How can yoga be a tool for empowerment?

As part of our Empowered Yoga Challenge, we asked some of our teachers what empowerment means to them and how yoga has helped them to cultivate it.

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Esther Ekhart

Esther Ekhart"Empowerment is about having the ability and confidence to turn towards and really feel the moment deeply - no matter what that moment involves - and act accordingly, from presence, from reality. You can practise this on the yoga mat, especially when you challenge yourself. During challenges we often turn away from feeling the exhaustion or the work we put in - instead we just try and get through it with little presence.

When you want to empower yourself it's really about staying present to everything you feel. On the yoga mat, for example, try and feel deeply the intensity of what you are doing, the resistance you may feel, the relief when it's over, the happiness that may come from completing a class and having moved energy.

Turning up and turning towards! That is empowerment! ~ Esther Ekhart

Turning up and turning towards! That is empowerment! Turning your pain, weaknesses and vulnerability into strength, connectedness and presence. This creates confidence that you can be with life, as it moves through you, your experience of it. Once you can feel deeply, there is no need to turn away from anything that asks for your attention. You will be able to deal with life head-on."

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Sandra Carson

"For me, empowered yoga means letting go of the outcome of what you practise. Setting an intention or Sankalpa is wonderful and helps to your cultivate awareness and bring more depth into your practice. But when your intention becomes your goal, you can easily bypass what is really relevant or meaningful for you in the moment.

Sandra CarsonBeing able to sense and feel what serves you, whether you planned for it or not, is the thing I find truly empowering. Some days it can be to engage and express yourself more strongly, and other moments it serves you more to become quiet and be gentle with yourself. This way, you take responsibility for yourself and take care of your needs. The more you are able to do this, the more you experience that you can have this beautiful relationship with yourself, regardless of your energy, your health, your emotional state. By practising like this, your yoga becomes a practice of self-love."

Andrew Wrenn

"Acknowledgment is empowerment. To be able to witness a thought, a situation, whether on or off the mat with a discerning clarity. We have no control over the nature of our thoughts or the situations that arise in life, but we have a degree of control over our response, our reaction. That is empowerment."

David Lurey

David Lurey"I describe empowerment as that innermost impulse that is just a layer deeper than confidence. This means that empowerment implies some sense of confidence, whether it be a physical, emotional, mental or a spiritual quest, and also brings in a level of trust in oneself that you are doing ‘the right thing.’

Being empowered to do something includes the general sense that it CAN be done… and also SHOULD be done. Empowerment also spreads outwards. When we empower others, we provide them with support for their confidence and also align with them to step towards their greatest potential."

Julie Martin

"Empowerment in terms of yoga is probably the most important aspect of what we practise. It means that we are the personal directors of our own lives. We take instructions, on and off the mat, as ideas and guidelines but not a set of right and wrongs. There are so many variables in each individual and when we embrace that, what unfolds is our inherent intelligence. Intelligence in the body, the emotions and thoughts. Once we reclaim our personal power we leave our disappointments and fears behind because we understand and feel that we are in the driver's seat and no longer just passengers in this life."

Empowerment means that we are the personal directors of our own lives. We take instructions, on and off the mat, as ideas and guidelines but not a set of right and wrongs ~ Julie Martin

Irina Verwer

"To me, empowerment is about owning your truth and living from an authentic place. To do so, this means we have to turn inward, to connect with the body and finally, to trust our intuition and the voice of our body as more legitimate than anything our chaotic mind has to say. Our body never lies to us.

On our yoga mat, we continually practise turning inward and connecting with the body in all situations - in easy poses as well as in challenging poses, on days when we feel restless as well as on days when we feel rested. This makes yoga an excellent tool for empowerment: it helps us to connect with what's truly happening in us at any moment and to face that, to not run from or push anything away. We learn to show up, no matter what the present moment brings. By doing so, we learn to surrender. Surrendering and becoming vulnerable becomes easier when we feel connected with the body, and from there, owning our truth and living from an authentic place rises naturally."

Mark Freeth

Mark Freeth"I became involved in physical disciplines from an early age because, yes, I wanted to be strong and agile like the superheroes in my beloved comic books, but as I got older and the more I honed my training, it became apparent that there was something else going on. Sure, I got that as well as my muscles, bones, fitness levels were improving, my brain was being fed but I also became aware that my confidence was growing. There seemed fewer and fewer instances where I felt I wouldn't be able to hold my own in any given situation. I held on to this when I became a teacher.

In classes now, I love to be able to take a back seat and let a student demo a movement instead of me. That way, they realise it's not just me who can do this thing - anyone can. You just have to put the hours in. There's nothing like the feeling you're left with after a couple hours of training and taking that feeling out into everyday life - feeling fantastic, positive, generous, empowered. How could that not have an awesome knock-on effect on everyone you come into contact with? Let's move, people. It can change EVERYTHING! "

We also asked the team...

Rotem Zur - Marketing manager

"Feeling empowered means having the confidence and trust to deal with whatever life brings my way. My Ashtanga practice helped me to develop my physical strength and realise that my body is capable of so much more than I ever gave it credit for. This, in turn, gave rise to a whole different attitude to challenges that I also took off the mat… I mean, if I can stand on my head, I can do anything ;)."

Jenny Savage - Content writer

"In my experience, empowerment is a feeling of confidence, capability and personal power. Yoga has helped me find this in myself by giving me the tools to look at life with a bit of distance and clarity. It's given me an extra breath before reacting and so I feel I make more positive choices and don't get quite as caught up in the whirling world (most of the time). We can sometimes play down the physical benefits of yoga but 20+ years later this is still absolutely key for me. Putting the effort in has a very simple and instant effect of making me feel more confident, capable and happier with myself. It has made me stronger and more resilient in body and mind and this has opened up the doors for me to try out new things outside yoga too. I can't wait for this programme!"

Kirsty Tomlinson - Content writer and editor

"For me, empowerment is about making choices which align with and support who I am and what I stand for, without fear of judgment from others, or myself. Physical strength can help to cultivate confidence and resilience, but I think empowerment is equally about inner strength and self-knowledge. Having the courage to say yes (even when I'm scared), the wisdom to say no (when perhaps my ego is leading the way) - but most importantly, the awareness to take a pause, a moment to reflect, before making these decisions. Practising yoga and meditation encourages me to keep checking in with myself, to ensure that the choices I make both on and off the mat are healthy for me, inside and out. Roll on September!"

Over to you...

We'd love to know your thoughts on this topic. What does empowerment mean to you and how do you cultivate it? Please let us know in the comments below. 

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