“We can actually learn, build and improve our ability to find our center in whatever situation arises. In other words, we can all build resilience with practice.”
Resilience. It seems to me that this word is now everywhere! I don’t know if it is a phenomenon of frequency illusion or if it has truly become the buzzword of 2020. As a parent I have often received unsolicited advice such as, “Don’t worry about (xyz issue), kids are resilient.” According to the Oxford English Dictionary, resilience means “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.” In Sanskrit, many words have deep and complex meanings. My sense of what resilience means goes deeper than adapting or bouncing back. It is made up of many components like self-awareness, mindfulness, self care, positive relationships and purpose. Each of these components can be broken down further into specific skills like competence, confidence, connection, character, contribution, coping and control. These facets of resilience aren’t innate. We can actually learn, build and improve our ability to find our center in whatever situation arises. In other words, we can all build resilience with practice.
One of my long-time yoga students has taught me a lot about resilience. Her inspirational story has changed the direction of my purpose. About 5 or so years ago, she consistently attended my beginner yoga classes. I could see her dedication and commitment and a visible change in her confidence as time went on. After a month or so she asked what other classes would be appropriate for her to attend. She then started taking meditative postures and workout classes. A couple of years later, I moved on from teaching public classes in the search for a new studio space. In that interim and out of the blue I received an email from this student! That day my eyes were opened to what an impact yoga had had on her life. She shared that she’d been transformed by her practice and that yoga had changed her life. In particular, the connection between her breath and body. She asked if I would come to teach yoga for her students and their families at “Back to School Family Night.” Unbeknownst to me, she had begun using what she’d learned in yoga to help manage her high stress as the principal of an elementary school. This school is in a very poor neighborhood. Many of the families who live here have experienced homelessness and food insecurity and speak English as a second language. The school is concerned about childhood abuse and trauma due to high rates of violence, crime and substance abuse in the local community. At school, there had been a high rate of incidences such as outbursts, destroying the classroom and fighting.
Based on her experience in yoga with the power of her breath, my student realized she could try implementing simple breathing each day into the school’s routine to help the students and teachers. In 2015, she started each school day with a school-wide “mindful minute” where she led breathing and short mindfulness exercises. Over time the students learned that when they heard the meditation chime ring they would be invited to place their feet on the floor, sit upright and close their eyes. The entire school participated every single day for the last 5 or so years. The principal also recognized the importance of a quiet place for the kids who were acting out. In 2017, they created a space for positive behavior interventions with social-emotional learning books, yoga mats, meditation cushions, music, aromatherapy and crayons and paper for drawing, called the Harmony Room. Students who were escalated could be in this safe place and breathe, find center again and then return to their classes when they were feeling more stable and grounded. In addition, she hired myself and another yoga teacher to lead specific behavior-intervention groups. With these tools, they documented a significant decrease in incidences. Even the entire staff was trained in a special “breath taking” protocol so that everyone felt ready to utilize this intervention with the students. Anecdotally, the district administrators were impressed with how quickly and effectively students quieted down for assemblies and other exciting events just with the sound of the meditation bell. She has expressed that when hardships and difficulties have happened within the school district (for example, the tragic death of a middle school student due to bullying) that her elementary school team was prepared and ready to handle the crisis within their campus. They had developed a sense of empowerment and control, confidence and coping strategies. Students and teachers had already been practicing breathing, mindfulness, and talking about their feelings and creating a sense of belonging. They had built their skills of resilience over time which created a sense of steadiness throughout the campus.
I am honored to be a part of someone’s journey of well-being in such a profound way. The skills that my student gained through her practice changed her life. She in turn shared her knowledge with her co-workers, the staff, the students and then the families of the students in her school. I then came into an environment that was already receptive to yoga, mindfulness and meditation, making the family nights a positive experience for everyone. I am curious to see how the impact of the pandemic will affect the culture and climate of her school. I am hopeful that the strong foundation she created will buoy them through difficult times. This positive story is just one example of the healing power of yoga and mindfulness and the potential to create ripples of resilience to touch the lives of many!
About Angela Andiorio
Angela is a certified Pranakriya Yoga and Prenatal Yoga teacher and Co-Founder of Heart and Goal, a consulting and training business for educators and health care professionals where our goal is to cultivate resilience through self-care and mindfulness practices. Yoga has been her cornerstone throughout her life and its many changes and transitions.