top of page
annapurna mountain nepal yoga for resilience and strength

Yoga for Resilience:
Stress, Strength, and Personal Growth

This article on Yoga for Resilience & Inner Strength is part of our Yoga Practice section of our Essential Guide to Spiritual Yoga.

Yoga and Resilience: Improve Stress Resilience (Without Ever Going to a Studio)

The only yoga pose required is mental-emotional (and can cultivated using just your attention, or your breath).

The practices of yoga just are variations of no longer fleeing yourself. Resilience requires the capacity to sit with the more challenging elements of our inner life. And while yoga is not reducible to “resilience training”, cultivating what we call “resilience” is an essential component of yoga.

Our inability to confront our discomfort prevents us from growth. We choose not to look directly at the situations that are causing us the most stress. We remain unable to make difficult decisions about warring commitments and responsibilities. We don’t do what we know we should be doing in order to produce results. We’re unwilling/unable to abandon the strategies that have led to our success thus far (the abandonment of which is required for further growth). And when life forces us to make changes that require growth, we’re unable to quickly identify a way forward. We miss opportunities. And we feel incompetent and less confident and hopeful about our future.

 

As a result, we don’t focus our efforts on the few critical things that will provide us with a sense of progress and increased competence. Why? Because we’re either not sure what to do or afraid of doing it. We lack resilience; we’re too affected by our inner lives (stress, fatigue, biases, fears, and other emotional attachments, etc.) to look clearly at our situation and make a quick and effective decision that will move us forward, even if the uncertainty makes us uncomfortable. 

Lacking the resilience to make effective decisions, we sabotage our efforts at achieving time freedom, money freedom, and the freedom of fulfillment. Our priorities seem self-defined. Our relationships suffer. We have fewer resources to act on our creativity, to autonomously make decisions about our lives (including our work environment and who we work with), to pursue the development of skills we find personally meaningful, to make an impact on those around us, and to think seriously about our legacy. And our stress feels meaningless.

Growth requires opening our (current) self up in ways that we don’t control. When we no longer habitually run from our inner lives, we are more inclined to honour our own needs and inspirations—we are, in other words, more inclined to being ourself and to being okay with ourself. Guided by a personal vision that draws on our innate strengths and inspirations (and not trapped in ego-protection), we are more inclined to fearlessly explore and pursue opportunities to realize our vision; our vision, in other words, becomes more important than our ego, more important than ourselves. In other words, growth is the result of freeing ourselves from limitations imposed by our habitual self’s desire for recognition and security. Growth requires resilience.

But this—resilience and growth—is difficult if we remain trapped in/by our unwanted thoughts and painful emotions. Our difficult thoughts and painful emotions determine so much of our lives precisely because we avoid them. We avoid the people and situations that produce these feelings and thoughts, even those that are required for pursuing our most meaningful projects.⁣ And as we become more avoidant, our lives becomes narrower and we become more rigid. In other words, as we continue to avoid whatever triggers uncomfortable thoughts/emotions, we miss opportunities for growth, freedom, and connection with others and ourselves.

 

The essence of yoga practice is being able to sit with difficult aspects of your inner life. This is what fearlessness is: fearlessness is just no longer running from our anxieties, our unwanted thoughts, and painful emotions. (And running from—or trying to destroy—our anxieties just means that our anxieties are in control).

Changing our habitual self requires confronting habits of avoidance and owning up to the thoughts/emotions that we’re inclined to avoid. Focusing on making our implicit habits more explicit allows us to see how our fulfillment is connected to the things we avoid. This the beginning of fulfilling growth.​ 

mountain Dzonghla executive wellbeing fear emotion
When we no longer habitually run from our inner lives, we are more inclined to honour our own needs and inspirations—we are, in other words, more inclined to being ourself and to being okay with ourself.

Dharma and Progress: The Role of Self-Awareness in Becoming Resilient and Achieving Growth

A personal vision is always a vision for self-realization—for realizing oneself in the world.

We want progress. We want to feel more competent and effective. We want to feel more self-assured; we want our growth and accomplishments to give us a more lasting, complete sense of ourselves.

 

Our habitual self will often determine the quality of our progress. Some of us, despite our achievements, remain fixated on what we haven’t yet accomplished, and whatever we accomplish remains infected with inner lack. Others aren’t so self-obsessed, and are less preoccupied with fixing their inner lack and are more interested in possibilities for self-realization (i.e., for realizing oneself in the world, with/through other people/things). 

 

Self-realization demands that one recognize one’s own “true” self: the transparent site of our natural inspirations, values, desires, strengths/capabilities, and also our standards—the very standards that are contributing to our current levels of stress. A focus on listening to our self allows us to explore what inspires us and develop/expand what we feel uniquely capable of doing something about. This could be called our personal “Dharma”—i.e., our own nature, our intrinsic qualities/“properties”, what our existence “upholds” (or what we naturally hold up in/to the world). This is the self that remains when we don’t need anything. It doesn’t have to “cling to” or defend/protect itself because its primary goal is not to add weight to its image. Self-realization is self-expression, not self-aggrandizement; we’re not trying to accumulate more “self”. This is the self that is okay with itself.

 

Experiencing this “true” self doesn’t require destroying our inadequacies, vulnerabilities, and weaknesses. In fact, striving for any kind of personal perfection only reinforces our inner lack—and this includes the quest for self-sufficiency in the name of self-realization (or enlightenment, or even “happiness”). And in reinforcing our inner lack, our craving to be invulnerable also reinforce our feelings isolation—we become defensive and look to ‘add to’ our image—and this keeps us torn between needing connection and maintaining our secure image.


When we focus on self-realization, our freedom and vision, goals, habits, and growth all become means for being ourself rather than ends that will define our worth. Growth for the sake of growth (and productivity for the sake of productivity) can leave us feeling unsatisfied. On the other hand, growth—and goals pursued—for the sake of expressing and developing the potentials afforded to and by our “true” self leaves us feeling more capable, competent, resilient, connected, and free.

 

Focusing on self-realization calls us beyond our preoccupation with ‘fixing’ ourselves towards understanding and connecting with ourselves. Excessive focus on our ‘self’ can cause us to remain in the grip of our compulsions/anxieties/rumination. We’re only ever doing things so that others can tell us that we can be okay with ourselves. We don’t bother planning or setting goals anymore because of the many times we failed to follow through (and reminding us of how much time we’ve been wasting). On the other hand, a personal vision for self-realization based on self-connection is the result of connecting with our own intrinsic motivations, inspirations, confidence, strength, values, standards, needs, and vulnerabilities.

 

But none of this is possible unless you no longer avoid your own inner life. Becoming more resilient involves—requires, rather—the ability to remain with painful emotions and troubling thoughts. Resilience allows you to connect with your self and intrinsic motivations, which allows you to persist through setbacks and pursue meaningful projects/work/relationships. Resilience allows you to access clarity and perspective, which is often muddled by paying heed to thoughts borne of impulsive overreaction. Resilience allows you to develop deeper connections, if only by preventing your instinctive self from handing relationship conflict. And, perhaps most importantly, the cultivation of resilience allows you to see how striving only reinforces our suffering.

fire desire striving resilience yoga.jpg
...striving for any kind of personal perfection only reinforces our inner lack—and this includes the quest for self-sufficiency in the name of self-realization (or enlightenment, or even “happiness”).

Yoga Practice for Resilience, Inner Strength, and Growth

You likely will have noticed that there was no mention of yoga poses or various “types” of yoga. This is because yoga is practice-agnostic; what matters in yoga is not what you do but how you do it. A daily practice of stress-relieving yoga can only be considered part of the process of becoming more resilient. While many different yoga practices can introduce calm to the body/mind (perhaps especially meditation or working with the breath), any such practice aimed at acquiring good feelings and destroying bad feelings will only serve to exacerbate the core problem. (Learn more about this in our Guide to Spiritual Yoga.)

This article is part of our guide to Yoga Practice, which also contains our comprehensive guide to meditation in yoga, and an article on the “spiritual” benefits of fasting/abstinence and how such practices might be able to facilitate personal growth and self-improvement (in addition, of course, to spiritual growth and development). 

bottom of page