4 Ways Yoga Can Help You Combat Anxiety and Build Self-Confidence

  • Amy K. Mitchell
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Anxiety and depression can destroy self-confidence. I know because I have anxiety. Panic, if you want to be specific. Medically I have been diagnosed with an “anxiety disorder,” but that makes it sound even more unpleasant, and anxiety is already unpleasant enough without additional descriptors.

Though mental wounds like anxiety or depression can cause self-confidence issues, they are not the only causes. Low self-esteem comes in all shapes and sizes – maybe your boss berates you and your work on a weekly, or worse, daily basis, or perhaps you’ve always struggled with weight issues. Whatever the reason, lack of self-confidence is a problem that, millions, if not all of us, experience at some point.

Yogic practices can help combat symptoms of depression, improve mood, and increase overall feelings of self worth (read more about yoga and depression here). So the good news is that we have yoga to improve well being and rebuild self-confidence. I've experienced the benefits of the practice myself and am so excited to share these tools with others.

Four Ways Yoga Can Improve Self-Esteem

1. Learn How to Self-Soothe

Two of my favorite parts of a yoga class are Child’s Pose at the beginning of a class and Pigeon Pose, usually later in the class. These poses are considered “safe” poses (meaning you are in a protected position). In the quiet that comes with both poses, the mind slowly relaxes. You learn to concentrate on your breath and notice the effects on the body as the body follows the mind into relaxation. This is the process of learning to self-calm and is one of the most important aspects of your yoga practice (and why we call it a practice). Being able to self-calm helps to restore self-confidence. A situation is never as bad as it seems in your head – just breathe through it and reassess.

2. Practice Taking Small Steps

As you move through yoga, you build your practice. And more importantly, you begin to achieve successes – a hallmark of building self-confidence. One day it might be finding your “perfect” Warrior II, the next might be my favorite confidence-building pose – Crow Pose. Each time you step onto your mat, your body eases into the poses that much deeper, that much easier. But it takes patience. You must learn to take those small steps that eventually become the whole.

3. Feel Good in Your Own Skin

We all have those days. Days when nothing fits or looks right, when your hair frizzes, your makeup runs, and your shoes hurt. These small irritants can ruin a day, and when they keep occurring, they create a feeling that your body is separate from you. It can take a toll on your confidence in yourself and how you carry yourself (which others notice too). But yoga allows you to be comfortable in your body and mind again. How? You learn in yoga that each of us is different and each of us has our own unique gifts. They might not be exactly what we would have asked for, but we learn that they are good enough. And that is enough.

4. Find Support Through Community

Low self-esteem often encourages isolation. All of us spend the occasional Saturday night on the couch binge-watching Netflix, but when it becomes the norm, it becomes a problem. And that is where yoga can help. Even though you stand alone on your mat, you are surrounded by love, whether you have a practice with an online studio like YogaToday or go to a studio in person. Yogis might just be some of the nicest people around and they accept you for you. Allow yoga to draw you out of your shell and you’ll notice a big difference in your self-confidence.

Yoga isn’t a cure all for low self-esteem, but it does help to get you back on the path to being a confident being. Give a full class a try (like this 30-minute flow for internal power) or even experiment with a single yoga pose and watch what happens. I happen to have a few favorite poses that always make me stand a little taller so hit the mat and hold your head high!

The Best Poses to Boost Confidence

Crow Pose

As an arm balance, Crow Pose is a good way for all yogis to test themselves and also to play. Going upside down can be scary; it takes patience, confidence, and trust to find your balance in Crow (and not fall on your face). And even if you do, try, try again!

Camel Pose

I used to hate Camel Pose. Camel is a very vulnerable pose and for years, I disliked how the pose exposes the heart (the point of the pose). But with practice… I allow myself to open up and explore Camel.

Editor's Note: Amy is not alone! Many students struggle with Camel Pose because it can cause dizziness and nausea. Camel also elevates the heart rate which can be triggering for someone prone to panic attacks and anxiety. Working with this pose, however, can be helpful for the anxiety-prone as it allows us to practice working with "Interoception" – the awareness of what is going on inside our body, without attaching judgment, adding meaning, or trying to fix anything. When we simply notice sensations with a curious eye, we begin to reprogram the brain, and, in turn, the nervous system. Therefore, interoception is a powerful tool when it comes to neuroplasticity, the rewiring of neural pathways. It can help us better manage pain, anxiety, and effects of trauma. You can practice interoception in a specific pose like Camel or during your next yoga class, or even while meditating: simply by watch the feelings arise without attaching a story to the sensations.

Eagle Pose

Eagle is both a balancing pose (a challenge) and a confidence building pose. In Eagle, you have to find poise in stillness.

Pigeon Pose

There is nothing like letting go in Pigeon Pose. In the quiet of the pose, I often find the answers my mind is seeking. 

Amy K. Mitchell is the founder of ProYOGA Corporate Wellness. Amy is a 20-year veteran government professional, having worked in the Bush administration, on Capitol Hill, and for a variety of non-profits and multi-media companies as a strategic communicator, leading several national campaigns to support the U.S. military and veterans. Amy is an RYT-200 and completed her training in 2013. She specializes in stress reduction through yoga. She also holds certifications in yoga with weights, SUP Yoga, and power yoga. Amy started ProYOGA to make yoga more accessible by bringing it to where people spend the majority of their time: work. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @proyogausa.

Photos: splitshire.com; amazon.com; wellandgood.com

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