Building Your Resilience: Finding Meaning in Adversity
Molly Birkholm is a trauma specialist and iRest® trainer affiliated with the iRest Institute; a cofounder of Warriors at Ease; and the CEO of Molly Birkholm, Inc. As a yoga and meditation teacher and trainer, professional speaker, consultant, and writer, she inspires others to create meaningful life changes using research-based yoga and mindfulness meditation techniques. A featured teacher for Yoga International and the host of a year-long, online course called Women’s Empowerment Initiative, Ms. Birkholm has spent extended time living in ashrams and monasteries in India and Bhutan, where she studied yoga, meditation, Sanskrit, and Hindu and Buddhist philosophy. In addition to her training in iRest® Yoga Nidra, Ms. Birkholm has also completed the Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centre Advanced Teachers’ Training Course. As a cofounder of Warriors at Ease, Ms. Birkholm helped pioneer evidence-based, trauma-sensitive yoga and meditation programs for people with post-traumatic stress disorder in the military and other communities affected by trauma. She has conducted innovative clinical research with the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense, and her stress management and trauma treatment programs are shared with leaders and top organizations around the world, including the U.S. Department of Defense, McKinsey & Company, JPMorgan Chase, and the Young Presidents’ Organization.
01: The Foundation of Resilience
Adversity is sure to come to each of us in life. Will we be crippled by it or see an opportunity for growth? The answer lies in our ability to be resilient. Meet the eight themes of resilience this course will bring to life: core values and purpose, finding meaning in adversity, equanimity, self-care, healthy coping skills, a positive sense of self, support and connection with others, and a proactive worldview.
02: The Hero’s Journey
Whether or not you think of yourself as a hero, chances are the adversity in your life has caused you to walk the hero’s journey. Discover what that journey entails—illustrated by your instructor’s own life—from initial call to adventure, through the ordeal and rebirth, until stepping into your new truth in a world that no longer seems as ordinary as you’d once thought.
03: The Resilient Human Spirit
Learn how humans have nurtured a spirit of resilience for thousands of years through instinct, “deep listening,” the Golden Rule, rites of passage, and faith—whether spiritual or not. Studying these practices, scientists are now confirming and promoting some of these techniques as ways to process adverse experiences and return to harmony.
04: The Consequences of Stress
Humans have always experienced periods of acute stress, and we have the nervous system to prove it. Explore how the sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for the fight-flight-freeze response, and how the parasympathetic nervous system relaxes the body when the cause of stress has passed. But if the cause of stress becomes chronic, serious long-term health consequences can result.
05: Mastering Physical Resilience
We often think of physical resilience as our body’s physical strength and fitness—the stronger we are, the quicker we’ll bounce back. But that’s only part of it. Learn about the additional skills needed to recover well from physical stress, illness, or injury. You’ll see that building physical resilience is not just what you do, it’s also how and why you do it.
06: Improving Emotional Resilience
We’ve been socialized to believe positive emotions are good and negative emotions are bad, but that is far from the truth. Our emotions are simply our individual responses to the situations we experience; we can accept, pay attention to, and learn from all of them. Explore some coping mechanisms for regulating your emotions—which some scientists see as the single most vital aspect of resilience.
07: Strengthening Mental Resilience
Our mind is the gatekeeper to our perception of our lived experience, and it has the power to make or break our ability to recover from adversity. While we can’t completely control what we think, we can control how we understand and react to those thoughts. Explore the important relationships between your thoughts, belief systems, and core values, and learn why psychological flexibility is the foundation of mental resilience.
08: The Practice of Self-care
Does self-care sound uncomfortably self-focused and egotistical to you? If so, remember that caring for yourself is a crucial component of your own resilience, as well as giving you the energy and ability to help others. Learn how the Wheel of Life exercise can help you determine where you’re lacking in self-care, and how to create and manage your own Self-Care Journal to improve your resilience.
09: The Rewards of Sleep
We often think of sleep as simply what’s left over at the end of the day. But to the contrary: healthy sleep patterns can transform your life with improved physical and mental health, better memory, and even increased longevity. Learn how to prepare your bedroom, your body, and your mind for high-quality sleep, and the many ways in which your phone can both hinder and help you achieve that goal.
10: Finding Equanimity with Mindfulness
Our lives can feel like swirling maelstroms of sensory input, thoughts, and emotions. But there is a way to find the stillness that permanently exists beneath it all—meditation. Validated by thousands of scientific studies, meditation has been proven to enhance almost every aspect of life. Experience the power of mindfulness meditation and learn how it can help you find peace in the present moment.
11: Understanding Trauma
All trauma—whether caused by a single event or prolonged exposure to a traumatic pattern—affects our physical body and our mind. Trauma causes specific changes in the brain and even in the genetics of reproduction. Learn why, without help, the mind and body can get stuck in the loop of the sympathetic nervous system’s trauma response. And how, with appropriate help, the mind and body can heal.
12: Discovering Post-Traumatic Growth
Those who can process their trauma can move forward to become stronger, wiser, and more resilient. Using Harriet Beecher Stowe as a fascinating example, you’ll learn how post-traumatic growth can lead to improved personal strength, the opening of new possibilities, spiritual change, and greater appreciation for life. We can become more resilient because of—not despite—adversity.
13: Suzi Landolphi on Post-Traumatic Growth
You will thoroughly enjoy this enlightening conversation between your instructor and Suzi Landolphi, a well-known leader in the post-traumatic growth movement, who currently works with combat veterans as a PATHH Guide (Progressive and Alternative Training for Healing Heroes). Just as trauma can be transmitted to successive generations, so can post-traumatic growth, she says. She sees it all the time.
14: Cultivating Community and Connection
Human beings are wired for connection to others; our initial cognitive development depends on physical touch, and our “mirror neurons” teach us how to be human based on our interactions with others. Learn how to develop quality connections with others, connections that will help you thrive and increase resilience. Your instructor shares the inspiring stories of two individuals who did just that.
15: Finding Safety
When we feel unsafe, our brains become stuck in the response of the sympathetic nervous system and we have very little access to higher cognitive functioning. Learn how to increase your number of protective factors, increasing your feeling of safety and your resilience. The goal isn’t to eliminate the risk of danger, but rather to have as much control over it as possible.
16: Opening to Joy and Gratitude
Authentic, lasting joy is an internal experience, not dependent upon any circumstances outside of ourselves. Learn how to find authentic joy by opening up to all of life—allowing yourself to feel the full range of your feelings, including those emotions you’ve been taught to bury—and taking responsibility for your own choices in your unique journey.
17: Practice 1: Building Resilience
Instructor Birkholm takes you through a gentle yoga practice to help build awareness of your body, feelings, and beliefs. No yoga experience is necessary. You’ll be guided by this step-by-step instruction, which is modeled both standing and sitting. At the end of the practice, you’ll experience a deep relaxation pose, resting in the stillness that is always available to you.
18: Practice 2: De-stressing with Your Breath
Learning to work with breathing is particularly powerful, as breath is the only function of the autonomic nervous system we can control. You’ll practice the three-part yogic breath, relaxation breath, energizing breath, and alternate-nostril breathing, among others. You’ll develop a better understanding of the yogic saying: “the mind affects the breath, and the breath affects the mind.”
19: Practice 3: Promoting Sleep
This practice will guide you through the steps of preparing for sleep. You’ll learn how to focus your attention on the good things that happened during your day as you start to settle in. You’ll enjoy relaxing all parts of the body—front, back, and sides—getting rid of tension wherever you’re carrying it. The guided meditation at the end of the practice might lead you directly into sleep.
20: Practice 4: Relaxing Yoga for Self-Care
This yoga practice—whether sitting or lying down—releases your body’s tension and encourages you to connect to your physical experiences on a deeper level. You’ll learn movements and breathing techniques that can be used during an average day at a desk or in a car. You’ll learn to let the breath carry the pose and find that union between body, mind, breath, and spirit.
21: Practice 5: Practicing Mindfulness
In this mindfulness practice, you’ll continue to build awareness of your physical body, emotions, and mind. You’ll learn how to witness your thoughts and emotions in the present moment as they move in and out of your mind, without labeling them “good” or “bad.” This powerful practice will open up a new way for you to relate to your own thoughts, memories, and beliefs.
22: Practice 6: Evoking the Relaxation Response
In this practice, you’ll learn how to trigger your body’s parasympathetic nervous system, your relaxation response, whenever you want to calm down. You’ll use your breath to continually invite your body to relax—and then notice your body’s response without judgment. These techniques are always available to you and can be applied at any time throughout your day.
23: Practice 7: Finding Safety with Yoga Nidra
In this practice, you’ll learn how to find safety and peacefulness within yourself. You’ll be guided through a very deep relaxation, a safe and peaceful awareness similar to what you might experience just before sleep. This is the peace that is always available to you, no matter what’s going on around you in the outside world, a stillness you can always access.
24: Your Hero’s Journey
Resilience, one of the most important skills we can master, is essential to navigating life successfully and reaching our fullest potential. As we each go through our own hero’s journey, we venture through life’s trials and tribulations, but also through its beauty and rewards. Learn how to identify and evaluate your personal strengths, and how they will help you on your own hero’s journey.