Self acceptance and self esteem are worthy goals, but so often we feel as though they are conceptual ideas that are hard to attain practically speaking. Many of us are now seeing the value of self love as a practice – to improve our wellbeing, to help us have the belief to go after our goals and to also finally end the wars that we wage with ourselves internally. But I’m commonly asked exactly ‘how’ to build self acceptance and self love – and while I often encourage the asker to do some internal work and analysis on what it might look like for them, there is some general guidance that I feel is applicable to many women who are feeling stressed, tired and lacking that internal fire and power that comes from truly knowing and owning ourselves – flaws and all. Working on our self esteem is an investment in skilling ourselves up to have the belief and capacity to go after what we desire – even when the going gets tough. Having increased self esteem improves our wellbeing, our relationships and our resilience, in turn, encouraging others to practice self appreciation so that they can magnify the impact in their lives.
Yoga – the philosophy, the asana or physical practices, the breath work and the meditation and mindfulness elements – offer a great way to start to think about the ‘how’ of building self esteem. Below are some ways to integrate yoga into your self love work.
1. Reduce stress
In all my group, one on one and workshop coaching I always start here. It is impossible to feel confident, empowered, healthy and purposeful when we are stressed. End of story. Our modern lives have us stuck in a complex bio-feedback cycle wherein our stress creates restrictive patterns of movement characteristic of the fight or flight response (hunched shoulders, forward head position, shortened hip flexors). The longer our posture remains in this position, the feedback then gets sent back to the brain saying ‘there is something wrong here’, triggering more fight or flight hormones like adrenaline and cortisol to be released into the blood stream and thereby starting the stress cycle all over again.
The aim in the physical yoga practice, therefore, must be about opening up the chest and shoulders, lengthening the front side of the body, strengthening the core to hold us upright, and stretching out the hips. Here are some of the postures that might be helpful in opening up the front body and chest:
Getting out of the fight or flight cycle is integral to feeling more confident, empowered and accepting of the self. In addition to physical movement working toward opening up the chest and lengthening the hamstrings, practicing five minutes a day of mindfulness meditation can help to calm the mind and begin to witness limiting beliefs and negative self talk that might be sabotaging your efforts at wellbeing. Here’s one I prepared earlier:
Learning deep abdominal breathing is also an excellent way to improve your self esteem – as not only are you increasing lung capacity (and therefore oxygen flow) which can lift up your mood, but you are activating the parasympathetic nervous system which is the opposite of the fight or flight response.
2. Get grounded
The more connected with your body, mind and soul you are, the more confident you will be. Have you ever walked around feeling as though you are a floating head? That’s because you are disconnected from your body and from the earth that you are walking on.
Here are some physical postures to help you get reconnected with your body, focusing on lengthening the lower limbs, opening up the hips and restoring connection between your feet and the ground. Standing postures are really integral for grounding.
A simple mindfulness practices for feeling grounded is to simply sit cross legged in a meditation space and take some deep breaths, focusing all your attention into your buttocks, legs and feet. Feel the full connection of your lower limbs with the ground and imagine a large tree root lengthening from the base of your spine deep into the earth. An alternative is to get out in nature, plant your feet into the grass and feel the magnetic pull of the earth downward.
3. Build fire
We cannot feel powerful when our digestion and core is weak. Yoga’s sister science of Ayurveda points to the need to continually stimulate our agni, or digestive fire, particularly for those vata body types who are prone to cold and anxiety. This can be done through herbal teas, warm food, fermented foods and other remedies, but it can also be done through yoga. Building core strength is vital also to allow us to hold our upper body upright and reduce the postural positions which exacerbate sympathetic dominance (fight or flight). Doing this yoga sequence of tapping one or both feet on the ground is highly beneficial for building strength in the core. You know that when you stand taller, you feel more confident, more open to receive compliments and more able to allow your inner wild woman to present to the world.
Breath work is also integral to building internal fire – focusing on using the abdomen or solar plexus (the chakra associated with personal power). Khapabhati and ujjayi breath are both pranayama practices that can be used to improve self esteem.
On another practical note, self esteem is leaked away when we talk negatively about ourselves or others, apologise or don’t put in place personal boundaries. Using mindfulness or awareness to observe the situations wherein you feel less powerful will help you understand exactly where your focus needs to be in order to start plugging those leaks.
Rest and relaxation is integral to self esteem. Too often we burn the candle at both ends and have nothing left to give out to the world in the form of esteem. The more tired we get, the more out of alignment we behave. The more out of alignment we behave, the more we beat ourselves up and talk negatively about ourselves. The more this happens, the less confident and empowered we become. Integrating some restorative postures into your yoga practice, or into your day, will quickly help your body re-find equilibrium and restore your energetic bank account. Gentle rhythmic motions, seated and lying postures focused on opening the hips and restorative postures like child’s pose are great for encouraging energy flow along the spine and nourishing the adrenals.
Integral to restoring our self esteem is going gently, practicing ahimsa or non-violence and tuning into our needs in each present moment. The aim is to get really good at asking – what do I need in this moment?
If you have trouble sleeping, I encourage you to incorporate a daily progressive relaxation or yoga nidra meditation before bed which will help use the thinking mind to progressively wind down your body and mind.
If you have struggle letting go of ruminating thoughts, try this guided meditation for prioritisation.
Have you LOVED this wisdom and want to learn more? I’m running a series of Yoga for Self Esteem workshops this April (Kyneton, VIC) and May (Melbourne, VIC) and I’d love to see you there! Click here to learn more and book your place – tickets selling fast.
In June 2017, I’m launching my most comprehensive program ever – Love Yourself Well. The program is designed for professional women just like you looking for a path to wellbeing that plays to your strengths and lifestyle and cuts out the wellness guilt and green smoothies! 12 Weeks, 9 Modules, weekly workbooks, audio lectures and videos, a community of like-minded women, one on one support and loads more meditations and practices like this one designed to help you master your fatigue + stress once and for all. We’ll talk about the Body, we’ll master the mindset stuff and we’ll nourish your soul. Want in? Join the VIP List to receive your personalised invite and get your early bird discount.