The Human Dimensions of Resilience: A Theory of Contemplative Practices and Resilience – 2014 Report

The Garrison Institute is pleased to offer this white paper, which integrates findings from more than 280 interdisciplinary research studies linking contemplative practice and resilience.

The Human Dimensions of Resilience

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Why do some people crumble under adversity while others bounce back stronger than ever? Challenging situations—from small disappointments to terrible traumas—are a part of daily life, and disruptions such as extreme weather events, conflict and economic dislocation are increasing in frequency. Humans are capable of adapting to a wide variety of difficult physical and psychological circumstances, although in any particular situation, those with resilience will have a greater ability than others to recover and even flourish.

In this paper we define the concept of resilience and build a rationale for how contemplative practices (such as meditation and yoga) represent an effective means of developing qualities that contribute to resilience. We argue that contemplative practices promote resilience via positive impacts on specific psychobehavioral domains, brain activity, stress response, gene regulation and post-traumatic growth, and we review the evidence supporting these mechanisms. We conclude by exploring how improved individual resilience can strengthen the resilience of larger social networks, and we outline key considerations for future research studying the impact of contemplative practices on resilience.