The most powerful women I’ve ever met are Hillary Clinton and Oprah Winfrey. Powerful, in terms of their influence. Both are calm, genuine, and confident. Both have spent their lifetimes helping others. But Hillary is another story so let’s just focus on Oprah for the balance of this article.
Oprah didn’t emerge as a media powerhouse. In fact, she’s gone from thinking “Who does she think she is?” to, “This is who I am.” That resonates with me.
If I discern anything from her views, it isn’t her ego, it’s her transformation from looking outside for answers to living from a place of real authenticity, vulnerability, and confidence. So, what does this have to do with yoga you ask? Everything.
If there is one thing I can guarantee that you’ll acquire from a steady yoga practice is self-awareness. Moving from an outwards gaze to an inward gaze. You’ll process information and act on your own wise, internal guidance. From a place that is uncluttered by the messages we receive from media, friends, partners, employers, and anyone else other than ourselves.
That internal gaze will impact all aspects of your life. If you already do that, I just might ask you if you do it a hundred percent of the time? I doubt it. But don’t be alarmed, we all do. Here’s why: We’re taught at a very young age to listen to our parents of origin, a higher power through forms of worship, our teachers, police officers, you name it. At what point are we taught to listen to, and trust, our own innate voice, our wisdom. Few have learned that. Yoga teaches you that.
When you’re able to declutter the messages you receive from outside of yourself and absorb information with a lens that has a filter of authenticity, vulnerability and confidence you, too, will be able to shout, “This is who I am” from the rooftops.
Were you taught that being confident was only okay until you reached “a certain age” and then the “rules” changed somehow? I don’t know about you, but I was. I remember feeling so proud when I was the fastest kid I knew in my neighborhood. Then, as I began to get older I was bullied for being rambunctious, and labeled a “tomboy” – as if that was the worst thing you could say to a girl in the 60’s. I have reframed those labels as “full of energy” and “athlete.”
Yoga teaches you to look inside yourself for all that you need. The labels society tries to impose on you become less relevant when you operate from a place of self-awareness. When you practice yoga, your strength is more than physical. The nourishment you receive, the sustenance that builds feelings of limitlessness, is developed from observing your thoughts and behaviors. Below are a few exercises to enhance that part of your practice.
According to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, there are Eight Limbs of Yoga: The Yamas, The Niyamas, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyanna, and Samadhi. As I’m sure you’ve heard a lot, the word ‘yoga’ means to connect, unite or ‘yoke’. The thing we look to connect to is the true self, also known as the ‘divine essence’, or ‘ultimate self’. Let’s look more closely, as it relates to our study of self-awareness, the ultimate self (or atman).
Four yoga practices to help you look inside to cultivate authenticity and confidence:
Inside the Yamas:
- Satya (Absence of Falsehood) – Becoming trustworthy to yourself.
The word ‘sat’ literally translates as ‘true essence’ or ‘true nature’. This teaching asks us to understand how much time is spent not seeing the truth (or reality) in many of our life situations. Yoga teaches us to trust that we have the capacity to see the truth. Many of us, myself included, have battled an internal critic. That is also referred to at times as a monkey mind. It’s simply a busy mind. One thing that yoga can enhance in your life is the fluctuations of the mind. As we become still, the mind may become active. What is that voice saying to you? You are the witness to that voice. Looking at this Absence of Falsehood is a way in which we can build a better relationship with ourselves, and that will ultimately extend out to the world around us. As we resolve to become aware of this falsehood, we pay more attention to life experiences that are always changing, not that which is in us which is true – our true nature. Those life experiences are outside of ourselves. Instead, become trustworthy to yourself. Trust your truth: your true essence.
Inside the Niyamas:
- Santosha (Contentment) – A non-doing experience of relaxing inward in order to realize your inherent “enoughness.”
For most it’s far easier to dedicate a practice of contentment with what we have, than for contentment in who we are. But haven’t you said to yourself at times “I’ll be happy when…” only to get to that event, time, or perfect pose and all those “future perfect” goals are still out there. It’s far more powerful to see that if you can cultivate a means of accepting and appreciating what you have already, you can move from a place of love. Love for yourself. To build on the previous paragraph on Staya, it’s about contentment in your truth – that you are perfect, just as you are. This doesn’t mean non-action. It’s simply wonderful to have clear goals for a future that is healthy, vital and full of purpose, but being whole and healthy – full of gratitude for your internal experience in the moment – is grounded in a place of love.
- Svadhyaya (Self-Study) – Ways of clearing away any misperceptions, as a means to see your life clearly.
The word itself is made up of Sva, meaning own, self, or the human soul, and Adhayaya, meaning lesson, lecture, or reading, as well as a practice of studying the Self. I always wondered while writing my book on yoga, why some people I interviewed made sure I capitalized the ‘S’ in self. I’ve come to find out that a small ‘s’ refers to ourselves in this physical form, or as some would say – our ego. But other scholars I asked about this simply said ‘self’ is who we consider ourselves to be on a daily basis. But, when there is a capital “S” (Self), this is more likely a reference to our true self, Atman, or the divine within us.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra says: “Study thy self, discover the divine” 11.44
Who am I to argue with Patanjali? In all seriousness, it’s a noble quest to seek your authentic truth. Many come to yoga with questions about the inherent nature of life. As a recognized guide, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, help us in this quest. This journey to self, this yoga, is rewarding as we learn to see, with truth, our own divine nature. Our natural state is authenticity. Try and show up on your mat with a sense of vulnerability to see this truth. After all, it’s called a practice for a reason.
- Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender) – The understanding of how your intentions relate to what you actually give your attention to.
In most translations of this Niyama, we’re advised to ‘surrender’ to a higher power and our higher self, which in essence means cultivating a deep and trusting relationship with the universe, and making each action an offering to something bigger than us. There are more ways that I have studied how to interpret this, but this interpretation always made me feel like taking great care to remain open, willing, vulnerable, and teachable would allow me to cultivate great confidence, while remaining humble to something far greater than I can imagine or explain. That’s divine. That’s love. That’s yoga.
Also, I share this story with my yoga students when explaining this Niyama:
One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’
Learn, like Oprah did, to feed the one that calls you to your highest potential. Yoga teaches us that. Does Oprah practice yoga? Uncertain of whether or not she practices the physical postures as much as you do, but I’m certain she lives from the other limbs, even if the names are changed depending on her lens through which she sees the world. I do know when I met her, she clearly seems to operate from a place of love. That, in my opinion, is yoga. Yoga is life. Life is yoga. You, just like me, have an amazing tool – our yoga, our self – to show you that you can stand in your great, unlimited, light and shine big and bright. From that place of unlimited potential, you can operate from a place of power, authenticity and truth. A place that feels limitless.
(this article first appeared in OM Yoga & Lifestyle Magazine Tweet
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