Yoga for confidence
You’ve woken up today with your stomach in knots. Perhaps you’ve got a very important meeting to attend and you’re feeling apprehensive. Maybe you’re going to be giving a speech in front of a huge crowd of people and being in the limelight has never been something you’re fond of. Whatever the reason, you’re running low on confidence. You don’t have heaps of time, but you do have about 30 minutes to spare and you’re wishing there was something you could do to give you that extra bit of confidence.
You may have noticed that when you’re low on confidence there’s a sense that something inside is shrinking. There’s a feeling of contraction. And when you’re confident, happy and energised, it feels as though something inside you is expanding, combined with a sense of lightness and ease.
Whatever you do to your body affects your mind, so when you practise yoga, the movements combined with yogic breathing techniques automatically induce that sense of expansion and the by-product of that is a natural and easy confidence. Keep in mind the words of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: “With yoga comes confidence that never withers away, a smile that never wanes and the inner strength to endure any situation.”
On a physical level, practising yoga poses helps improve your posture. A person with good posture exudes more confidence than someone who’s slouched. The better your posture, the more alert you feel. And not only do you look more confident, but you actually feel more confident.
Here’s a 30-minute yoga routine designed to boost your confidence. It includes pranayama (breathing technique), asanas (yoga poses) and meditation or relaxation. And it comes without any of the negative side-effects of other less supportive choices. It’s free from the impact that extra strong cup of coffee will have on your nervous system and it comes without any of the toxins and tiredness that follow the initial buzz of something slightly stronger.
Before you begin
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve done yoga before or not, just make sure you don’t push yourself too far in the poses. If you’re not comfortable, you’ve pushed too far, so back out of the pose until you are. And while you’re doing them, keep your breath long, slow and smooth and your eyes gently closed. Breathing this way will help you let go of any anxiety that tends to come with low confidence, and keeping your eyes closed will enhance the benefits of this routine by helping quiet your mind, bringing that mental clarity and inner stillness.
You may have noticed that when you’re anxious your breathing pattern changes — it becomes shallower and more constricted. The pattern of your breath automatically changes with whatever emotion or mental state you’re experiencing. When you’re at ease, your breathing pattern will automatically also be easier, longer and smoother. When we imitate this way of breathing it induces a state of confidence, which is one of the reasons why ujjayi breathing is so beneficial.
How to do ujjayi breathing
Ujjayi means “victorious”. Through the practice of ujjayi breathing you gain victory over your mind. What that means is that the mind becomes a more beautiful place to be and you don’t have to be victim to a noisy, disturbed mind.
In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali suggests that the breath should be both dirga (long) and suksma (smooth). Practise ujjayi breathing with your eyes closed, sitting in a comfortable position. Without much effort, gently constrict the muscles at the back of your throat and take long, smooth breaths in and out. This constriction in your throat will create some resistance to the passage of air and will make a soothing sound similar to that of a baby snoring or the sound of the ocean.
Use your breath as your guide. If, while practising a pose, your breath becomes strained, you may be pushing yourself too hard and it might be time to back out of a pose and rest. The key to ujjayi breathing is effortlessness. Once you’ve mastered ujjayi breathing, you can use it while practising the following poses.
It’s always a good idea to do a short warm-up before you begin yoga poses. Take five minutes to warm up your body however you prefer to. You could jog lightly on the spot, shake your arms and legs, and rotate your body’s joints a few times in both directions. The warm-up gets the circulation in your body moving in preparation for the poses.
Shoulder lifts with sound
You might have noticed that when you’re nervous you get ‘butterflies” in your abdominal region. Combined with the sound of “ha!” the following movement will help release any emotional tension being held in the abdominal region as well as any tension in your shoulders.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Now take a deep breath in, simultaneously lifting your shoulders as high as you can towards your ears. Hold your breath and squeeze your shoulders close to your ears. Now, as you breathe out, exhale through your mouth, simultaneously dropping your shoulders very quickly and making the sound of “ha” rather loudly. Keep the sound of “ha” quite deep and full. Let it come from the abdominal region. Do this 5–10 times, more if you still feel any tightness in the shoulder or abdominal region.
Ha breath while flopping forward
Now, we’ll make the same sound of “ha” but with a different movement. This movement helps release any other tension in the upper region of your body, supporting your posture in being freer and more open.
Take a deep breath in as you raise your arms above your head. Stretch backwards and upwards, lengthening your torso and expanding your ribcage. Now, bend your knees slightly and flop forward from your hips, taking your arms and hands down towards the ground. As you flop forward, make the sound of “ha”. Do this five times, slowly, with awareness.
Breath of joy
Breath of joy helps improve the posture, drawing back the shoulders and expanding the chest. It will also help you breathe more fully and more easily.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Now bring your arms forward and upward as you inhale. Take them all the way back as if you’re giving the world a big hug and lift your chin. When you’re ready to exhale, do so as you wrap your arms around yourself, giving yourself a big hug and taking your chin towards your chest. Do this 5–8 times.
Warrior I pose
It may seem strange to name a yoga pose after a warrior as yogis are known for their non-violent ways. However, Warrior Pose commemorates the essence of the “spiritual warrior”, who bravely does battle with avidya (self-ignorance), bringing awareness and a confidence that is unshakable.
There are three variations of Warrior. This particular variation is Warrior I. Stand with your feet about four feet apart. Breathe in as you slowly raise your arms above your head, keeping them parallel to each other, actively reaching toward the ceiling.
Turn your left foot inwards 45–60 degrees and your right foot outwards 90 degrees, aligning your right heel with your left heel. Rotate your torso to the right, squaring your pelvis as much as possible with the front edge of your mat, and arch your upper torso back slightly.
Take another breath in and then, as you exhale, bend your right knee until your shin is perpendicular to the floor, if possible aligning your right thigh parallel to the floor.
Now reach up a little more and bring your palms together. You can keep your head in a neutral position, gazing forward, or tilt it back, looking up at your thumbs. Stay there for 30 seconds to a minute.
To move out, inhale as you straighten your right knee, turning both feet forward, and then exhale as you bring your arms slowly down. Then do the same on the other side. When you’re finished, return to a comfortable standing position with yours arms resting by the side of your body.Contraindications and cautions: Do not practise this pose if you have high blood pressure or heart problems. People with shoulder problems should keep their raised arms parallel (or slightly wider than parallel) to each other. If you have neck problems, keep your head in a neutral position and don’t look up at your hands.
Warrior II pose
Warrior II pose is also known as virabhadra. Virabhadra is the name of a fierce warrior, described as having a thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a thousand feet, wielding a thousand clubs and wearing a tiger skin. Feeling more confident?
Stand with your feet about four feet apart. Raise your arms parallel to the floor and reach outwards, keeping the palms of your hands facing up. Now turn your left foot in slightly and your right foot out 90 degrees. Align your right heel with your left heel.
As you exhale, bend your right knee over your right ankle until your shin is perpendicular to the floor, keeping your left leg strong. Make sure you don’t lean your torso over your right thigh. Now turn your head to look out over your right fingers. Stay there for 30 seconds to a minute and then repeat on the other side.
Contraindications and cautions: Do not practise this pose if you have diarrhoea or high blood pressure. If you have neck problems, don’t turn your head to look over the front hand; continue to look straight ahead with both sides of the neck lengthened evenly.
To complete any yoga routine, relaxation or meditation is essential. You can either lie down on your back for 5–8 minutes, resting your arms by your side, eyes closed, palms to the sky, or you can sit with your eyes closed for the same amount of time. Don’t try to do anything during this time. Just become still, allowing the benefits of the ujjayi breathing and yoga poses to consolidate. You may wish to set an alarm clock in case you fall asleep. There’s no point in being all ready and confident if the event has been and gone.
Other tips to enhance your confidence
- Confidence is a state of mind: Confidence is an inner state of mind. When your confidence depends on your success or failure, it’s not real confidence. When we have the strength to smile through challenges and to move ahead with an inner stillness, unshaken — that’s real confidence.
- Know that you are part of something much bigger: Confidence is when you are able to remain unshakable regardless of the external situation. This depth of confidence comes to you when you know you are connected to and part of the highest universal consciousness.
- Set an intention: In Sanskrit the world sankalpa means “intention”. To strengthen your inner confidence, set an intention for yourself. An intention for a pending meeting might be something like, “This meeting will leave everyone feeling inspired and energised and will be an empowering platform for the project ahead.” Having set the intention, surrender it. It is the process of surrendering that differentiates a sankalpa from a goal.
- Reflect: Look back for a moment and see how many challenging situations in your life you have dealt with successfully.
- You have all the good qualities you need: Assume you can do justice to all the roles you have been given to play in your life. Assume you already have all the good qualities and confidence inside you and let them blossom.
- Sleep: If you’ve slept well and are rested it’s much more likely you’ll feel more confident the following day. Make sure you get enough sleep the night before an important event. Going to bed before midnight enhances the quality of your sleep. And if you’re having difficulty sleeping at night, practising a few simple breathing techniques can make all the difference.
- Observe your ego: When your ego is at play it robs you of your naturalness and reduces your confidence. Being natural is an antidote to ego — the more natural you are, the more confidence you exude. True confidence is free from ego and arrogance. We can never fully eliminate ego, but we can reduce its impact by observing it when it arises.
- Simplicity brings confidence: Be ready to learn from simple things and even from children. Having a readiness to learn can ignite the creativity in you and bring up self-confidence.
- See obstacles as challenges, not problems: Obstacles build character and make the journey more interesting. A life lesson always contains value, but you need a certain amount of insight to create a positive situation from it. Yoga creates in you a more expanded state of mind in which it’s easier to see a difficulty not as a problem but as a challenge.
- Don’t take life too seriously: Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “Life is nothing to be very serious about. Life is a ball in your hands to play with. Don’t hold on to the ball.”
- Have a regular practice: The more regularly you practice pranayamas, asanas and meditation, the more confident and natural you become. Healthy confidence is a natural by-product of these practices. The more quality time you spend with your self, in meditation, the more confidence radiates from within you. It’s very beautiful. Yoga practices have been designed to bring you in touch with your true self. And when you are, it’s easy to walk with total confidence.
- Allow yourself to blossom: Often we are our own worst enemies. Know that there is an enormous potential inside you to be the very best you can be. Acknowledge it, know it and let it blossom. In Marianne Williamson’s words, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us most. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and famous?’
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in all of us. And when we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”