression on me.
Choose what you energize
We always have the power to shift our perspective. Our brains take in way more data than they can actually process. So they develop shortcuts. Whatever patterns we’ve noticed and beliefs we’ve formed, our brains start to select data according to those patterns and beliefs. Literally, we see what we expect to see. If you feel stuck in a rut of powerlessness, try choosing to see a different subset of data. Be selective about what you energize. Look for, identify, and celebrate small wins, grateful moments, and things that bring you joy during the day. Even if you don’t change a single activity or routine in your day, if you change what you look for and how you perceive events, you will change your life.
And that will change the world.
Create a new reality
Whether it’s to grow our curiosity, to grow our empathy for the experiences of others, or to transform the old stories in our heads — that keep us stuck — into powerful new ones, we can take small steps every day to see the world, each other, and ourselves in new ways. Practicing these daily beginnings gives us the power to expand into new possibilities. The beautiful thing here is that changing your perspective actually creates a new reality. And you can ground in that reality on your next iteration. To build your resilience, embrace the power of perspective and allow yourself to practice beginning.
Where do we go from here?
We don’t know what the future holds, but we know it will come from this day. From nourishing our souls, each other, and our earth with healing messages of love, compassion, and kindness. Wherever you are in the global healing process is exactly perfect, normal, and okay for you. Give yourself permission to greet each new day as a beginner — like the very day itself.
This is the essence of resilience.
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