One of the first things we associate with yoga practice is how much it benefits our bodies. That is true – our body does change and adapt as we delve into our physical practice in yoga. The yoga asanas (postures), of which there are thousands, often lead to many wonderful physical changes, but yoga is so much more than that.
In mainstream media, modern postural yoga has taken centre stage. We flick through social media and are bombarded by curated photos of the perfect shapes and a perceived importance of this in yoga. For those of us who might already feel a little anxious in terms of body confidence, yoga can seem to be another thing to add to the list of being ‘flexible enough for’ or ‘fit enough for’, perhaps making us think that we have to be a certain age, body type or even gender to practise.
When I attended my first yoga class, the goal in my mind at the time was to get fit and to lose weight. I was heading into my 20s, my metabolism was changing as I left my teenage years behind and, as most young adults do, I was struggling to find a balance in my mind about how I saw my body. In all honesty, it had spiralled into a very unbalanced state as I found myself battling bulimia. I had tried running and swimming to help me find a new focus, but my mind always went right back to numbers, distances, times, lengths swam, pounds lost or unlost, and how hard I was going to push myself, which ultimately always ended in a continuing downward cycle of punishing myself when I felt that I didn’t achieve these unrealistic goals.
I was nervous before the yoga class – I knew that I wasn’t strong or flexible, and my mind was in a bit of a frenzy. I tried to calm down by reminding myself that I’d picked a gentle Hatha class – the movement would be quite slow and I would definitely be able to manage it. Who knew that day would be the start of something that has completely changed my life? Of course, it was not a quick fix for my bulimia. But as I kept attending once a week and trying some of what I remembered at home, I learnt how to feel what was happening in my body, to enjoy moving with it, to breathe calmly through the movements and to keep exploring what my body could do, rather than punishing myself for what it couldn’t. Slowly but surely, my mindset started to shift.
Yoga became a sanctuary in my mind. It changed from being about the physical and became more about being in the moment of whatever I was dealing with or living through, and accepting myself and the body I have. I even starting to enjoy its ebbs and flows. Falling and wobbling in a posture taught me that falling and wobbling in day-to-day life was completely OK. Focusing on breathing through practice taught me that I can still breathe calmly through a noisy mental landscape. And turning upside down in postures like shoulderstand and literally facing my belly’s natural wobbles and folds made me face my body and my notions about it head-on. I learnt to appreciate how this body that I had so hated was now doing something that I would have never imagined it doing before.
Yoga taught me to feel and be in my own body and explore its ability, rather than shaming myself constantly. It also made me realise that there is no such thing as ‘the yoga body’ – all you need to do yoga is to turn up on your mat and move in any way that serves yourself on that certain day. Everyone’s body is different, which means that everyone’s practice looks different, too. By stopping comparing myself to others, I could focus on what my body needed and how I could encourage it to move better in the postures.
In our yoga practice and in life, let’s bring our focus on this positivity, moving and living with an ease in breath and an enjoyment of exploring our bodies and minds with love and kindness – meeting ourselves at every moment, exactly and wonderfully how we are right now.
5 yoga poses to cultivate confidence and balance
Perfect Instagram shots can fog our memory of what yoga is really about – being in the moment and appreciating our bodies just as they are. Forget flawless poses and focus your thoughts with these simple postures…
This simple standing posture gives you time to be aware of your emotions, thoughts and body sensations as you slowly tune in before your practice. From the soles of the feet up, try breathing awareness to all areas of the body with your eyes closed and pick out a mantra for your practice to repeat to yourself as you breathe.
Heart openers ease tension in the shoulders and upper back, creating space at the front of the chest that cultivates openness and love. It can release anxious feelings and stress.
Be a warrior! This strengthening and expansive posture allows you to explore the space around you and inhabit it with confidence. Relax your breath and shoulders as you stretch.
Rise tall and confident in this playful and balanced posture. Play around with releasing the free leg in different variations, even taking the torso horizontal! Have fun and enjoy every wobble.
Supine bound angle
Finish this sequence with more openness in the body. Lie down with one hand on the chest and the other on the belly, and allow the soles of the feet to come together while the knees gently fall to the sides. Breathe, and repeat your mantra to yourself as you enjoy the softness of the body as you relax. As you come out of your practice, give yourself a big hug! You deserve it.
4 ways to practice positivity
Bring these steps into your yoga practice or daily life to encourage gratitude, positivity and acceptance.
- Right here, right now – Being present and gently coaxing your mind to stay in the moment – be it during yoga or elsewhere – can allow anxiety or worry of the future to fade away. When you’re finding this difficult, try breathing in slowly and as you exhale, imagine pushing out your worries.
- Self-love, self-care – “Yoga: it’s not about being good at something, it’s about being good to yourself” – Anon. Reminding yourself of this will help to bring gentleness into the way you treat yourself. Cultivate the habit of treating yourself the way you would treat others around you.
- Facing it, embracing it – Belly rolls, negative thoughts, anxiousness… Accepting our fears and embracing them rather than squashing them down is a positive thing to practice. Before you learn to swim, water seems to be a dreadful place. But once you learn, you love the water.
- Sharing is caring – Share your feelings with people who will uplift and encourage you. Take note of the things and people that nourish you, and learn to rely on them for support and love. Most times, we all have similar thoughts, and knowing that can make our burdens feel lighter!
We can use a mantra before, during and after practice. This is a positive affirmation – something you want to bring to your life – and can be anything applicable to you. Using mantras like ‘I am calm’, ‘I am thankful for my mind’ or ‘I am grateful for my health’ can focus your mind on the wider purpose of your yoga practice, moving it out of the physical.
Write these mantras out on cards to carry around with you.
- I am present within myself.
- I am whole.
- I feel confident and worthy.
- I will be good to myself.
- I am thankful for myself.
- I am blessed.
Photography by Charlene Lim.
Looking to develop your yoga skills further? Check out our round up of the best yoga books to help you deepen your practice.