Sobriety, yoga, self-esteem & you

a happy woman doing a yoga pose illustration

On our path of self-discovery, we seek practices that not only nurture the body but also uplift the mind. Yoga is an ancient practice rooted in the harmonization of the mind, body, and spirit that stands as a beacon for those seeking holistic well-being. Among its many benefits, one we will talk about today, stands out for its profound psychological impact: building self-esteem through steady practice and progress.

The Role of Goals in Yoga Practice

Goals are a funny thing in the realm of yoga, especially when we add in recovery. On the one hand, yoga philosophy asks us to do our work without attachment to the outcome, so we dive deep in our practice with no desire to see a certain outcome. On the other hand, of course we want to see progress and achievement. Our society is based on achieving and success! So, we walk a fine line here. In addiction we can be very transactional, we get money to buy drugs or alcohol, we consume substances to feel (or not feel) a certain way. We do “A” to get “B”. It’s very this for that.

In yoga, though, we want to change that dynamic. We do our yoga practice just for the sake of doing our yoga practice. We have faith that practice is good for us and something we should do and that can be enough to keep us going.

You have a right to your actions, but never to your actions’ fruits. Act for the action’s sake. And do not be attached to inaction. Self possessed, resolute, act without any thoughts of results, open to success or failure.

~ Bhagavad Gita

On our yoga journey, each practitioner their own sets goals, whether consciously or subconsciously. These goals can vary widely, from mastering a challenging asana (pose) to deepening one’s breathwork. The act of setting goals in yoga isn’t just about achieving the perfect pose; it’s about setting a target for personal growth, one that aligns the body and mind.

Goals in yoga are unique because they aren’t always about external achievement. Rather, they often involve internal progress—becoming more mindful, being present, and accepting oneself. Such goals, however, can often manifest outwardly, giving practitioners a tangible sense of achievement that builds self-esteem.

The Journey Towards Mastery

The path to mastering a yoga pose mirrors life’s journey—it’s rarely a straight line. There are stumbles, falls, and the occasional backward step. Yet, with consistent practice, individuals notice gradual improvements. They might hold a pose for a few seconds longer than before, or stretch just a little deeper into it. These small victories provide a sense of progress and reinforce the idea that improvement is possible with effort.

Mastering a challenging yoga pose isn’t just a physical triumph; it’s a victory of will and determination. Each small step toward achieving a goal on the mat builds confidence. This process of progress and achievement becomes a powerful tool in boosting self-esteem, reinforcing the idea that one is capable of growth and overcoming challenges.

The Power of Patience and Persistence

Yoga teaches patience and persistence, as mastery doesn’t happen overnight. Regular practice often involves repetition, muscle memory, and gradual adjustments to body alignment. Through this practice, individuals learn to be patient with their bodies and their progress, embracing the journey rather than focusing solely on the destination.

This mindset, cultivated on the yoga mat, can translate to other areas of life. When practitioners recognize that consistent effort leads to improvement in yoga, they may begin to see setbacks in life not as failures but as opportunities for growth. This perspective shift fosters resilience and reinforces self-worth, contributing to enhanced self-esteem.

Cultivating Self-Esteem Beyond the Mat

The confidence gained from achieving yoga goals extends far beyond the mat. It becomes a well of self-belief that individuals can draw upon in various aspects of life. When someone masters a pose they once deemed impossible, it instills the belief that other challenges in life are also conquerable.

Moreover, the practice of setting and achieving goals in yoga encourages people to set realistic yet challenging goals in other areas of their lives. Whether it’s advancing in their careers, improving personal relationships, or adopting healthier habits, the discipline and self-esteem gained through yoga can be a catalyst for broader life changes.

Mind-Body Harmony and Self-Esteem

Beyond physical achievements, yoga instills a sense of mind-body harmony. The practice involves synchronizing breath with movement, creating a meditative state that encourages introspection. As practitioners become more attuned to their inner selves, they start valuing themselves more, independent of external standards or societal pressures.

This inward focus helps in fostering positive self-esteem. By understanding and accepting their bodies’ unique capabilities and limitations, individuals cultivate a deeper sense of self-worth. This self-acceptance lays the groundwork for a more stable self-esteem that doesn’t easily waver with external circumstances.

An example of a goal, Bakasana

Think for a minute about what your ‘goals’ in yoga look like. Is there a pose you’ve seen and want to do? Work towards it! How do you go about that? Let’s look at Bakasana aka Crow Pose. It’s considered a fairly hard pose that you may come across in all levels yoga classes. What do you see when you look at this pose?

a person in bakasana crow pose near a waterfall yoga for self esteem

First, it is an arm balance which means you’ll need some shoulder strength and shoulder stability. Next, notice the knees are tucked in very tightly to the belly and chest, so we’ll want to strong core strength and hip flexors. It’s hard to see from the illustration but the knees are pressing in on the outer edges of the upper arm. Also, notice that the hands are almost in the middle of the pose between toes and the crown of the head. With all of these observations, we can start to put together a plan to achieve the pose.

First, try the shape in different positions. Start on your back, reach your arms towards the sky and draw up your knees to your upper arms. Curl into a nice tight ball. How does this feel? Tough already? Break it down further. What’s tough, bringing up the knees to the arms? Cycle through some moves that bring the knees up high. While on your back you can also to some core work (like crunches) to strengthen the belly.

Another big piece of the pose is the shoulder strength. So, let’s try plank pose and hold it for 5 breaths, then 8 breaths, then 1 minute, then 3 minutes…. build it over time. If you need to start with knees down, do that, then move into knees up plank. When plank is going well, let’s add some extra shoulder work. Start with knees down in plank and do push ups, first 3, then 5, then 10, then 20. When you are able, take the knees off the floor and do 3, then 5, then 10, then 20 pushups (keep elbows in, along your body!)

Next, let’s try the crow shape in another position. From standing, part your feet about hip width or wider. Reach your arms out in front of your chest with palms facing down. Start to lower into a squat, nice and slow with lots of mindful attention. How low can you go? In crow pose the knees are at the arms, can you squat so low that your triceps touch your knees? If no, take some time to work towards that.

Once these pieces start to fall into place, we can try the pose. For crow, I recommend starting on a perch such as a 4 inch tall block or heavy book. Squat down as we did in the last paragraph. When you are all the way down, tip forward until your hands are on the floor. Now it gets fun! Cast your gaze a foot or so ahead of you and keep your eyes softly gazing at the floor. Squeeze your upper arms with your knees and tighten up your thighs towards your belly/ribs. Lastly, we do not go in an upward direction, we go forward. Remember how the hands on the floor are almost below the belly button? Keep that in mind. Shift your weight forward. You can keep your toe tips on your perch until you are set. Then, draw your knees and thighs up into your torso to lift your feet from the perch. There you go, Crow!

This kind of goal process is great for yoga. Set an intention, find a path, take your time on that path, don’t drag your feet and don’t rush. Don’t worry if it comes slowly, we are here to do our work and not get caught up in the outcome. Take your time and the path will unfold for you.

Keep on keeping on

Our journey into yoga is an ongoing one, filled with challenges, progress, and constant learning. Each milestone reached on this journey serves as a building block for stronger self-esteem. By setting and achieving goals in yoga, individuals experience personal growth that transcends the mat, fostering resilience, confidence, and a positive self-image.

In this sense, yoga becomes more than a physical practice; it is a powerful tool for mental well-being, offering a path to better self-esteem through the simple yet profound act of goal achievement. So, whether you’re balancing in tree pose or deepening your breathwork in meditation, each step forward is a testament to your growth and a boost to your self-esteem. The mat becomes not just a place for physical exercise, but a mirror reflecting the limitless potential within each of us.


REFERENCES:

The Cleveland Clinic reports that medical students who practiced restorative yoga once a week for six weeks showed significant improvements in their self-esteem and clarity of thought. This suggests that yoga’s benefits for self-esteem are accessible to anyone, regardless of their starting point​ https://health.clevelandclinic.org/restorative-yoga

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