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Yoga for Personal and Social Resilience

Wisdom   |   April 28, 2021  |   by  Swami Vidyananda

“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Yoga helps us develop personal resilience. Yes, the world’s a mess, but I can’t save the whole world. I tried and succeeded mainly at making myself miserable. I was a radio news reporter at the end of the Vietnam war. I wanted badly to change the world through truthful reporting. But I was so stressed by the chaos I saw that I was becoming more and more like the people I thought were the problem—I was increasingly unable to sort out what was true or at least accurate. 

Yoga became my way of coping and eventually, I realized I could serve the world by sharing tools for peace of mind better than I could by stridently objecting to the military-industrial complex. In the process of becoming a whole, happy person, I gradually became a more positive influence on the world around me. Consider this report on the epidemic of stress in 2021. The CDC estimates that stress is a causal factor in an estimated 80% of primary care doctor visits. This is only getting worse with the pandemic. I’m grateful that Integral Yoga gave me the tools to train stress management teachers. 

One reason for what people regard as police misconduct is the non-stop stress of their job and not having the tools or the managerial support to cope in a healthy way. You can’t make accurate assessments of a situation if your internal state is on constant high alert for danger. One retired police officer, Justin Boardman, recently reported in the Washington Post:

“We are scared to death out there. We all experience trauma on a daily basis. And it builds up. We are not taught how to chisel that plaque off our beings. We are not given those tools, and it is not part of the culture, so you start treating the public badly.”

Supporting the police to build resilience in the face of stress would be one small way to help create a cheerful, service-oriented police force. If we could also help at-risk populations cope with their day-to-day trauma through stress reduction skills, we would probably see more peaceful interactions all around.

I know this is one small piece of a complex challenge. I’m profoundly grateful to those who can think and function on a large scale to tackle big problems. The world desperately needs those visionaries. It’s just not what I’m called to do. My path is: “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can” (—Arthur Ashe). This attitude reduces my stress and helps me know that I can do something meaningful to help resolve the many crises I see in the world. 

If ever you find your goodwill turning into frustration—sit down and breathe deeply and gently for a full minute. This one practice alone can help you be a presence of Peace in your small part of the world. Then you can share that peace with someone in need. 

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