Cultivate self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to see, understand and accept our beliefs, habits and behavior without judgment. Then we can consciously choose to make changes, remain unchanged with full awareness of the consequences or find acceptance and peace of mind if change is not possible. Research shows that people with self-awareness skills tend to have better psychological health, a positive outlook on life and are likely to be more compassionate to themselves and others. This larger sense of self results in the ability to navigate life with resilience from a calm center no matter the swirls, whirls and storms that will inevitably surround us.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Beth Gibbs.
After years of working for media, higher education and non-profit organizations, Beth Gibbs, M.A. is ‘free-tired’ and pursuing her passions of writing, teaching, and leading workshops on yoga, personal growth and self-awareness to inspire, inform, and entertain. She has published a children’s book, Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, and a personal growth book for adults titled, Enlighten Up! Finding Clarity, Contentment and Resilience in a Complicated World. She blogs at https://www.bethgibbs.com/enlightenup.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
I was raised in a middle class Black family in a small New England factory town. We were not middle class by profession; my dad was a janitor and my mom, a secretary but we owned property. We were middle class by values. Because of the work ethic of my mom’s family in earlier generations we had two houses on two lots side-by-side. Both mortgages had been paid off long ago.
My mom worked during the day and my dad worked the night shift. Because my father needed to sleep during the day, my brother and I would go next door to Aunt Lucy’s house after school for snacks and hugs. My mom and my aunt were the foundational rocks on which my view of life as an adult was built. That view included getting a college education, establishing a professional career and always having my own money. I listened and followed their advice. They are both gone now but I think they’d be proud of me.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
This is the story of how my yoga book for children came into being. The inspiration came from an experience I had teaching yoga in an after school program at a local elementary school. A young girl was being disruptive. When I asked her why she came to class, since she didn’t seem to like it, and participation was voluntary, she replied, “When I feel bad at home, I go sit on my bed and say “Om” and it makes me feel better.”
This child, in spite of her behavior, had made the connection between a challenge she faced and using a yoga technique as an effective self-management tool for her mental well being — she had learned one way to become more resilient. After talking and listening to other children in the classes and in the summer camp yoga program I ran, the book was born. The book’s central purpose is to help children use ‘anywhere anytime’ easy yoga techniques for self- reflection, self-awareness and the ability to build resilience and reduce stress. The book is now part of the curriculum for the summer camp and has served over 7,000 children. The main take away is that children are wiser than we think and even when troubled are open to learning ways to become more resilient.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
The mission of ProYoga Therapeutics, through teaching and writing, is to help students, clients and friends learn and practice self-awareness skills to find clarity, contentment and resilience. Here are two recent comments about Enlighten Up!:
“Beth, this book could not have come at a better time in my life! Without getting into details, I have been using it as a self-help approach to my current emotional fragility. In particular, I’ve found the meditations ideas to be super helpful. This morning Awareness of Sensations became my new BFF. Amazing way to start the day…every day. Of course your wit and sense of humor is the icing on the cake! Thanking you from the bottom of my heart for this delicious gift!!”
“ — — — I have been working on learning how to set boundaries probably for years given my ego’s need to assume I need to help or rescue and provide solutions, often enabling others. This week I summoned the courage to withdraw my energy from a very one sided, needy relationship. Whew. Feel so much lighter. I am still working on my recovery emotionally, mentally and physically from that long period of serious health challenge. I’ve been working on developing self awareness for quite a while, but this critical voice inside kept telling me it was selfish. How great to read how important this work is. It was time to recognize I need to change some more things! I appreciate your help. I am so proud of you, proud to know you, and learn how you have moved forward through big challenges and continue to bring so much health and healing to others.” S. B.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My teacher for the yoga and yoga therapy training I took is Joseph Le Page, founder of Integrative Yoga Therapy and a pioneer in the development of yoga therapy training programs. After my basic training, I was asked to assist. In between tasks I attended all of his lectures because the material was academic, philosophical, clear and inspirational. Soon I was asked to provide a few informational sessions on methodology — taking the teachings home and applying them to classes, private sessions and personal practice. I loved the work.
In addition l was still attending his lectures because the even though the topics were similar, the presentations were always fresh. Next I was asked to be a mentor for beginning students and then tasked with directing the mentorship program. A few years later he asked me to teach his philosophy material in one of the trainings. This was unexpected and more than a little terrifying as I am not a Sanskrit scholar with deep knowledge of the traditional philosophy. I asked him why he thought I could do it. He said, because I had attended all of his lectures during the past trainings, he could not think of a better person.
His confidence in my ability to teach and write is still helpful in my work today. He wrote an endorsement for my children’s book and most recently, the foreword to Enlighten Up! my personal growth book for adults.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
Resilience is the ability to rebound from a crisis, tragedy, trauma or a serious case of ‘stress mess.’ Research says that resiliency varies from person to person due to a variety of factors, including genetics, but like any skill, resiliency can be learned. Highly resilient people won’t fall apart easily, and when we do (cause’ we will!) it won’t be for long. Why? Resilient people tend to share several common characteristics.
- Cultivate self-awareness
- Practice self-care
- Know how to handle emotions
- Keep calm in stressful situations
- Practice gratitude
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
“It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.”
— Lena Horne, American dancer, actress, Grammy-winning singer, and civil rights activist
Both courage and resilience are qualities and behaviors needed to face and deal with difficulty. I think of the difference this way. Courage can help us face an emergency, difficulty or traumatic event with confidence, in spite of fear, in the short term. Resilience is the mental ability and behaviors needed to recover from any long term reactions resulting from the situation.
In other words, many of us find the courage needed to face difficulty but lack the resilience to manage long term effects such as chronic stress, anxiety, panic, emotional withdrawal or PTSD. A resilient person will have discovered and practiced tools to manage long term reactions resulting from difficulty faced with courage.
It’s recommended to build a capacity for resilience before having to face a difficult situation requiring courage. For example, if we are working on living healthier in body, mind and spirit, we’ve been building the resilience we’ll need when difficulty arises. This includes the wisdom to seek professional help when needed.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
If I look to history, I think of Harriet Tubman, a woman who faced tremendous odds in her life. She was an enslaved woman who escaped and then made some 13 missions to rescue approximately 70 other enslaved people via the Underground Railroad. She also helped the Union Army during the Civil War, working as a spy. She lived to be 93 years old. Sounds pretty resilient to me!
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
In high school my guidance counselor told me she didn’t think I could handle college and recommended I enroll in secretarial school. At the time I didn’t know why she said that. My grades were consistently good — A’s, B’s and an occasional ‘C’ (math). I didn’t believe her because of the lessons I’d gotten from the women in my life especially my mom, and my aunt Lucy. I knew without a doubt, I’d be going to college. The only question was which one.
After hearing similar stories from my Black friends I understood what happened. The high school incident likely happened because of the biases, implicit or otherwise, from the counselor who was white.
That experience left a lasting impression and to this day, if I know or feel I can do something, it doesn’t matter how many people tell me I can’t.
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
In my fifties, I found myself in a troubled marriage. It was a second marriage for both of us.
Pre-marriage he was (he said) proud of my independence and accomplishments. Soon after the wedding, my independence and accomplishments turned into problems — for him. I hung in, determined to find a way to make things work, with long talks, date nights, and marriage counseling. Counseling failed because after dealing with his issues with me, the counselor was ready to work on my issues with him. He refused to continue. I saw another counselor to understand my own issues as a co-dependent maladaptive perfectionist. After much reflection I planned to file for divorce as soon as my stepson graduated from high school. Shortly before that date my husband became sick, and ended up in the hospital diagnosed with diabetes. I put divorce plans on hold and did everything I could to support him. A few months later he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, underwent surgery, and was told the tumor was cancerous, a glioblastoma, and he had six months to a year to live. He died within a the year and left me facing financial disaster with big bills, and a big house with two mortgages.
After the anger, cursing and crying my resilience surfaced. My internal dialog became ‘what’s the issue, what’s the process to address the issue and how long is it going to take me to get through this.’ Looking back at other difficulties, I’ve faced, it’s always my pragmatic side that eventually peeks through. I give thanks to those ‘be independent and self-reliant’ messages I got as a child. I also credit the tools of yoga and meditation I gained as an adult.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
Initially my resilience came from modeling the women in my family. As a child I watched my mom, and my aunt Lucy do it all as they took on responsibility for family life, work outside the home, community involvement and church projects. I never heard or saw them ask for help. Why? I can guess. It might be that strong Black woman stereotype or the independent streak many of us carry. It formed me and helped me become resilient — — — up to a point.
As an adult I had to unlearn some of it because I found myself stressed out with my ‘to do’ lists, work and social obligations. I found myself believing that asking for help was a weakness.
My yoga and meditation practices helped me see that asking for help when needed and accepting it with gratitude when offered is a sign of resilience, wisdom and strength. I no longer believe it’s a sign of weakness (well, most of the time — it’s a process).
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
Remember that resilient people
- Cultivate self-awareness
- Practice self-care
- Know how to handle their emotions
- Keep calm in stressful situations
- Practice gratitude
Here are five steps toward being more resilient that address those desirable qualities and behaviors.
1. Cultivate self-awareness. Self-awareness is the ability to see, understand and accept our beliefs, habits and behavior without judgment. Then we can consciously choose to make changes, remain unchanged with full awareness of the consequences or find acceptance and peace of mind if change is not possible. Research shows that people with self-awareness skills tend to have better psychological health, a positive outlook on life and are likely to be more compassionate to themselves and others. This larger sense of self results in the ability to navigate life with resilience from a calm center no matter the swirls, whirls and storms that will inevitably surround us.
2. Practice self-care. Self-care on a daily basis is key to building resilience and managing short or long-term stress. Relaxation Breath is a technique that can be practiced anytime, anywhere and in any situation. It does four things at the same time. It:
- Brings your attention to your breath
- Allows you to take fewer breaths per minute
- Lengthens your exhalation
- Calms the nervous system
Why it works: Science has found that in addition to its metabolic functions in keeping us alive, how we breathe has a relationship to how we feel. For example, when we feel stressed, angry or in pain we often hold our breath, breathe rapidly or take short shallow breaths. When we become aware of how our breath reacts to stress, intense emotions or pain, we can begin to manage our breathing, which in turn can lower the impact of stress on the body and the mind. Regular practice helps build resilience and improves our response to stress.
How to do it: Instructions
1. Sit with your spine comfortably aligned.
2. Soften your chest and shoulders.
3. Close your eyes or keep them slightly open with a downward gaze.
4. Inhale normally. Exhale normally.
5. After exhaling, (and before you take another breath in), hold your breath out and silently count “one thousand one, one thousand two.”
6. Repeat and continue for 2–3 minutes or longer if you are comfortable.
If you practice regularly, you will be able to use this technique in situations when you must stand and keep your eyes open.
3. Know how to handle emotions. Understanding the mind, with its thoughts, emotions, and belief systems is key to cultivating self-awareness and building resilience. Suppressing, repressing or trying to rid ourselves of difficult thoughts, emotions or experiences is not helpful. The real goal is to recognize, become aware of, acknowledge and accept what we find with compassion and without judgment. The next step is deciding to take whatever action is necessary to help us move toward clarity, contentment and internal resilience.
The words emotion and feeling are often used interchangeably but emotions are physical responses to stimuli that begin deep in the brain and result in physical sensations and biochemical reactions that can be measured. Feelings, on the other hand, are said to be the result of having emotions. They are mental associations and reactions to emotions. What we feel is influenced by our experiences, beliefs, and memories.
Think of it this way. Fear is an emotion, but panic is a feeling. Happiness is an emotion; excitement is a feeling. Anger is an emotion, but irritation is a feeling. Mindful awareness is one way of understanding what it means to witness and work with our emotions. It is easier said then done, which is why it requires discipline and practice.
4. Keep calm in stressful situations. Grounding is one way to practice remaining calm during stressful times. It can be thought of as both a quality and a practice. As a quality it means becoming aware of and connecting ourselves to our body, breath and mind. As a practice it means to literally connect ourselves to the earth — a symbol of stability, safety and security.
The Roots Visualization is my favorite practice for grounding. I learned it many years ago from a teacher during my 200-hour yoga training. I still use it to ‘stand my ground’ in stressful situations instead of giving in to my first impulse to flee or freeze. I also practice it when I’m feeling spacey and distracted and need to focus. If parts of your body are missing due to amputation, or removal by surgery, it is important to know that missing parts are often experienced energetically and this should not prevent anyone from experiencing the benefits of grounding through the practice of visualization.
Roots Visualization, Instructions
1. If appropriate and accessible, take off your shoes, connect your bare feet to the ground and close your eyes.
2. If you find yourself in a situation, place, or time where you cannot take off your shoes or close your eyes, direct your attention to your legs and feet to sense a deeper contact to the earth, floor, or wheelchair footrests beneath you.
3. Begin to visualize roots growing from your body, starting from the base of the spine. Feel roots reaching down through your legs through the bottoms of your feet to pierce through the earth’s crust.
4. Visualize your roots branching and spreading, growing stronger and reaching deeper into the earth. Sense the strength, support, and the stability that your branching roots send back to fill your entire body.
5. With each inhale, begin to draw in strength, support, and stability and allow that feeling to deepen your connection to the physical world and your place in it.
6. Draw the quality of grounding through the bones of your feet and legs to the base of your spine and all the way up to the crown of your head. Feel your entire body safe, secure, stable and connected to the physical world allowing you to stand your ground and speak your truth.
As you do this you may feel some tingling or pulsing in your feet and legs. That’s a good thing because energy flows where intention goes. You can shorten or lengthen the visualization as needed. When you attune yourself to your need in the moment you can stand your ground assertively, appropriately, and confidently.
5. Practice gratitude. Gratitude is defined as being thankful and appreciative for something or someone. We can think of gratitude in both internal and external ways. These can be:
- Good things and people in the world (external)
- Our ability to recognize and affirm the good in the world (internal)
- Gifts, help, luck and life benefits received (external)
- Our ability to appreciate life and what we’ve received (internal)
- Relating to self and others compassionately in spite of challenges (internal and external)
Research shows that gratitude can activate the production of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, the “feel good” chemicals, that promote feelings of peace and contentment, reduce anxiety and enhance sleep patterns. A gratitude practice provides these benefits in spite of challenges, difficulties, and disappointments. Think building resilience!
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
If I could inspire a movement to bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people it would be to help others develop self-awareness on all levels of BE-ing through the five-layer model of self-awareness, which proposes we are much more than a mind interacting with a body.
Understanding ourselves through the five layers of BE-ing provides a 360-degree view of what it means to be human and gives us a broader foundation for self-awareness and exploration than the more well known mind/body model. The five layers of self-awareness are:
- Physical — This includes your body and your environment. This is you: your size, shape, gender identification, race and ethnicity, anatomy, physiology, your home and the planet we all share.
- Energetic — This includes your breath and energy levels. The oxygen you breathe and the invisible life force animating you at all levels enabling you to think, create, move, love, work and navigate all that life brings.
- Mental — Your thoughts, beliefs and emotions. This is how you think, what you think about, what you believe, and how you experience and express your emotions.
- Intuitive wisdom — This is the witness, the ability to observe all of your layers and your life with compassion and without judgment to consciously make (or not) more informed choices.
- Bliss — This is your connection to something larger than yourself. This can be spiritual, religious, or a deep connection to a healthy passion or the natural world.
The first known mention of the five layers of self-awareness (the koshas) comes from the Taittiriya Upanishad, a 3,000-year-old philosophical text from India.
Each layer operates moment to moment in our daily lives. If we move through our lives on autopilot with no awareness of our body, how we’re breathing, or our habits, routines, beliefs, emotions, impulses and reactions, we lose power. When we succeed in understanding how our layers work and how they are interconnected, we will gain a better understanding of how and why we react the way we do to what life presents. Then the choices we make are conscious. Our responses are healthier, balanced and more productive. We build resilience. This requires attention and effort. It will take time, but the result will be more clarity, contentment and resilience. In other words, the juice will be worth the squeeze.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Clarissa Pinkola Estes. I love her books. She’s an American poet, psychoanalyst, post-trauma specialist and a first-generation American of Mexican mestiza and majority Magyar and minority Swabian tribal heritages. She knows a lot about rising through resilience!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
My website and Enlighten Up! blog can be found at: www.bethgibbs.com
Yoga for Healthy Aging: yogaforhealthyaging.blogspot.com
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!