Resilience has become a buzzword recently. As a school teacher, I remember sitting through an assembly for GCSE and A Level students, where they were told that they needed to be more resilient. This was good advice, but the member of staff failed to mention how to develop that resilience.
Last week I was speaking to a yoga student, who was delivering Resilience Training as part of her work. When I asked what it involved, she told me it was very similar to the things we find ourselves doing in yoga – changing things if they feel too uncomfortable and trying to let go of sensations in a pose where we find we cannot change things to increase comfort.
This reminded me of the Serenity Prayer, written in the 1930s by Reinhold Niebuhr, an American Theologian. It may be familiar to you even, if like me, you do not hold any particular religious beliefs.
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference
The first known version of this was by the Shantideva, the 8th Century Buddhist scholar. This version reads,
If there's a remedy when trouble strikes, What reason is there for dejection? And if there is no help for it, What use is there in being glum?
Both the early and later versions carry the same message, that of taking action and finding acceptance when appropriate.
This same message appears in many cultures and has been used in recovery programmes such as Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous for many years. Geeky fact, David Bowie’s only tattoo, on the calf of his leg, included a version in Japanese.
In class I sometimes talk about the Yamas and Niyamas, I guess you may call them ways to treat others and how to conduct yourself. These just two of the Eight Limbs of Yoga in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The Yamas speak of Aparigraha or non-grasping and Santosha, contentment or acceptance. We are sometimes so keen to change a situation, but cannot as it is out of our control. What do we do? Do we keep trying to change something that we can have no influence on or do we stop fighting and realise that accepting what is happening and not grasp for people or circumstances be different?
This also applies to our practice. If a pose isn’t working for us, we can make changes to the position of our feet, hips, arms and so on to make us feel more at ease in the pose. Equally, if we find that hip opening poses or forward bends are challenging for us, we can try to stay with that pose and learn to use our breath to put aside any ‘interesting’ (read uncomfortable) sensations and to accept them. Accepting that we all will have our own versions of poses is also an important part of our practice, a student who is always striving for the maximum stretch or bend can often find frustration if they do not achieve what they believe to be the ‘ultimate goal’ of the pose.
Next time you feel a situation, or yoga pose, could feel better, think about David Bowie’s right calf and decide if you can change it or you should try to accept what is happening.