5 Ways Self-Compassion Promotes a Healthy Body Image

When it comes to appearance, we’re often too hard on ourselves.

In this age of social media, we’re surrounded by idealized images of beauty more than ever before. These images can create expectations that are impossible to meet, leaving us feeling inadequate and ashamed about our own looks. It’s no surprise, then, that a majority of young women and many men feel insecure about some aspect of their appearance.

As “normal” as body dissatisfaction may seem, it can have serious negative effects. For some people, it can lead to eating disorders or other mental illness. But even if it doesn’t reach those extremes, it can detract from quality of life in other ways. For example, research has shown that body image concerns can impair academic performance and reduce sexual pleasure in both men and women.

One way to address body dissatisfaction is to change the way we think about our bodies, shifting the focus from evaluation and critique to care and appreciation. Recent research suggests that self-compassion may be particularly helpful for easing appearance-related concerns and promoting a positive body image. Here are five ways it works.
1. It puts media images into perspective. One major source of body shame comes from taking media images of beauty to heart and feeling compelled to live up to them. In one study, self-compassionate women were less likely to internalize media pressure to be thin or to engage in disordered eating related to media exposure. But self-compassion goes beyond simply turning the tables on which body types are valued and which ones are disparaged. Instead, it involves acknowledging that beauty comes in many forms, and that no one is perfect.

2. It helps us stay in tune with our physical states. Attention is a limited resource: When we’re focused on how our body looks, we’re often less aware of how it feels—and therefore less in touch with signs of hunger and fullness, feelings of pleasure and pain, and even the sensation of our heartbeat. Research suggests that self-compassion is associated with lower levels of self-objectification, the tendency to habitually take an observer’s perspective on one’s own body rather than experiencing it from the inside out.

3. It makes us appreciate what our bodies can do. Because self-compassion is rooted in a genuine sense of care and concern for our psychological and physical well-being, it should lead us to view our bodies as precious and motivate us to be loving and kind to our physical selves, rather than harshly self-critical. Consistent with this idea, one study found that participants who completed three weeks of self-compassion meditation training reported an increase in body appreciation, which involves feelings of body acceptance and respect.

4. It reduces self-punishment. Being compassionate about perceived body flaws doesn’t necessarily take away their sting, but it can minimize the extent to which feeling unattractive makes people feel worthless or undeserving. In one study, exposure to a self-compassion intervention reduced the extent to which participants based their self-worth on their appearance, and in another, participants who were more self-compassionate about a perceived body flaw were less likely to report that they turned down a chocolate candy (offered by the experimenter) in order to punish themselves.

5. It makes other people allies, not competition. One of the key components of self-compassion is common humanity, which refers to the recognition that other people struggle too. That friend who seems to always look perfect on social media is probably spending a lot of time behind the scenes setting up their shots and deleting outtakes—and might have plenty of insecurities of their own. When other people become targets of social comparison and competition, we might miss what’s really going on with them under the surface, and we might berate ourselves for failing to live us to standards that aren’t even real.

Specific practices for increasing appearance-related self-compassion are described in this article and are available here under Practices. Research suggests that making a habit of these practices can lead to lasting improvements in body image. 

Source: Juliana Breines Ph.D for Psychology Today 

Don’t Ask Me About Mudras…

Victoria Mudra.jpg
… because I have a complex relationship with them.
I’ve had a number of questions about the subject of mudras, and as it’s not something I use a huge amount in my teachings or my personal practice, I’ve been doing a bit of reading up about it. The reason I don’t use mudras beyond the basics (one or two that you will all recognise, like anjali or gyan – see below for definitions) is because I don’t know enough about them to teach them with confidence or authenticity. And what I do know about them, I’m not 100% convinced that they resonate with me. I recently wrote a post on my scepticism about hand gestures and how they could possibly accelerate my rather stop-start path to enlightment (my tongue is firmly in my cheek as I write that).
Before I leave you to read on (and I quote directly from Isha Sadghuru), let me end with this: I believe firmly and wholeheartedly in the power of intention, focused awareness and directing energy in a certain direction. About energy following attention. So my take home from what I’ve read about mudras is about the potential benefits any focused energy and mindfulness can bring to our practice. It is with genuine humbleness that I say I obviously have a lot more to learn about this area and I look forward to the journey, because I still need a whole lot of convincing before I can genuinely warn people not to practice a certain hand gesture on a hot day because of the potentially catastrophic consequences it may bring about, for example. I can’t teach something I’m not convinced about, so let’s see where it takes me / us moving forward.
Your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!
Over now to Isha Sadghuru – a remarkable mountain mystic and teacher who has devoted his life to the study of how our human hands can transform our lives:
The word mudra literally means “a seal.” It is a certain position of the hand. Mudras are a subtle science of arranging your body in a certain way. The thinking is that the way your systems functions can be altered just by changing the positions of your palm. This is a whole subject by itself which essentially involves the geometry and the circuitry of the body, and its postulated that by holding a certain mudra, the energies tend to move in a particular way; that there are systems where you can regulate your breath in a certain way, with certain counts and proportions, and that by doing this, you can pinpoint your energy to any cell in the body if you want.

Mudras

Mudras are easy to perform anytime, although sitting in the lotus position and focusing on the healing can be an advantage. Although mudras can be used for healing certain ailments, regular practise of mudras will contribute to your overall good health and can be used as a preventive measure. Continuous practice of the mudras will create minute changes in your body using pulse centres on parts of your hands, which trigger certain healing processes within the corresponding body part.

Hasta Mudra (Hand Mudra)

The physical body is made up of five elements namely, Air, Water, Fire, Earth and Sky. A mudra is a gesture or positioning of the hands intended to direct energy flow and to connect parts of the body to the brain as life force energy flows through the body. Certain yoga mudras are believed to instigate particular energy flows and stimulate different emotions, spiritual reactions and reactions in the body. By pressing together, curling, touching or pointing different fingers or parts of the hands in different ways, you can stimulate reflexes from the hand to the brain.

Mudra Therapy: Hand Alignments for Holistic Health

Believe it or not, your health is in your hands! Our hands are particularly blessed with virtues of wellness. The four fingers and the thumb represent the five major building blocks or the ‘Panchamahabhootas’ of which the entire universe is made viz. Sky (Ether), Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

According to natural sciences, disease is nothing but a limitation that emerges in the continuity and balance of these five elements.

Philosophy of Mudra Therapy

The natural sciences of Mudra therapy believe that the five fingers correspond to the five basic elements viz. Ether, Air, Fire, Water and Earth.

  • Thumb – The fire (Agni)
  • Index finger – The air (Vayu)
  • Middle finger – The ether (Aakasha)
  • Ring finger – The earth (Prithvi)
  • Small finger – The water (Jala)

In order to bring back the balance in the five elements, there are some specific methods of touching and aligning the fingers with each other. These are referred to as ‘Hast-Mudras’ and this easy and doable therapy may be practiced anytime as an augmented relief from your malady as well as a handy tool for restoring your wellness.

Type of Mudras

The 10 important Hand Mudras are explained below:

1. Gyan Mudra or the Mudra of Knowledge

Touch the tip of the thumb and the tip of the index or 1st finger together. The other 3 fingers have to be kept straight.

Benefits:

  1. It helps in meditation and concentration and reduces negativity of the mind
  2. It improves memory and with regular practice students can improve grades and intelligence
  3. It aids in alleviating headache, insomnia and hypertension and reduces anger

2. Vayu Mudra or Mudra of Air

In this Mudra, the tip of the index or 1st finger is touched to the base of the thumb and the thumb comes over the finger with a slight pressure of the thumb being exerted. Rest of the fingers remain straight.

Benefits

By the practice of this mudra, all vayu ,that is, air related affections, like Arthritis, Gout, Sciatica, Knee pain, and Gas are relieved. It especially benefits in neck pain and spinal pain.

3. Shoonya Mudra or The Mudra of Emptiness

The tip of the middle finger is put at the base of the thumb and the thumb comes over the finger with slight pressure of the thumb being exerted on the finger. The other 3 fingers are kept straight.

Benefits:

  1. Regular practice of this Mudra helps in reducing ear pain and watering of the ears
  2. If this Mudra is done for 1 hour daily it can benefit in hardness of hearing
  3. The bones become strong and is beneficial in heart disease
  4. It strengthens gums and is helpful in throat problems and thyroid disease

4. Prithvi Mudra or the Mudra of Earth

In this Mudra, the tips of the thumb and the ring finger are touched together. The other fingers are kept straight.

Benefits:

  1. Regular practice of this Mudra is helpful in body weakness, thinness and also obesity
  2. It improves the functioning of the digestive system and reduces the deficiency of vitamins
  3. It gives energy and lustre to the body

5. Prana Mudra or the Mudra of Life

In this Mudra the tips of the thumb, ring finger and the little finger are touched together while keeping the other 2 fingers straight.

Benefits:

  1. It awakens the dormant power of prana, gives energy, health. It is beneficial in diseases of the eye and improves eyesight, raises body resistance to disease, reduces deficiency of vitamins, removes tiredness
  2. During fasting it reduces hunger pangs and thirst
  3. In insomnia, doing this hand posture, along with Gyan Mudra, helps in bringing on sleep

6. Apan Mudra or the Mudra of Digestion

This mudra is made by joining the tips of the thumb, the middle finger and the ring finger keeping the other fingers straight.

Benefits:

  1. Toxins are removed from the body and the body becomes pure. It also relieves constipation, piles, diseases caused by vayu or air, is helpful in diabetes, stoppage of urine, kidney defects and dental problems
  2. It is beneficial in stomach and heart diseases and brings out perspiration

7. Apan Vayu Mudra or the Mudra of Heart.

This Mudra is a combination of Vayu Mudra and Apan Mudra. The tips of the thumbs, the middle finger and the ring finger touch each other while the index finger touches the base of the thumb with a slight pressure. The little finger remains straight.

Benefits:

It gives the benefit of Apan Mudra and Vayu Mudra as explained earlier.

  1. It is helpful in Heart and Vayu diseases and gives health. People with a weak heart should do it daily. It is very beneficial for people who have suffered a heart attack in the recent past
  2. It removes gas from the stomach, aids in asthma, headache and high blood pressure
  3. If it is performed 5 to 7 minutes before climbing stairs, it aids in easy climbing

8. Surya Mudra or Mudra of the Sun

This Mudra is performed by touching the tip of the ring finger to the base of the thumb and exerting pressure on the finger with the thumb.

Benefits:

  1. It balances the body, reduces body weight and obesity. It increases body heat and helps in digestion
  2. It reduces hypertension and cholesterol and builds strength
  3. It is beneficial in diabetes and liver defects

Precautions:

Weak persons should not perform this hand posture and DO NOT do this hand posture for a long time in hot weather.

9. Varun Mudra or Mudra of Water

This Mudra is made by touching the tips of the thumb and the little finger.

Benefits:

  1. It reduces dryness of the skin and improves skin lustre and softness
  2. It is useful in skin diseases, acne and blood defects. It improves facial beauty

Precautions:

Persons suffering from Asthma and respiratory problems should do this Mudra for a short duration only.

10. Ling Mudra or the Mudra of Heat

Clasp all fingers of both hands together keeping your right thumb erect. Put a little pressure and sit relaxed. Practice it for 20-30 minutes every day.

Benefits:

  1. This mudra increases heat in the body and can cause sweating even in winter if done for a long time
  2. It helps in cold, coryza, asthma, cough, sinus problems and low blood pressure
  3. It dries phlegm

Precautions:

When doing this Mudra please increase intake of water, fruit, fruit juices, clarified butter (Ghee) and milk.

 

Note: I would like to add Anjali mudra which is the one we all know and love – hands to heart or ‘namaste’ – read more here.

Source:Yoga JournalInternational Day of Yoga Isha Sadghuru

Image: Riverside Studio manager Victoria Albreksen as captured by Idla Photography 

The Hips Don’t Lie – or do they?

The jury is out whether hips really are the ‘junk drawer’ for negative emotions, as a lot of yogis are known to say, or whether it’s all a load of fluff and actually is just due to physiological tightness.

I imagine that it’s a bit of both.

I come from a family of scientists; we love facts, research, and proof. I’ve always been a bit sceptical of some of the more fluffy stuff that us yogis spout on about (myself definitely included), and the hip issue is one of them that I treat with care for that very reason. I used to have a little internal chuckle when my teachers would warn us that the hip opening class could make us emotional. There are even jokes along the lines of ‘sorry for what I said while I was in pigeon pose’. I found it frustrating that everyone would carry on about these magical, invisible dumping grounds that coexisted with me in my hips, and wanted hard evidence of where all this esoteric stuff was coming from.

Over time, and with softening, and with letting go of the need to have everything scientifically proven (although there is still healthy scepticism that will always be there), and through seeing many students reactions to asana specifically focused on the hips, that there is definitely something way deeper than just the physical going on with people’s reactions to hip work. I’ve long ago ceased to be surprised when people snuffle their way through hip opening classes, or when grown men / women come to me after class to apologise for crying (usually noone even notices except them and me), often looking really bewildered and confused as to what on earth actually happened in there.

Yes, of course, our sedentary lifestyle and the amount of sitting we do for long periods can cause our hip flexors to shorten up and become tight, leading to problems with posture and back pain. The flip side (too much movement, or movement of a certain kind) can also cause pain and tightness – runners frequently suffer from hip soreness and inflammation due to overuse of certain muscles, impaired gait or poor running posture (which is why core strengthening and flexibility can help control posture when running to further reduce the workload of the psoas – but that’s for another post). So it makes sense that there can be a certain level of discomfort when doing hip work. 

My conclusion (and I reserve the right to change my mind at any point as I continue on my journey of learning – see, there’s another of those yogi cliches right there!) is that it’s probably a bit of both. Going with the slightly fluffy suggestion that the hips are said to be where we store emotion – often the kind we keep hidden down like anger, anxiety, sadness and frustration, it stands to reason that working on the deep tissues in hip opening asanas can release both physical and emotional tension.

Here’s what makes sense to me, the explanation that I can work with: on a physiological level the muscles of the hips have a relationship with the fight or flight response –  we are born with the reflex action of activating the hip flexors to bring us into the fetal position when under threat. One of the hip flexors, the psoas, is connected to the diaphragm so tightness here can lead to restrictions in the breath. So often in hip openers, we feel a sense of discomfort and so we instinctively tighten up – hold our breath, and essentially protect ourselves from this nasty feeling that we don’t like. And this is where the magic of the breath kicks in, and in my humble opinion, this is where the emotional stuff can be triggered, or brought into the light.

As we allow ourselves to surrender – or even start surrendering – letting go little by little, becoming softer, becoming even slightly more open to seeing what it is that we are so fiercely protecting ourselves from, it can be bloody scary, because sometimes we feel unbelievably vulnerable. Often it’s only at this point that we realise how tightly we’ve been holding on, and keeping ourselves safe – from whom or what is largely irrelevant at this point, it’s the fact that once that self-love starts, and you can hold yourself with compassion, you can almost allow yourself to let go. To realise you’re safe. You’re okay. You’ll be caught, even if you fall. The breath keeps us safe.

And here we can take it back to the practice on a psychological level – how we approach hip openers (and other strong poses) can be a mirror for how we approach other challenges in our lives; hip openers require a softening and surrendering into the pose, staying present and staying with the breath. This can be tough but ultimately worth it as our awareness grows.

Many of my students have heard me quote one of my heroes before – Viktor Frankl: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” So the option is there to view hip work as a chance to observe the stimulus (possible aversion to the pose, possible pain or tenderness, possible resistance) and then expanding the space before you choose your reaction – possibly asking some questions as to why on earth you are holding on so tightly, why you are so scared to let go, and then honouring it with your chosen response – to get out the pose quick smart, or to maybe stay and soften. That’s where the growth and the magic and the healing can happen.

Source: http://www.fitness.mercola.com; http://www.livestrong.com; http://www.ekhartyoga.com; Hatha Yoga Illustrated – Kirk/Boon/DiTuro; Yoga Anatomy – Kaminoff/Matthews

Standing Your Ground: Working with Muladhara Chakra

muladhara chakra grounding yoga with nicci

Our basic survival issues involving trust, health, nourishment, family, money and appropriate boundaries lie within the muladhara chakra – the root chakra. This energy center is close to the earth, helping us feel grounded and safe. It involves our right to be here and, when balanced, we feel comfortable in our bodies, we are able to trust and be still, we enjoy stability and we are able to face the world fearlessly.

The howling wind that was our constant companion during a recent trip I did to the Karoo left me feeling hugely unsettled and ungrounded. Hence, I did some things traditionally associated with balancing the root chakra:

1. Wore red
2. Got out into nature and close to the earth
3. Used some calming essential oil (lavender)
4. Breathed myself into stillness in four grounding asana.

I know I look like I’m having a boskak in malasana and the lavender does make me smell a bit like my granny, but I feel better now.

This post is especially for those of you that had questions on our recent retreat about how to work with the root chakra. Let me know if you have any questions. Always happy to chat.

Easing into a Seated Forward Fold

forward fold yoga with nicci.jpg

With a name like ‘intense stretch of the west’, how could you not love this asana? If you have super-tight hamstrings, that’s how.

We had a question come up in our recent retreat (post to follow) about how to ease into this pose if it’s currently a distant dream. Here are some steps to slowly get you there (tip: use a strap, a cushion, a partner):

Paschimottana (pashima = west, uttana = intense stretch)

Step 1 – Sit on the floor with your buttocks supported on a folded blanket and your legs straight in front of you. Press actively through your heels. Rock slightly onto your left buttock, and pull your right sitting bone away from the heel with your right hand. Repeat on the other side. Turn the top thighs in slightly and press them down into the floor. Press through your palms or finger tips on the floor beside your hips and lift the top of the sternum toward the ceiling as the top thighs descend.

Step 2 – Draw the inner groins deep into the pelvis. Inhale, and keeping the front torso long, lean forward from the hip joints, not the waist. Lengthen the tailbone away from the back of your pelvis. If possible take the sides of the feet with your hands, thumbs on the soles, elbows fully extended; if this isn’t possible, loop a strap around the foot soles, and hold the strap firmly. Be sure your elbows are straight, not bent, if possible.

Step 3 – When you are ready to go further, don’t forcefully pull yourself into the forward bend, whether your hands are on the feet or holding the strap. Always lengthen the front torso into the pose, keeping your head raised. If you are holding the feet, bend the elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor; if holding the strap, lighten your grip and walk the hands forward, keeping the arms long. The lower belly should touch the thighs first, then the upper belly, then the ribs, and the head last. For some people, the belly will never reach the thighs and that’s okay. Just do what you can and keep breathing and softening the belly.

Step 4 – With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates and lengthens almost imperceptibly with the breath. Eventually you may be able to stretch the arms out beyond the feet on the floor.

Step 5 – Stay in the pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. To come up, first lift the torso away from the thighs and straighten the elbows again if they are bent. Then inhale and lift the torso up by pulling the tailbone down and into the pelvis.

To make this deep forward fold more accessible, many people find it helpful to sit up on a folded blanket in this pose, and most beginners need to hold a strap around the feet. Extremely stiff students can place a rolled up blanket under their knees.

If you are comfortable in this pose and want to deepen it even further, once you are fully in the forward bend you can re-extend the elbows. There are several ways to do this. You can clasp your hands around the soles of the feet, or turn the back of one hand to the soles and grip its wrist with the other hand. You can also place a block against the soles of your feet and grip its sides with your hands.

Never force yourself into a forward bend, especially when sitting on the floor. Coming forward, as soon as you feel the space between your pubis and navel shortening, stop, lift up slightly, and lengthen again. Often, because of tightness in the backs of the legs, a beginner’s forward bend doesn’t go very far forward and might look more like sitting up straight.

Benefits

Calms the brain and helps relieve stress and mild depression

Stretches the spine, shoulders, hamstrings

Stimulates the liver, kidneys, ovaries, and uterus

Improves digestion

Helps relieve the symptoms of menopause and menstrual discomfort

Soothes headache and anxiety and reduces fatigue

Therapeutic for high blood pressure, infertility, insomnia, and sinusitis

Traditional texts say that Paschimottanasana increases appetite, reduces obesity, and cures diseases.

Partnering

A partner can help you release your lower back in this pose. Have your partner stand behind you facing your back. Perform the pose, then have your partner press his/her hands against your lower back and pelvis. The hands should be turned so the fingers point towards your tailbone. Remember though that the pressure isn’t to push you deeper into the forward bend; rather, gentle pressure (parallel to the line of the back) encourages the back spine and tailbone to lengthen away from the torso. Extend the front torso against this downward action.

Variation

If you’ve tried all the above and it’s still not happening for you, you can flip yourself over and try Urdhva Mukha (urdhva = upward; mukha = face) Paschimottanasana

Lie on your back, exhale, and bend your knees into your torso. Then inhale and extend the heels toward the ceiling. Slowly, on an exhalation, swing your feet toward the floor above your head. You may or may not be able to reach all the way to the floor. Try not to let the back of the pelvis lift very far from the floor—this is an upside-down version of Paschimottanasana, not Salamba Sarvangasana or Halasana.

Let me know if these tips help!

Source: http://www.yogajournal.com

Bandha what?

bandhas

An important component of yoga, the bandhas are primarily meant to serve our yogic practice. They are often misunderstood and so have a certain sense of mystery floating around then, when actually it’s all pretty straightforward, once you know the basics. I’ll try to unpack these guys here a little bit in an attempt to make them more accessible and to take your practice to the next level.

If you have been coming to my and Victoria’s yoga classes, you have probably been using them perhaps without realizing it, as we often cue them in class to guide our students into better alignment and help prevent injuries. Indeed, the physical practice of the bandhas utilizes co-activation of muscles and physical movements that ensure better alignment in postures and protect us from strain and injury.

More importantly, the bandhas, also known as energy locks, serve as valves that control energy, irrigate the channels of energy, and activate, replenish and balance the flow of prana throughout the body. While practicing, we observe energetic patterns beyond our physical form in the energy body.

So how does it work?

When you activate a bandha, the energy flow in a specific part of the body is blocked. When the bandha is released, this allows the energy to flow powerfully through the body and increases pressure. Asana creates bandha and bandha serves the breath and the breath is the vehicle for prana.

There are three classic bandhas: mulabandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha. They can be practiced together or individually during kriya, asana, pranayama, mudra, visualization, and meditation. When practiced together they are called tri-bandha, maha bandha or the fabulously named “Great Lock” (Maha in Sanskrit means ‘great’ or ‘supreme’ and Bandha means a lock – this term is the one used in the yogic texts Hatha Yoga Pradeepika, Gheranda Samhita and the Siva Samhita). 

The question came up on our recent retreat as to why one would isolate the bandhas – a great question which I’m not sure I know the official answer to, but my understanding is that you would initially just use one or the other of the classic locks, and only at the point that you have mastered it/them would you move on to using all three at once. Does that help? Does anyone have a better answer or explanation?

So, the next time you hear the word bandha bandied about in a yoga class, you will know that it’s an instruction to focus on your internal energy and on harnessing this energy within the body. Start practicing slowly, please ask as many questions as you may have, and please let me know how you find it benefits your practice.

For a detailed breakdown of the three classic locks, you may wish to check out this lovely clear explanation of each.

Source: http://www.intuitiveflow.com

Image: Brenda Medina, http://www.brendayoga.tumblr.com

 

5 Reasons Why Your Teen Should Be Doing Yoga

teens..I sometimes wonder how I would have turned out if I had actively started practicing yoga when I was in my teens, and specifically after being raped at the already-mixed up age of 14.

Perhaps, instead of stealing wine from my folks’ booze cupboard and bunking high school to drink it on the banks of the Eersterivier, or on the stoep of one of my dad’s engineering students’ digs, I would have tapped into my hurting heart me, and found a healthier way of making sense of my confused and supercharged emotions.

Perhaps I would have learnt how futile it is to compare my body shape / size / dimensions to my peers or the girls in the magazines or (these days) social media, to stop viewing myself as lacking, and making friends with myself – inside and out.

Perhaps I would have found the connection with others that I craved instead of isolating myself and numbing my loneliness with alcohol.

Perhaps I would have learnt earlier on what it means to really love yourself before you can love anyone else. That you can’t expect someone else to fill in your gaps or fix your broken pieces if you don’t even know what they are or how to find them.

Perhaps I would have held out for the super cool dude at school who I really fancied instead of settling for one with dirty nails and skanky flakes on his shirt collar. Maybe I would have put a higher price on myself, not selling myself short or thinking I wasn’t worth being adored and cherished.

Perhaps I would have realized earlier on the extent to which I had disassociated from my body, and perhaps I would have found the tools to self-soothe and work with my broken self and heal instead of trying to pretend there was nothing wrong.

Perhaps I would have avoided walking down that terrifying dark road of addiction after repeatedly teaching myself that it was possible to bypass uncomfortable feelings, and learned to sit with the discomfort instead, and grow from it, in the same way that a lotus grows out of the mud.

As that old song goes, ‘perhaps, perhaps, perhaps’.

What’s the point in wondering? I didn’t ‘find’ yoga until I was at varsity, even though it was always there in my life through my mum or my granny, who were yoginis through and through. And because of the various things that slowed me down in my process of self-discovery and my journey towards wholeness, you could say that I’m a seriously late bloomer, but better late than never, right?!

Nevertheless, it’s got me thinking about how strongly I feel that teenagers may benefit from getting into yoga sooner rather than later. I have a real soft spot for teenage girls, maybe because I was one and I know how hard it can be. I also happen to know a bunch of really cool teenage girls right now, daughters of my friends and family, who I am holding in my mind and my heart as I think about why I would like to start offering these classes in the third term this year.

Let me elaborate.

Scientific and experiential evidence proves many of yoga’s well established benefits. From physical to mental to spiritual, devoted yogis everywhere race to their mats to reap the rewards.

And now, recent research from the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics shows that even high-school students can cash in on the same benefits that older yogis do.

At the end of their ten week study, researchers found that high school students who participated in the yoga offering during PE class scored better on psychological tests screening for anxiety, depression, and mood imbalances than the teens that did not. The teens who participated in yoga reported fewer negative emotions than those who didn’t participate in yoga during the ten week study. Here are some more of the benefits that became apparent:

1. Physical

The physical benefits of yoga for teens are quite similar to the benefits of yoga for adults. In the end, yoga means union in Sanskrit, so it makes sense that many of the benefits would be the same.

Yoga builds strength, increases flexibility, lengthens the muscles, increases coordination and balance, builds core stability, and can help students’ posture rebound from a day hunched over a desk (or a smartphone).

2. Educational

As a teenager, there are heaps of distractions around — from what you’re going to wear to the party on Friday night, to the who-likes-who dramas — there are much more interesting things to think about than what a rain shadow is or calculating the size of an angle.

Yoga can help teens mentally refocus on the task at hand. By practicing living in the moment on the mat, teenagers can more fully concentrate on the present moment off the mat.

3. Emotional

By practicing present moment living on the mat, high school students will have a better sense of their emotions. Yoga will enable them to connect with their deeper layers and understand more fully what they are feeling. By developing a better understanding of their emotions, teens can then more appropriately process them.

Emotional intelligence is a very powerful thing to learn at an early age.

In addition to connecting you with your emotions, yoga encourages self-love and self-acceptance. This benefit is especially powerful for teens struggling with body image. It’s a beautiful way to learn to love yourself and appreciate the body for what it is and what it can do, rather than what it looks like. It builds compassion for the self which then radiates to compassion for others.

4. Mental

Yoga’s mental benefits are fairly well documented, and as evidenced by the study mentioned above, teenagers who practice yoga show more positive moods, less anxiety and depression, and greatly enjoy asana practice (the physical practice of yoga).

With the stress and anxiety of exams, extra murals, tests, speeches and all of the other pressures that plague high school kids today, yoga can be a step in the right direction.

5. Social

Yoga breeds connection. As mentioned previously, it means union in Sanskrit. By understanding that each and every single person is one, perhaps teens will learn to accept one another more fully, no matter their clique, social interests or popularity ranking.

Yoga is non-judgemental, and the more we practice, the more acceptance and less judgement we’ll have in our daily lives. Yoga will help teenagers become more compassionate for one another.

The crazy thing is that even as I type this, I know one of the hardest parts of getting a class for teens off the ground is going to be finding a time in their busy schedules to fit it into their week. Which, in a way, is just another reason of why it’s so necessary for these very special young people to slow things down a bit, and connect with what’s most important – themselves.

Even though it took me about one and a half decades after finishing high school before I finally started internalising all these lessons, at least I got there in the end. Better late than never, for sure, and actually I wouldn’t change a thing, because every single step of the process has brought me to where I am today, and today is good. I’m grateful for the learning and the healing that continues every single time I get on my mat. And I’m realizing that I have a growing passion for sharing this transformational and gentle practice with young girls just like I was, who could benefit from a soft place to fall and learning early to cultivate a lifelong tool of self-awareness.

 

(Source: http://www.doyouyoga.com)