yoga

Find Your Power: How Your Posture Can Change Everything

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I find myself curling up into a ball a lot.  I sleep in the fetal position, feel most comfortable when I’m sitting cross legged on a couch, and I love child’s pose in yoga.  I’ve always enjoyed curling up in a tight little ball, like a porcupine or turtle.

I also notice that when I’m feeling uncomfortable, ashamed, nervous, or vulnerable, I tend to curl into one of these positions.  I might bring my feet up to my chair and wrap my arms around my knees, slouch my back, or look down at my lap with my arms crossed.  I describe the feeling of shame like a hook on my navel that pulls back, causing me to close in on myself.  Someone once told me that I make myself small in these moments, both in my presence and my physical posture.

Our body language and the way we hold ourselves communicates a lot.  We notice it when we’re arguing with our spouse or facing our boss: nonverbals can often tell us more about what the other person is thinking than the words they say.  According to Amy Cuddy, author of Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges*, our physical postures don’t only communicate messages to others, but they also communicate messages to ourselves.

You may have heard of (and potentially scoffed at) the concept of power posing made popular by Amy Cuddy’s research and TED talk.  She references her research that shows evidence that taking on a powerful, open posture (like Wonder Woman) before an evaluative event, like an interview, can help you to feel more confident and present your authentic self during that interview.  Although her research has faced some criticism, I believe her basic concepts of confidence, authenticity, and presence still stand.

What I realized is that I need to address the shame and insecurity that causes me to take on the defensive and protective posture in the first place.

When listening to this TED talk, I didn’t take away that I only need to take on a physical pose to fix my insecurities.  What I realized is that I need to address the shame and insecurity that causes me to take on the defensive and protective posture in the first place.

Notice that the power posture is described by taking up more space and making yourself big.  Physically, you are opening up.  But this is not just a physical phenomenon.    When we choose to be authentic, honest, and genuine with our true selves, we are opening ourselves up to potential criticism or risk of rejection.  We are taking up space in ways that might be uncomfortable for others.  We are making sure those around us know who we are, and we are not afraid to be ourselves.

“Don’t just fake it 'til you make it.  Fake it 'til you become it.”

As women, this can feel countercultural.  Gender stereotypes about women encourage “meekness,” being quiet, sacrificing your own needs for the needs of your husband or family, and being “nice.”  In the process, we can take on a subservient posture, making ourselves small to the point that we almost feel invisible or unimportant.  I’m not surprised by Amy Cuddy’s observation that women tend to close up in that posture much more often: in many cases, we’ve been taught to do that since we were young. 

Making myself small wasn’t just a comfortable physical position.  It also hinted at areas of shame, anxiety, insecurity, and uncertainty about my ability to be truly loved.  I would make myself as small as possible not to be an inconvenience to others, whether that was physically or through keeping myself quiet and avoiding conflict or speaking my mind.

What’s interesting is that as you begin to step into a place of greater confidence, power, and certainty of your true identity, it’s not as if you’re putting on a fake persona or changing your personality.  It might feel like that at first, like a new pair of shoes that has yet to be broken in.  But as you begin to take up more space, you’ll find that you are able to be a more authentic and genuine version of yourself without hiding behind your insecurities and fears.

I had to give voice to the parts of me that had been silently screaming beneath the surface for years.  I had to learn to say “no”, and “wait”, and “I need”.

Amy shares her own story of insecurity and impostor syndrome.  She had to fight to prove to herself and everyone else around her that she deserved to be where she was.  And that was not an easy battle.  But the hard-fought battle was eventually won.

It took some serious self-reflection and change in my understanding of my own insecurities in order for me to begin to take up more space.  I had to give voice to the parts of me that had been silently screaming beneath the surface for years.  I had to learn to say “no”, and “wait”, and “I need”.  But as this shift has taken place, I feel a distinctive difference in how I approach life.  I feel confident.  I feel powerful.  I feel strong in ways I didn't think I could feel.

I’ve noticed something as I’ve started to do yoga.  Often we stand in mountain pose or recline in crescent lunge for a few breath cycles.  These poses are confident, open, and powerful postures to take on.  I know that as I am standing in these postures, focusing on my breathing, and highly aware of my body, I am feeling confident.  Do I believe that confidence extends to the rest of my day?  I can’t say for sure.  But I do know that it brings a moment of confidence and certainty to my authentic self that I wouldn’t experience if I didn’t take those strong, powerful moments.

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Do you struggle with insecurities and lack of self-confidence?  Are you tired of beating yourself up?  Does shame tend to rule your life?  I know what it feels like to be caught in what feels like a never-ending shame spiral.  At Restored Hope, I offer counseling that specifically addresses the shame you can feel from addictive behaviors, relationship difficulties, hopelessness, and anxiety.  Give me a call at my Novi or Ann Arbor therapy offices at 734.656.8191 or email me to talk more about what you need and how I can help.

 

 

 

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Self-Care Saturdays: Take a Mindful Moment

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Welcome to Self-Care Saturdays!.  In a world where we are constantly faced with demands on our time and energy, it can feel impossible to slow down enough to pay attention to our own needs and take steps to care for them.  These articles are meant to get you thinking about one small step you can take today to practice kindness and care for yourself. 

Mindfulness is a trendy topic mentioned often by psychologists these days.  Over the past few years my curiosity about mindfulness has been peaked, and I’ve tried out meditation, yoga, and other stress-relieving activities to see what all the buzz is about.

And I’ve found that the reason mindfulness is so popular is that it works.

As I’ve been growing my counseling private practice and seeking to achieve balance between my business schedule and personal commitments, I’ve realized that stress is a common factor in my daily life.  Since research has shown that mindfulness benefits healthcare professionals, I thought I’d give it a go.

I picked up a month-long yoga practice this past month on Yoga with Adriene, and I truly believe it has changed my life.  Doing yoga daily creates space for me to intentionally slow down, practice breathing deeply, and grow in conscious awareness of my body and how I hold myself throughout my day.  My goal for the month was to feel better, and I certainly did.

What is mindfulness?  How does it benefit me?

If your concept of mindfulness includes the image of a Buddhist monk sitting cross-legged and letting out a few “om”s, you’re likely not alone.  Mindfulness, however, is a much broader reaching practice than just these examples.  Mindfulness is defined as a state of conscious awareness in the present moment without judgment.  You can practice mindfulness while you’re walking down the street, driving in your car, or playing with your children.

A multitude of studies completed in recent years show all the health benefits of mindfulness.  It reduces stress and improves mood, likely due to slowing down the fight-or-flight stress response.  Mindfulness increases focus and attention, which then links to an improvement in job performance.  It leads to a reduction in symptoms of chronic pain and has shown positive benefits with cancer patients’ recovery.  For recovering addicts, doing mindful practices actually encourage change in the brain structures that have been formed through addiction.  It also offers benefits to those who suffer from depression or overly intense emotions.

What about the benefits of yoga?

Yoga is one major way to target those benefits of mindfulness, but it also carries its own positive effects.  Yoga can be a form of exercise to increase your flexibility, muscle strength, and tone.  It can provide cross training for running or other cardio exercise.  It also can help you to become a more mindful eater as you grow in awareness of your body and how it feels.

Psychologically, yoga targets stress and provides relief through relaxation, reducing anxiety, and improving your mood.  Yoga can help you to build a positive sense of self, which is often threatened by the shame or negative self-talk characteristic of depression.  If you are a survivor of trauma and struggle with dissociation, yoga can help you become more in touch with your body and help you to ground into the present moment.

One of the most beneficial concepts for me in my yoga practice was the beginner’s mind.  As a former dancer, I believed that in order to prove my flexibility and be the “best” at yoga, I had to do all the intense pretzel-like postures the instructor was doing.  As a recovering perfectionist, I still felt pressure to do every move “perfectly.”  Luckily, the instructor encouraged me to listen to my body and not push myself beyond my limits.  Being able to slow down on the mat and give myself permission to be imperfect allowed me to approach other areas of my life with the same calm and willingness to learn.

One potential roadblock for Christians who are hoping to try yoga is the potential struggle with its Buddhist roots.  As a Christian myself, I wrestle with this concept too.  I’ve chosen to use poses that involve a prayer posture or my intention for my practice as a way to connect with the Lord in prayer and surrender, seeking to set my mind on Him.  In yoga classes, you may come across language that feels uncomfortable or doesn’t fit with your Christian beliefs, and that’s fine! If it’s too difficult for you, you can try a different instructor or seek out Christian yoga classes.

How can I practice mindfulness in my life? 

Try a breathing exercise.

Taking a few moments to enjoy some deep breaths helps to slow down your nervous system and decrease anxiety.  Practicing breathing can be a task that takes as short as 10 minutes or less – it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of your day.  It can be helpful to use a guided meditation in which to do this.  I really like the Headspace app, which gives you fun animations to help you start and 10-minute meditations to walk through.  For my Christian friends, I’d also recommend Everyday Prayer, a short podcast series with meditative prayers to increase a sense of mindfulness.

Test out mindful eating.

As you eat your next meal, pay attention to the flavors and textures of the foods you are eating.  Notice the smell of the spices in the food.  Pay attention to how your stomach feels, if you notice yourself feeling full or stuffed as a signal to stop.

Go for a mindful walk.

Take a walk outside.  Pay attention to the feel of your feet pressing against the ground, the temperature of the air, and the feeling of wind on your skin.  Look around at the sights around you, whether they involve nature, other people, or buildings.  Smell the fresh air outside.

Yoga.

As talked about before, I’ve become a big proponent of yoga after I’ve seen how I’ve felt as a result of doing it daily.  I love Yoga with Adriene.  She offers hundreds of free yoga videos on her YouTube channel, and if you subscribe to her newsletter you receive a monthly calendar with a practice she’s chosen for each day of the month.  Check out YouTube for other free yoga channels, or join a class in your area.

Practice consistently.

As you likely know if you’ve tried and failed to start a new exercise regimen, you don’t begin to see the benefit to your fitness levels until you’ve made the practice a habit.  Practicing mindfulness daily is an important step to experience its health benefits.  You can choose a time and place that works best for you – I like doing my yoga first thing in the morning (and I go to sleep in my yoga clothes so I’m ready to go when I wake up!)  It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment either: even just taking 10 minutes a day can show a marked difference.

How will you practice mindfulness this week?

 

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Do you feel like you’re constantly juggling a million tasks and struggling to find space to breathe?  Do you love the idea of taking a yoga class, but just can’t figure out how to fit it into your busy schedule?  Are you burned out and tired with the loads of stress you’re carrying?  My hope is to offer you a fresh breath of air through counseling.  At Restored Hope, I offer therapy sessions focusing on self-care and creating space in your schedule and your life for rest.  Give me a call at 734.656.8191 or email me today to chat more about how I can help.