Upon stepping into her first yoga class in 15 years, my friend Robin removed her shoes, looked around and immediately wanted to slip her shoes back on and run out the door. How was her 64-year-old body going to look next to these twenty-something hard-bodies? How would she ever muster the strength to master a headstand, let alone crow pose? What Robin didn’t realize is that she doesn’t need to feel intimidated! Yoga is about letting go and starting from exactly where you are at any point in time.
Many of us have read about the power of yoga for its benefits to physical and emotional health, spiritual growth, stress relief and anti-aging aspects, not to mention its meditative qualities and improvements to the parasympathetic nervous system. And with the variety of yoga classes available today, including traditional, restorative, Bikram, yoga sculpt and chair yoga, we don’t have to look very far to find an option that meets our needs.
But some of us are reluctant to enter the yoga studio due to a lack of confidence in our skills and abilities or a self-consciousness about how we look in those tight outfits. It is understandable that we may feel intimidated among firm-tummied young bodies donned in crop tops and skimpy stretch shorts as they gracefully hold challenging poses.
Ironically, experiencing a lack of confidence is in direct opposition to the practice of yoga. Yoga requires acceptance and focusing on the present moment. It is precisely the time to turn inward, giving attention only to our prana—our breath, our life force— and not to comparisons to others. But the reality is, maintaining a laser focus on your ujjayi breath and the asanas at hand rather than on what everyone else is doing is often easier said than done. Making changes in this area, as in most areas of life, takes time, practice and patience. So how can you become more confident in your yoga practice?
Confidence Boosters for Older Yogis:
- Begin Gently.
When just beginning yoga, or after being out of practice for a while, instead of heading to the gym or yoga studio to join the masses, try easing in with this gentle yoga series that you can do in the comfort of your own home. This is a great way to become familiar with basic moves and terminology and build confidence in your physical and mental abilities.
- Take it slow.
What has always amazed me about yoga is how surely and steadily progress is made when practicing just a few days per week. One day your forward fold looks almost like a squat, and a few weeks later your hinged at the hips, core engaged, chest against thighs, with hands reaching close to the floor. Remember that each of us begins at our own entry point and progresses at an individual rate. Don’t compare yourself with others. Yoga is a personal practice, not a competition. Progress will come.
- Work at Your Soft Edge.
When attempting a yoga pose that feels extreme or uncomfortable, don’t push it. Most yoga poses are achieved through a progression of levels and you should make modifications as needed. Don’t feel like you have to achieve an extreme position all at once. Pull back a bit and work just within the edge of your comfort zone, your “soft edge.” This will ensure that you will continue to make progress without feeling overtaxed or defeated.
- Be Mindful.
Mindfulness is an aspect of yoga that should not be underestimated. During your practice turn your attention inward and leave everything else aside. Notice your breath, the details of your body position and your thoughts. Check in with yourself each time you return to your mat. Over time, are you better able to remain calm and focused even when working at your soft edge? Are you better able to maintain ujjayi when moving through each asana? Week after week, do you feel stronger and more flexible? Recognition of small accomplishments and experiencing a sense of gratitude for your physical and mental capabilities all contribute to a greater feeling of confidence. Also, as you direct your focus in these ways you will not have space to think about comparisons.
- Go for Comfort.
It’s hard to feel confident when you’re uncomfortable. Many of today’s trendy athletic tops and sports bras can be very constricting. At our age, a looser fit may be the way to go. However, an oversized t-shirt can make you feel just as uncomfortable in a frumpy, unflattering sort of way. And if you’re feeling self-conscious about sagging skin on your arms and shoulders, a Tenáz Top may be the perfect solution. Offered by Tenáz Athletics, these innovative tops have mesh sleeves that give a bit of coverage without retaining heat.
- Embrace community.
You will find yoga communities to be very inviting and nonjudgmental. Men and women of all ages, shapes, and sizes are welcome. To increase your confidence when first joining the community, consider signing up with an age-alike friend. Your camaraderie can be a real confidence booster as you share common experiences and provide moral support to each other.
- Be a Role Model.
You may not be aware of how many younger individuals look up to you as a role model for the very fact that you showed up to your mat and are going for it! My guess is that younger adults see you as an inspiration for staying fit, healthy, grateful, and grounded. Embrace your position in the community and proudly project your tenacity and experience!
Do you ever experience a lack of confidence in your ability to practice yoga or to engage in other mind/body activities? Do you feel uncomfortable wearing workout apparel? How do you overcome these feelings? Please share in the comments section.
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