After a busy day of work, kids, groceries, and stressing over global warming weather conditions, how often do you sit down and think about how accomplished you are; how many people you’ve helped; how you know you can do it again tomorrow because you’ve truly got what it takes to change the world? Most likely you collapse in a heap on the couch, overwhelmed by feelings of struggle or ineffectiveness, negative self-image, inertia, or the everyday kitchen-sink blahs.
Yoga can help you through those doldrums. Like a piece of string tied around your finger, yoga serves as a reminder to acknowledge all the good things about yourself—those accomplishments and qualities you’ve somehow forgotten. It gives you the confidence and oomph you need to shift feeling states—all you need to do is roll out that yoga mat and get started. In fact, one of the first things that yoga will actually remind you about is to do yoga!
Those of us who practice yoga regularly—the precise postures, deep breathing, and meditative awareness—have learned that no matter what mood we’re in at the beginning of our yoga session, we always feel better by the end. If we start out feeling stiff, we become looser and more fluid. If we feel sluggish, our energy perks up. If we were hyper-stimulated when we first sat on our mat, we end up calmer and more balanced when we leave. On days when we’re overwhelmed, yoga brings a sense of grounding and connection. When distressing world events lead to feelings of helplessness, the strength we exert on the mat will help us tap into a sense of personal power that allows us to move forward in life. Instead of feeling pulled in all directions, we begin to feel connected to ourselves.
Yoga works like this every time, no matter what reason you have for doing (or starting) it. Getting in shape, gaining strength and flexibility, improving your posture, digestion, or sex life—all these good things are already within your grasp. That strong, fluid, healthy, sexy you is just waiting to be uncovered, just longing for an invitation to show up at the party. Yoga serves as a reminder that the strong, able, open-hearted, and confident person you wish to be already exists, at least on the inside.
I’ve had plenty of intimidating experiences that yoga rescued me from, such as the time I gave a yoga lesson to a regular private client—an upper-crust member of high society—and her guest from the British royal family decided to join in. If I had been introduced to him before the class, I’m sure my palms would have started sweating, and I would have done a Ralph Kramden, “A hummuna hummuna.” But the class was already in full swing and, filled with confidence about the benefits of yoga, I didn’t feel the least bit shy as I warmly welcomed him onto the mat.
As I made some hands-on adjustments to the now shirtless royal, I thought to myself, “Is it OK to touch someone this close to the crown?” But, at that moment, I was the expert and I knew that I could help him with his overly flexible joints. He couldn’t have been nicer and more appreciative, and we had a nice chat after the class, during which I wished I were wearing a cuter outfit.
Even though I wasn’t doing the yoga with my two students, I benefited from exploring the qualities that they were practicing under my guidance: standing on one’s own two feet, finding balance, resting in one’s breath, taking chances, being steady and straightforward, letting go, falling down, having fun, and taking a fresh start. These are all yogic gateways toward remembering the feeling of confidence in any situation.
Meditation master Chogyam Trungpa taught that we are all born with basic goodness, and when we acknowledge this, we connect with a sense of primordial confidence. Although this confidence already lives within us, we can sometimes lose our link to it because of negative emotions, such as fear, jealousy, or hatred. Alas, those feelings live there, too, but they don’t have to take over our entire mental and emotional landscape, leaving no room for the natural faith we have in who we are and what we can do. Just like in cooking, we can fold our natural self-confidence right into our self-consciousness to create a new and healthier blend. Who knows? Maybe with enough yoga practice, the confidence will rise to the top just like the yummy cream in a farm-fresh bottle of milk.
This yoga sequence is designed to help you develop building blocks you can use to reconnect to your own inherent self-confidence. Take your time, and try to release any expectations. The opposite of self-confidence is wishing and hoping, which always get us in trouble. Let go of that habit, and try to stay connected to your own deep breath. Have faith in your own good heart.
Mountain Pose With Arms Up. Stand with your feet directly below your sitting bones so you feel firmly planted. At the same time, actively reach through every fingertip up to the sky. This pose can be done almost anywhere, anytime, and is a great reminder of how good it feels to be able to stand on your own two feet. Let your breath be full and notice how your front, back, and sides fill with breath and soften back in toward your strong and quiet center. Hold this position for five deep breaths.
Warrior Lunge. Bend both knees. Step your left foot back, and balance on the ball of the foot. Make sure your left leg is straight with strong energy extending out your left heel. Keep your right leg parallel to the ground, knee above heel. Use your abs to keep your spine vertical. Even though your arms are getting tired, hold them up with commitment for a little longer. Let your gaze rest on something at eye level across the room to help you find balance and steadiness within the exertion of this full-body position. Stay here for three to five breaths.
Open Warrior (Warrior 2). On an exhale, turn your back heel inward and lower it to the ground, so your left foot is roughly perpendicular to your right, and the arch of your left foot is in line with the heel of your right. Pivot your hips and torso to face outward over your left foot. Extend your arms away from each other at shoulder height. As you breathe in and out for five to eight breaths, let your open body position invite you to feel expansive, open-hearted, and confident.
Reverse Warrior 2. On an inhale, lean away from your bent knee, stretching your right arm overhead as your left hand rests on your left thigh for support. Stay here for three breaths and indulge in the feeling of breath nourishing your body. Even though your legs are getting tired, can you let your breath give you a second wind? This is great practice for staying the course when you feel tired or discouraged.
Lunge. On an exhale, cartwheel your hands to the floor, on either side of your right foot. Bring your left knee to the ground with your toes pointing behind you, in line with your body. Your right knee should be over your right heel. Reach out through the crown of your head and out through your back heel. Focus on your whole body, inhaling and exhaling through your nose for five cycles.
Twisted Lunge. On an exhale, twist to the right and place your hands in prayer position. Press the back of your left elbow against the outside of your right knee as you draw up through your spine. Relax your mind once again and see if you can feel long, strong, and expansive. Stay here for 5 breaths. Lengthen your spine with each inhale, and twist a little bit more deeply (from your core) with each exhale.
Forward Fold. Exhale and place your hands on the floor on either side of your right foot. Inhale; on the next exhale, step your back foot forward and place it next to your right foot. Let your head hang between your arms and bend your knees if it’s more comfortable. Stay here for as long as you want but try to focus on your breath. Notice what the breath feels like when you are in this upside-down situation. It will be helpful when life throws you for a loop.
adapted from Natural Solutions by Cyndi Lee
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