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Bouncing Back

Bouncing Back

Building Resilience through Yoga

Hardasmalani, Madhu MD

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/01.EEM.0000522227.97537.4a
    yoga, wellness
    yoga, wellness:
    yoga, wellness

    You don't need to hear one more time that emergency physicians have the highest burnout rate in the medical community. And you know the reasons. What you want to know is what can you do about this?

    One way to prevent burnout is to develop resilience, which has become a real buzzword, not only in medicine but also in other professions. Being resilient means dealing with pain without getting caught in the suffering. In the simplest terms, resilience is an ongoing process that gives us the ability to return to the original form after being bent, compressed, or stretched.

    How do we get resilient? Is this something you are born with, or can it be cultivated? The answer is yes to both questions. Some people are born with more resilient traits than others; these people see the glass as half-full. But we can also cultivate resiliency by trying to create a balance using various tools. Achieving resilience means bouncing back from adversity by developing a strong mind, body, and spiritual or faith connection. The practice of yoga is a perfect tool to achieve this connection. All forms of exercise can help us feel better, but yoga is the only form of exercise that isn't fatiguing and helps us connect the three important aspects of resilience: body, mind, and spirit.

    Yoga literally means “union” of the body with mind and spirit via the breath. Our breath is the cord or the connection between our physical body and consciousness. Yoga facilitates this connection, and is the most ancient form of exercise, originating in India 5000 years ago. People practicing yoga in those days were called yogis, and they recognized that by doing yogic postures, also called asanas, with breath control helps to control anxiety and develop positivity. They discovered that yoga practice helps untie subconscious knots that prevent us from living to our highest potential.

    Hold a Pose

    Yoga has innumerable benefits, from back pain relief to anti-aging effects. Its physical postures, breath control, and concentration help to build resilience. The physical postures involve forward, backward, and lateral bends that not only stretch our muscles but also massage our internal organs and endocrine glands. This leads to down-regulation of the hypothalamus-pituitary axis and the sympathetic nervous system. (J Altern Complement Med 2010;16[1]:3.)

    The postures stimulate blood and lymphatic flow that enable our body to get rid of toxins and decrease inflammatory markers. Stimulating peripheral nerves, primarily the vagus nerve, directly influences our brain and heart. Yoga has been shown to improve brain-derived neurotrophic factor, enabling our brain to develop new neural pathways and improved positive thought patterns. (Indian J Psychiatry 2013;55[Suppl 3]:S400.)

    Pushing ourselves during yoga practice to hold a pose when it seems we have reached our limit helps develop emotional resilience over time, and we become more confident and bold in our decisions. Regular practice of asanas makes us more centered and grounded in the midst of chaos and challenge.

    Controlling our breathing with slow inhalation and exhalation coupled with the postures helps to balance our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. (Int J Prev Med 2012;3[7]:444.) Diaphragmatic and abdominal breathing activates our parasympathetic nervous system, which enables us to return to calmness and homeostasis. Yogic breathing that involves abdominal, thoracic, and clavicular breathing techniques helps facilitate improved oxygenation that encourages optimal functioning of our vital organs. This helps build physical and mental resilience over time.

    The third component of concentration and meditation helps with enhanced focus. (Front Hum Neurosci 2014;8:770.) It also increases our self-awareness, making us more present. We learn to observe without judgment, to change our perspective rather than trying to change the situation, and to be more introspective, all of which help develop spiritual resilience over time.

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    Be Resilient, Be Well

    Bouncing Back is devoted to the art and science of being resilient and well. Emergency physicians inevitably face challenges and adversity, and resiliency is the art of learning to bend and not break. This column hopes to equip, encourage, and inspire EPs not just to survive but to flourish.

    Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc. All rights reserved.