It took me years to build true confidence, to understand that I am “good enough”, that my failures are learning experiences, and that it is ok to occasionally do something that makes me cringe. I may not have arrived at rock-solid confidence levels, but I do know that what matters is not perfection, but what we have to share. In this sense, failure is keeping our talents and our love to ourselves. Yoga has helped me along the way; it teaches self-reliance, self-acceptance, and is fun in a non-competitive way.
I teach teenagers, and if there is one thing I would like them to take away from yoga, it is the feeling of inner strength and confidence. Ever since I came across Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk about “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” I have wondered what her findings mean for yoga and yoga teaching. The social psychologist Amy Cuddy found that holding our body in a power pose for 2 minutes changes the hormonal balance in our blood: an increase in the levels of testosterone and decrease of cortisol makes us feel more confident and more effective in getting our message across. This is so important: we need confidence because it allows us to bring our best self to a challenging situation. A power pose can be holding your arms up (as in the picture above), holding the hands on your hips or placing them behind the head with the elbows wide. Amy Cuddy proved that holding a power pose for 2 minutes before a job interview or stressful event changes the way you feel, the way you behave and hence it can change the way your life unfolds. As someone who works with the body and the interrelations between body and mind, I find Amy’s findings extremely exciting.
Yoga teachers have known for a long time that yoga poses have an effect on how we feel. For example, backbends tend to be uplifting, forward bends are more calming. This is why a tailored yoga programme can help people with depression or stress. There are yoga poses that make you stand firmly and hold your arms wide, and among them are some that are called, not surprisingly, “warrior” poses. Below I will discuss the three “warrior” poses and pay special attention to a good alignment for knees, hips and back. But first, here are some other ways in which yoga can boost confidence:
Yoga is non-competitive
Yoga boosts confidence because it is non-competitive. It allows us to simply observe the body, breath and mind and accept its (temporary) limitations. I tell my teenage students that they are not to compare themselves to the person on the next mat because that would be like comparing apples with pears. Bodies are complex and different and the only thing that really counts in yoga is the attention we bring to our practice. Adopting an acrobatic pose while watching TV is not doing yoga. Perfect yoga for you is practising yoga mindfully at your level, so that you can observe what can be improved and accept what cannot be changed. If we compare our yoga skills to those of others we can only get frustrated, stressed or vain…
Yoga encourages positive self-talk
Yoga can make us aware of a negative critical voice inside our head. Have you ever heard this voice? It would not be uncommon for such a voice to tell you that you are absolutely rubbish at something. I ask the teenagers if they would ever talk to their best friends in this way: telling their friends they are stupid, mess everything up and are basically completely incompetent. While we wouldn’t address anyone else like this we often do it to ourself. So if you become aware of such an inner critic, turn this commentary into a positive one. Be your own best supporter, your own best coach!
Yoga poses that promote a feeling of inner strength and confidence
The three warrior poses, Virabhadrasana 1, 2 and 3 are named after the mighty warrior Virabhadra in an ancient Sanskrit story. But never mind this mythical creature, how do the positions make you feel?
-Start with your feet hip-width apart.
-Place one foot forward so that you can still keep your back heel firmly down.
-The back foot can slightly point out to the side — not too much.
-Keep the hips squared forward and bend the front leg so the knee is exactly above the ankle. Be careful not to bring the knee in front of the ankle. This would be too much pressure for the knee.
-Raise both arms, keeping them bent to the side if your shoulders are tight.
-Feel grounded through both feet.
-Make sure not to arch the lower back too much, keep the tailbone slightly tucked instead (except if you have a flat lower back).
-Breathe mindfully and stay for quite a few breaths. When you exhale, connect with a ‘grounding’ feeling through the feet. Inhale and feel a lightness in the upper body and a lifting through the crown of your head.
-From warrior 1 lift the back leg slowly and come to balance over the front leg.
-Bring the arms out to the side for balance. If your balance is not good at the moment, hold on to something.
-Keep the head, spine and back leg in line.
-Place your back leg down again, this time a bit further away so you stand with your legs further apart than in the first warrior.
-Allow the hips to comfortably face to the side.
-Bend your front knee and pay attention to the knee alignment as in warrior 1.
-Hold your arms wide in line with your legs.
-Soften the shoulder blades down the back.
I hope you enjoy these poses. To learn more about the correct alignment, how you can adapt the poses and how to breathe in them to help with balance, I have a few slots left for private sessions, in person or skype!