Feel yourself less as matter and more as energy. If you can develop a capacity for sitting with feeling and sensation, you’ll have what the yogis call “prajna”, a deep felt-sense way of knowing that can cut through the noise of health advice and make your path toward well-being much more obvious.
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 Dayna Yvonne Jondal, M.A., NBC-HWC, RYT-500, a Pillar National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach.
Dayna offers Integrative Health Coaching and Yoga Therapy to individuals and companies looking to build mental fitness, resilience, and learn communication strategies that strengthen relationships. She has a M.A. in Integrative Health & Well-being Coaching, is a National Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach, and is an Advanced Teacher of Therapeutic Yoga, en route to become a Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT). When she is not coaching or teaching yoga, she enjoys developing curriculum and training new coaches with organizations such as Emory University and Mindbodygreen.
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?
Of course! I used to be a math & philosophy major in my undergrad, which means I was analytical and frequently caught in my head. I got a full ride to law school but during L1, my body sort of collapsed from stress and I was suffering panic attacks. Around the same time, I discovered yoga, which helped me get out of my head and start inhabiting my body. Yoga offered me a direct, experiential way of knowing about my mind and body that slowly but dramatically improved my health. Over the course of several years, I kept learning, found my way into a Masters program in Integrative Health & Well-being Coaching, began a yoga therapy training program at Kripalu, and eventually healed my panic attacks with holistic lifestyle medicine and functional nutrition strategies. I’m interested in everything philosophical and well-being related — the rest is history!
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?
One interesting story was when I led a 7- week holistic weight loss coaching group at a yoga studio, and one of my participants lost 20 lbs. When I asked her what helped her succeed, she simply said, “mindful eating.” That’s when I really started to believe that empowering others in their awareness is more effective then just educating them.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
One thing that makes my offering stand out is the combination of yoga therapy and health coaching. Currently these are offered as separate services, but because so much of my perspective on health + healing is informed by yoga, I wouldn’t be surprised if I just started combining the two, especially for clients that are interested in that. Right now I’m still heavily involved in both conventional medical models and CAM modalities, and I believe in being a bridge-builder, rather than cutting myself off from any therapeutic that could help someone heal. Right now I’m contracting with a women’s health practice, helping to bring health coaching into the health care team for women at all stages of life. I’m also training new health coaches to elevate this career into an ethical, respected, and reimbursable allied health profession.
As a solo practitioner and contractor, I am on a continual journey to greater health and authenticity. I am more interested in “wisdom” than knowledge, and I know that my perspective is limited. That’s why I try to empower my clients to access their own wisdom instead of merely looking to me as the expert.
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?
Oh wow, there are so many teachers I love. I hope they don’t mind me mentioning them. Some that stand out are my philosophy professors Charles Taliaferro, who taught me about love, and Gordon Marino, who taught me about tough love (haha, just kidding Doc.) But seriously, Marino helped me with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and those thinkers have radically increased my passion for life and helped me grapple with existential questions, which is super helpful when you’re talking about health-threatening conditions in coaching.
I also want to thank my yoga teachers like Kaelash Neels and Joseph Le Page, David Frenk & Megan Doll, Maria Mendola, and Mary Northey. These teachers helped me understand that intellectual knowing only gets you so far, and embodied knowing/ practice is the path to health and healing. All of them emanate love and wisdom, and you can feel their heart when you’re near them. There are more people too — like Karen Lawson and Linda Bark, who really are visionaries in the coaching field and I’m eternally grateful to them for their patience with me as a student. They planted an integral/ integrative vision within me of what conscious health care can look like. And then there’s my viola and orchestra professors, like Steve Amundson and Charles Gray. Orchestra has given me many of the metaphors I rely upon when thinking about health, harmony, resonance, and healing.
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?
Let’s begin by discussing what resilience is not. Resilience is not invincibility. It may involve a hardiness or grit, but it doesn’t make you immune to life. Interesting that you mention resilience as a trait. With neuroplasticity, what we want to do is take states and — through practice — install them as traits. I learned from Rick Hanson that about 1/3 of our attributes are innate and 2/3 acquired through learning, so the new thinking is that resilience can be learned. People come into the world with genetic predispositions — they may be inherently more or less disposed to bouncing back from various challenges.
When talking about resilience as a characteristic, I prefer ecological metaphors. We can create conditions that make rising from adversity more likely and well-being more likely, but these conditions are never a guarantee of a specific outcome. If you think of a forest, you can create conditions for certain species to thrive and other species to die off, but if a meteor hits that forest, well, that’s the boundary of your influence — c’est la vie. Resilience is similar — and it has several dimensions. I like Heartmath’s model which describes four: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
- Physical resilience, as I understand it, refers not only to strength and flexibility but to your biological resilience, your immunity and ability to learn & grow stronger through exposures.
- Emotional resilience refers to your ability to sit with emotions, label them with some degree of granularity, honor them as life-giving data without identifying with them, metabolize them, and empathize with others’ emotions. It also includes the capacity to experience positive emotions.
- Spiritual resilience refers to your connection to a larger sense of meaning or purpose.
- Mental resilience — the dimension we’re more familiar with — is being able to shift perspectives, adopt a growth mindset, take a balanced view, learned optimism, etc.
Resilient people tend to be self-aware, compassionate, relational and don’t take themselves too seriously — they have a capacity to be playful. They are always learning, growing, and can see the humor in things. I also see resilient people as having an identity beyond just their ego — this is a spiritual resilience.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
Conceptually, I think courage is different from resilience. For some, courage may be a sub-characteristic of resilience. Courage, to me, refers to acting bravely whereas resilience describes a sort of ecosystem or choice that makes it more likely that the system will bounce back from adverse circumstances in a health-promoting way. If we buy into neuroplasticity, then both courage and resilience can be practiced, such that a state becomes more of a trait over time.
That being said, it takes a lot of courage to turn inward and honestly evaluate your own health, and then take steps to change. So it would not surprise me if resilient people tended to be more courageous overall since they feel safer interpreting challenges as growth opportunities. It takes courage to “know thyself” and practice speaking authentically in relationships. The root of the word courage is “coeur”, which means heart, so I think of courage as speaking and acting from the heart. Inner work is one of the most courageous things anyone can do, and resilient people tend to do that work.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I’m laughing to myself because the first image that comes to mind is Leonardo DiCaprio’s character in The Revenant. Hugh Glass had something to live for, a raison d’être, a meaning and purpose, and even though he was mortally wounded he basically came back from the dead to fulfill it — — his grittiness and spiritual resilience translated into a physical one. You might have moral qualms with “revenge” being a worthy motivation, but regardless, his body withstood a tremendous amount of injury and still he mustered the energy to go on. I find his intuitiveness and connection to nature to be a source of his resilience, and something about that is attractive to me.
More seriously, I think of Dr. Edith Eger as a role model for resilience. She’s a holocaust survivor and psychologist who wrote an amazing book called The Gift. Every page has a truth nugget, so I can’t easily summarize it, but she makes crystal clear that resilience isn’t something luxurious that only privileged people can choose and develop. Here’s a good example of a clarifying quote from her:
“There’s a difference between stress and distress. Distress is constant threat and uncertainty, like we had in Auschwitz — when we took a shower, we never knew what was going to come out of the spigot, water or gas. Distress is toxic. It can mean never knowing when a bomb will drop on your house, never knowing where you will sleep each night. Stress, on the other hand, is a good thing. It requires us to face a challenge, to find creative solutions, to trust ourselves.” (The Gift, p. 197)
Making stress a friend is a capacity of resilient people, and having perspectives like Dr. Eger’s is a great way to reframe your difficulties.
Another Holocaust survivor/ psychologist who is a great role model for resilience is Viktor Frankl, who is famous for saying “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
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?
No, I had the opposite problem. My parents told me I could do anything and I’ve been dealing with the challenges of reality ever since.
I did have a lot of people discourage me from dropping out of law school, but I did it anyway. I took a chance on a new graduate program that was just starting, in Integrative Health & Well-being Coaching, and it’s opened up a lot of interesting, creative opportunities for me. No regrets.
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?
Yes. The greatest setbacks for me were health-related. I suppose my logical hard-headedness set me up for the body’s coup d’etat, but ultimately I learned about my physical limits. I tend to learn in extreme ways. During my mid-20’s, I struggled with anxiety. My mind, however, still felt limitless possibility even while my body was sort of imprisoned. This mind-body disconnect set me up for a reality check. I ended up moving (i.e. dragging my body) across the country with the mindset of “I’ll just figure it out and make it happen,” ignoring my body’s messages about needs for support, family/ friends, relationships with healthcare providers, etc.
Well, the universe sent me a sign almost immediately that I needed to wake up from my reverie. When I was driving through Montana, I stayed overnight in a hotel and was rudely awakened by a once-in-twenty-year earthquake which blew my nervous system into dysregulation for several months. In yoga, we sometimes think of the earth as our support, and for the first time in my life, the earth was moving. I spent about 30 minutes after the earthquake continuing to shake intentionally, hoping that acting like a zebra would help me metabolize some of the stress chemicals. What bothered me most was that there was nothing I could do while it was happening. In Minnesota, we have natural disasters like tornadoes, but there is almost always some warning and you have time to seek shelter and take precautions. In earthquakes, I learned there’s really no warning and your safety basically depends on where you are, the magnitude, and — if you’re in a building — how well the building was made to withstand such things. Incidentally, the word ‘resilience’ was actually used in architecture before it became popular in psychology.
After that experience, I felt closely connected to the magnitude of the earth’s vibrations. Geology lives on such a different time scale than humans, and this felt bigger than me. I was vulnerable. I did finish my road excursion to Seattle, and even began graduate school there that summer, but my housing fell through and I was “homeless” for a short time — luckily, a classmate let me stay with her. I also started having shortness of breath and a myriad of stress-related health problems which felt blood related somehow. I was weak. I visited the clinic and the brilliant naturopathic student there gave me a peak flow meter to keep track of my air flow. Whether or not this directly addressed the issue, it was smart because the biofeedback helped convince me I could breathe even while experiencing a panic attack. Still, the lack of predictable housing was the last straw and my body couldn’t imagine getting through a doctoral program, so I went home to MN and lived with my sister for a week, then moved into an apartment. After a few months, I was still having chronic fatigue, anxiety/ depression and even had to leave work because of a panic attack, so I eventually moved back home with my mom for a while so I wouldn’t be alone.
After some months at home, I was better but still symptomatic, and I intuitively felt drawn to trying a food elimination protocol I had read about. Laying in bed mid-day, feeling myself disabled at 27 years old, I asked myself “Are you doing everything you can to heal?” The answer was “No,” so I began that elimination protocol diligently in January 2017 and since that month, I’ve been panic attack free (and gluten free :). I had tried “lighter” versions of it in the past and not stuck with it, but this time I was serious and committed. I’m so grateful I did that because it’s increased my quality of life, I no longer feel anxious, and I’m empowered me to know how different foods impact my system.
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?
Growing up in rural Minnesota is a lesson in resilience. I grew up in the woods, and I was always “grappling” with nature as a kid. We had a driveway that was 3/4 mile long, which is a good walk when it starts to snow heavily. I remember in elementary school, we had 10 feet of snow fall during the school day, and the bus dropped us off at the road. About halfway down the driveway, my sister got tired and just sat in the snow. Eventually I coaxed her up and we finished the walk, but my parents got so mad and gave her the “talk,” saying “You get up, you always get up” because they understood that she could freeze to death if she adopted a mindset of giving up. These memories probably explain why I love “The Revenant” so much.
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.
- Re-write your challenging narratives as a hero(ine)’s journey. Is there something you’ve gone through that fundamentally challenged who you are, or even a stressful experience you’re going through now? What do you want people to say about how you went through it? Contemplating your values can be helpful — do you value health, environmentalism, relationships, a larger cause? Tap into your values to help make meaning out of your story and prioritize what to do next. For me, the value was health, so I set an intention around prioritizing it, i.e. “I’m going to heal my anxiety this year.” Imagine yourself 20 years from now, looking back at this moment and telling the story of your resilience — what did you learn about yourself? How did this help you grow and evolve?
- Start thinking seriously about your body as an ecosystem. If you’re not sure where to start, take a look at your skin. Does it looked cracked, dry, inflamed, or does it look well- nourished? Obviously aging has an impact, but your skin and tongue tell you a lot about the defenses and epithelial health in your body. If it’s dry, hydrate more. Start small with warm water and lemon in the morning. Exercise to increase circulation. Eat a variety of hydrating fruits and vegetables that will nourish a diverse gut microbiome. Diversity is helpful for resilience. Try to incorporate one new vegetable each week, or a new color of vegetable. Also take a serious look at the ratio of omega 3: omega 6 fats in your life. Are you eating wild-caught fish/ flax/ chia seeds regularly? Decrease all processed foods and seed oils — they’re high in omega-6. This 3:6 ratio should be closer to 1:1 if you want to decrease inflammation.
- Vibrate closer to nature. Whether you like it or not, you co-evolved with nature. The NIH says that microorganisms outnumber your human cells by 10 to 1. In other words, “you” are really an expression of a diverse ecosystem within an ecosystem. Spend time with nature, and a lot of health becomes intuitive. You evolved with microbes, light cycles, and other species. If you can learn to feel the vibration when you are connected with a health-promoting environment, you will develop a powerful way of knowing what things serve life and which are depleting. In other words, feel more. Alan Watts said, “Civilized people need to be dehypnotized from their systems of symbolism and, thereby, become more intensely aware of the living vibrations of the real world.”
- Feel yourself less as matter and more as energy. If you can develop a capacity for sitting with feeling and sensation, you’ll have what the yogis call “prajna”, a deep felt-sense way of knowing that can cut through the noise of health advice and make your path toward well-being much more obvious.
- Budget your attention. If “you are what you eat,” then you also become what your attention rests upon. This, to me, is the haunting promise of scrolling through social media. I’m sure we are all aware of a relative that loves to regurgitate the nightly news. On the flip side, I have also been blessed to sit with yogis who meditate upon love and then they propogate that energy back into the world. You become what you focus on. The easiest, most powerful way to budget your attention is to set an intention in the morning — what am I inviting in today? Even just choosing one word to come back to as a mantra is better than leaving your attention to default mode, which is likely to zone in on negative or neutral content. When something good happens, savor it for 10 seconds — give it a chance to install in your memory and soothe your nervous system. Our brain has a negativity bias so we have to consciously savor positive experiences. This appreciativeness gradually installs as an inner resourcefulness and capacity. It also draws our attention to what is going well, what is serving our vitality, which builds wisdom around health. We can practice this savoring to make positive states become traits. For more on this, I highly recommend the book “Resilient” by Rick Hanson.
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. 🙂
I want us to embrace diverse perspectives on health and healing. I want science to feel like science again and not like “scientism”, as it’s portrayed in the media. I also want public health to embrace nuanced messaging. I value spiritual and health freedom and I encourage people to live at the center of their health care decisions, along with the responsibility that entails. Health “equity” is about individualized care; it’s not the same as health “equality” where everyone is treated the same, no matter their bio-individuality or social determinants of health.
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 🙂
Yes, I want to spend as much time as possible supporting Leonardo DiCaprio’s work, whether it’s artistic or environmental in nature. I think he’s a genius.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!