Health and wellness

Resilience isn’t just being tough; it’s a skill you can develop, and meditation can help

When it comes to weathering life’s storms, resilience can help. What you need is flexibility and balance – things yoga and meditation will teach you

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 September, 2017, 7:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 April, 2018, 12:20pm

Maybe it’s just coincidence that resilience is trending during these troubled times, but it does seem to have become a buzzword.

Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant examine it in their bestselling book, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, one of hundreds of similar titles online (many aimed at children). The highly motivated can enrol in courses such as the one taught at the University of Minnesota in the United States, “Change: Loss, Opportunity and Resilience” or the online course “Mental Resilience Masterclass”.

Today’s resilience is about how we respond to experiences such as trauma, divorce, bankruptcy, unemployment or a death in the family.

Tara Brach, psychologist and Buddhist meditation guru, puts it this way: “Our habit is to view challenging situations as if something is wrong; that we are a victim and we have a problem. What if instead of a problem, we perceive stress as a signal to call on our resourcefulness, our intelligence, care and courage? Resilience grows when we become intentional about bringing our best to difficult life seasons.”

I have more than just an academic interest in the subject. In the space of four months this past year, my mother and father died; my husband and I separated; and I had a health scare. “Any one of those would be enough to make someone trip if not fall,” was a constant refrain from friends. They were surprised by how resilient I was.

I was, too.

How meditation can improve our health and happiness

Wondering where that newfound resilience had come from, I ask Brach, who tells me that resilience is not a fixed trait; it can be learned. You can develop resilience, and you can lose it as well.

Struggling through those awful months, I felt buffeted by loss, grief and anger. Initially, I saw myself like the towering pecan tree in my backyard – tall, stately, with a very shallow root base and vulnerable to collapse in a storm.

What if instead of a problem, we perceive stress as a signal to call on our resourcefulness, our intelligence, care and courage?
Tara Brach

Through a daily meditation practice I had started six months earlier, I witnessed the shift Brach described. I became more like a weeping willow, with far-reaching roots and a yielding flexibility. Willows rarely topple in the wind, as they are the ultimate go-with-the-flow type of tree.

Resilience, it dawned on me, was more like balance than toughness. As I discovered with yoga, I can easily do what’s called tree pose (balancing on one leg) on some days; those are the days when my body can make the constant recalculations and readjustments necessary to remain steady.

Other days I fall over like, well, a dead tree. That tends to happen when I’m ill, angry, distracted or tired. Over time, however, I’ve developed better ways to deal with what irks me, and my toppling days are fewer.

‘Happiest man in the world’ has a tip for Hongkongers on how to be less stressed out

My journey to resilience began through serendipity. Soon after my mother died, I was browsing at a local bookstore when I picked up The Mindfulness Journal. Author David de Souza, a co-founder of the meditation website Satorio, writes, “You’re going to form the habits of mindfulness and meditation.” I would need to set an intention and be consistent in doing my homework.

As he told me in an interview: “Meditation results in subtle, almost unnoticeable positive changes in our behaviour, adding up over time, like compound interest. It helps you to identify the cause and effect of your emotions and actions, giving you the insight to say, ‘I am behaving like this because I am stressed, angry or hungry.’ ”

The homework was easy: ask myself when I wake up, “How do you feel this morning?” and then give myself a grade from one (bad) to 10 (excellent). Record my exercise: did I walk, go to the gym, do yoga, anything else?

Then the big question: “What are you grateful for today?” De Souza says “it is uplifting, even on a bad day, to find something that will allow you to end the day on a positive note” and to then drift into a restful sleep.”

Meditation leads to an effective use of the brain

The day my father died, I was grateful for the support of my brother and sister, the peace that I hoped Dad had found, and the chocolate ice cream neighbours brought over.

Finally, the little book asks: “did you meditate? For how long?” De Souza is gentle but firm about this: “Meditation teaches us that nothing is permanent and during dark times, provides the knowledge that we will see the light again.”

In the midst of all this, I saw my new circumstances as an opportunity to change, to move in a new direction. I also started seeing myself more like the willow tree – no longer weeping.

That is guidance we all could use in these dark days.

Five places to find inner peace in Hong Kong

Sanctuaries from the city’s hustle and bustle can be found in office blocks and temples. Here is a sampling of some of the longstanding centres that offer resources to help build your own resilience through yoga and meditation.

Anahata Yoga

18/F, One Lyndhurst Tower, No. 1 Lyndhurst Terrace, Central, tel: 2905 1822

Offers many styles of yoga from the traditional such as hatha, Patanjali, Sivananda and kundalini, to the more modern styles such as power yoga, hatha vinyasa and ashtanga vinyasa – all described on its website, with helpful suggestions as to which one may be right for you. Also offers training workshops should you choose to become a teacher yourself.

Kadampa Meditation Centre Hong Kong

16-22 Causeway Rd, Causeway Bay, tel: 2507 2237

Drop-in meditation classes, weekend courses, meditation retreats and regular chanted prayers available, at its headquarters and at seven other satellite locations – including Discovery Bay and Sai Kung, where classes are held in English.

Meditation Centre Hong Kong

Unit 5G, On Fook Industrial Bldg, 41-45 Kwai Fung Crescent, Kwai Fong, tel: 6487 9875

This branch of the Ananda Marga global socio-spiritual organisation teaches yoga, meditation and stress relief techniques. A typical meditation class includes practice, theory, sharing and self discovery. Wellness retreats, detox weekends and stress-relief workshops are also available.

Plum Village Hong Kong

Lotus Pond Temple, Ngong Ping Village, Lantau Island, tel: 2985 5033

Sign up for a retreat at this peaceful sanctuary which promotes Buddhist teachings and practices, including mindfulness, through its Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism. An upcoming retreat, “Be peaceful, happy and free in the present moment”, takes place from October 18 to 22.

Pure Yoga

The Centrium, 16/F, 60 Wyndham St, Central, tel: 2971 0055 (eight other locations in the city)

Has dozens of different types of yoga classes, including yogalates – a combination of yoga and Pilates, Indian dance, aerial, and wall rope. Three different meditation classes appeal to different senses: pranayama focuses on breathing, nidra lets participants fall into a deeply relaxed near-sleep state, and nada incorporates sound vibrations, from chanting to “singing” bowls and other sacred musical instruments.