Resilience is the ability to cope with difficult situations while maintaining inner peace and strength. Michael James Wong, a yoga and meditation teacher, believes that there are practices that can develop this skill.
Wong shares his secrets in The Art of Small Steps, his new book, published in Russian by MIF. With his permission, Lifehacker publishes an excerpt from the seventh chapter.
We all need to develop our resilience – it protects and supports us in especially difficult periods of life. A spirit that has received a good rest is a guarantee of purposefulness of actions and wisdom of decisions.
In other words, in difficult times we should not give up. But we must learn to rest, because this is the most powerful way to restore and replenish your strength. Never think of rest as something detrimental to progress, because it is absolutely necessary to rise after a fall. Rest is a conscious action to relieve stress and build resilience.
1. Let the body rest
Take time to calm down physically. If you’re tired or exhausted, take a nap or find some other way to recover. Keep activity to a minimum and really give yourself permission to do less.
And remember: nothing replaces a good night’s sleep , so go to bed early or let yourself sleep in the morning and don’t beat yourself up about it – better appreciate the positive results of a good night’s sleep. Getting up early is not a sign of success, sleeping late is not a sign of laziness. Rest is rest: when the body is properly relaxed, you get up in the morning cheerfully and with a sense of purpose.
2. Let your breath rest
Slow your breath and focus on calming it down. Try to breathe evenly, freely and rhythmically. Conscious and coordinated breathing calms the nervous system and enhances the quality of inhalation and exhalation, which in turn allows us to feel empowered and at peace. You may find it helpful to practice even breathing as described below.
Imagine that breathing consists of four equal phases:
- Pause and hold the breath at the maximum inhalation.
- Pause and hold the breath at the maximum exhalation.
Now imagine the breathing pattern in the form of a square box: performing each of the actions, you seem to slide along one of the sides, slowly and evenly, allowing the breath to maintain a constant unhurried rhythm.
Begin the exercise by breathing in four counts for each side of the square.
- Inhale while counting from one to four.
- Pause and hold your breath while counting from one to four.
- Exhale as you count from one to four.
- Pause and hold your breath while counting from one to four.
Repeat this exercise 10 times, or just set a timer for 2-3 minutes and continuously do these four steps until the time runs out. If you wish, continue as long as you like – breathing practice is excellent for this, as it is very useful for achieving a state of peace and maintaining it.
And you can also try to increase the count on inhalations and exhalations to six or even eight. When finished, sit still and focus on the effect. How are you feeling? As you practice, you will immediately feel relaxed and calm . This is a great daily technique and can be used at any time in times of stress or anxiety.
3. Let the mind rest
Even allowing the body to relax, we often allow the mind to continuously scroll through the same thoughts. In some cases, when the body is resting, the mind even gains momentum, it is overcome by endless thoughts and worries.
Unfortunately, it is impossible to turn off the mind at will. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise: you are not a lamp, and the “on” buttons and “off” you do not have. This means that we must actively train techniques for calming the mind in order to purposefully immerse it in a state of calm and ease.
One technique that will help you with this is the practice of meditation . It allows you to minimize everything that distracts the mind, and put it in “non-thinking” mode. There are different styles of this practice, and one of them is sure to serve you well – zazen, “sitting meditation.” Zazen, very popular in Japan, has its roots in Buddhist teachings. This is a time dedicated to maximum awareness and full presence in the present moment.
If you want to do zazen, sit comfortably on the floor. Usually they cross their legs , but if this is uncomfortable for you, just find a position in which you are pleased to remain still for a while. If, for example, you feel more comfortable sitting on a chair or sofa, that’s okay too. Choose an option in which your body will not experience physical stress. You may want to put a pillow on.
If you are prone to colds, wrap yourself in a blanket to keep warm during meditation.
So, sitting comfortably, squint and calmly look at the floor in front of you. You can close your eyes if you like. In traditional zazen practice, you may be asked to sit a few inches from a wall and allow your eyes to focus on it without tension.
Zazen is the practice of absolute awareness, being present in the present moment, and letting go of thoughts that are sure to try to steal your attention . It is also the practice of non-thinking and unwavering focus. When really thoughtful approach, it is great at helping the mind to free itself from thoughts that constantly tempt us, indulge and distract us.
A zazen session traditionally lasts 40 minutes. If you can devote so much time to meditation and are ready to do it, focusing your attention on this period will certainly bring you considerable benefits. However, for the first time, this may be too long, so I suggest starting with a shorter session or just a length that is comfortable for you. Always remember that even a short meditation is better than no meditation at all, and do not think that zazen must be practiced for a certain amount of time to be useful.
If meditation is new to you, I would suggest starting with a small amount of time. Eight minutes will be enough. Exercise twice a day and gradually increase the time from 8 minutes to 20, and then maybe up to 40. Over time, you will become more comfortable and pleasant to sit still for a longer period.
4. Let your emotions rest
Humans are known to be emotional beings; we are capable of experiencing the widest range of emotions, from excitement to frustration, from passion to suffering, and countless other feelings that greatly affect energy and abilities. For people with heightened empathy and sensitivity, the constant surging of emotions can be quite draining and tiring.
And if so, you need to learn how to calm down these waves generated by life circumstances, and, to the best of your ability, strive for equanimity and emotional detachment. We must understand that in order to calm feelings, we must be able to intentionally step back from especially dramatic moments and too strong experiences.
When we choose to take a break from emotions, we give ourselves time to reflect, feel lasting ease, and often find that highs don’t have to be mountain peaks and lows don’t have to be flat deserts as we imagine them to be. When we allow ourselves to relax in this way, our view of emotions changes and it helps to draw a clear line between what really needs our attention and what only distracts us.
5. Let the spirit rest
A spirit of hope is indispensable on the path to healing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t give him a break too. Sometimes, if we cling too tightly to hope or the path of healing and do not loosen our grip even for a minute, this burden becomes too much for the spirit, especially when the path of healing is difficult and long. It is not uncommon for us to be completely consumed by hope, such as when we are battling a serious illness, recovering from a serious injury, or standing up against injustice .
We give ourselves over to our efforts, which can be very, very tiring. But even hopeful endeavors need rest from time to time. We must learn to trust that a little pause will not dilute or dilute our resolve in the slightest. In fact, when we allow ourselves to relax a bit, we can instead gain a renewed sense of purpose. Take time to rest, otherwise your efforts may be short-lived.
The Art of Small Steps is not only a practical guide to meditation, but also a collection of inspiring stories. The book will help you relax, slow down the rhythm of life and find peace of mind.
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