Shift your relationship with your body
Yoga is one of the best ways to get a body-loving boost. "One of the huge things that happens for a lot of people in yoga is that their relationship to their body and in turn their relationship to themselves shifts, because we stop thinking about our body in terms of how we look," says Cyndi Lee, founder of Om Yoga Center in New York City and author of May I Be Happy. Focusing entirely on physical form can negatively affect your confidence, and that negativity can creep into other situations, from a night out with the girls to going after a promotion at work. In yoga, because you're sweating and moving with the rest of the class, that physical association starts to melt away, she says.
"You start to identify with part of yourself that is strong and capable. [So you] start to relax the part of yourself that is associated with obstacles, fear, and weaknesses," Lee says. "In yoga it doesn't matter what you look like, it's how you feel. You can do so many amazing things; it doesn't matter what your body is shaped like. You start thinking about your body as something that is strong and beautiful. All of that helps you feel a lot more confident."
Because yoga postures are physical, too, there will be some muscular benefits—Lee points to yoga as a full-body practice that supports and strengthens the core and back, which will almost always guarantee better posture. And nothing says confidence like standing up straight.
For yoga moves that build confidence and strength, check out Lee's suggestions below. Wear comfortable clothes and perform these moves as part of your normal exercise routine at least three times a week. Use a yoga mat if you're on a hard surface, or move to carpet for extra cushioning.
Plank Pose: Get into a push-up position with your arms straight, shoulders lined up with your wrists and your lower body supported on your feet. Hold that pose, really reaching out through your feet and forward through the crown of your head. "Think of bringing your whole abdominal wall up into your back," she says. This works your entire body from your chest to your toes. Stay in this pose for at least five slow breaths, around 30 seconds. Repeat five times.
Modify: To increase the difficulty, lift one foot at a time a couple inches off the ground and hold for three breaths before returning to the basic plank
Dolphin Pose: Start in Plank pose and then put your forearms on the floor and interlace your fingers in front of your face. "Your hands are together in a triangular shape. Start on your forearms and your knees, tuck your toes under, and lift your hips," Lee says. This is a modification on Downward Dog. Inhale slowly into the pose and then lift one leg in the air. Hold for five slow breaths, around 30 seconds, before repeating on the opposite side. Repeat three times on each side. "[This pose] really opens your upper arms and shoulders more than Downward Dog might. It really works your back, and if your back is strong and your chest is open, you'll breathe better," Lee says.
Warrior II: "In yoga, the warrior doesn't attack. It's someone who steps into her own fears so that you're always working with your own mind, your own heart," Lee says. Stand with your legs about three feet apart, right leg in front and left leg in back. Look to the right. Your right foot should be straight and facing the same direction as you're looking and your left foot should be angled out 45 degrees to the left. Hold your right arm out straight in front of your face and your left arm straight behind you to make a line parallel with your legs. Bend your right knee so it's directly over your right ankle. Tuck your tailbone in and relax your shoulders. Keep your back straight and hold for five slow breaths, about 30 seconds. Straighten your right leg to relax, and repeat three times. Repeat on the opposite side.
Steal This Tip:
One of the not-so-secret tricks to steal from yoga is the breathing. "You can do yoga breathing and no one will really know it. The calming breaths are kind of a secret weapon: it's just breathing in and out through your nose," Lee says. To give it a try, breathe in for four seconds and breathe out for four seconds. It will relax your nerves and ground your mind, she says.
Talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise program.