Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2019 issue.
Stretching tall, firmly rooted through one leg; undulating hips silky side to side; music flowing through as you dance: Each example stems from three modalities, which all help promote a better self-esteem and body image.
Yoga, belly dance and Nia are three practices that naturally increase self-confidence. They all contribute to muscle building and flexibility, which help people feel better about themselves; but it is the mind-body connection each one fosters that aids in deep self-acceptance.
Tapping into the Core
Yoga poses, meditation and basic principles converge to support core strength and an attitude of acceptance. Principles of non-harm and non-attachment remind people to be kind to themselves and not hold onto society’s rampant distortion of what the “perfect” body looks like.
“It’s non-attachment to what I perceive beauty is,” says Alyxandra Citron, vinyasa and restorative yoga instructor at Radiance Power Yoga in Boulder. “It’s affirming… I am beautiful, I am powerful. I am strong.”
Poses such as Warrior further develop a sense of strength and perseverance by teaching people they are “strong and rooted and grounded and beautiful within and without,” Citron says. Increasing core muscles helps participants feel safer “in day-to-day existence, in how [they] walk and hold [themselves] … if you’re balanced in your core and solar plexus, then you’ll find yourself feeling lighter and joyful every day.”
Then, through moments of stillness, people find peace.
“Through meditation, everything falls into place,” she says. “If you’re stressed or depressed, you’re harsher on yourself than if you were more in balance. If you know your truest self, something external won’t rock your boat as much. Yoga helps you learn more about yourself, both with confidence and peace and love.”
Every yoga teacher she has taken a class from emphasizes loving oneself. A positive body image naturally emerges from this self-love. “It starts with loving yourself that day, no matter where you start,” she says.
It starts with loving yourself that day, no matter where you start.
Citron also has taught belly dance to students ranging in age from 15 to 70. Belly dancing culture doesn’t revolve around flat bellies; instead, all bodies become sensual through the dance.
“Each student radiates this internal confidence,” she says. “[It’s about] seeing yourself as sexy and beautiful and powerful and letting all of that shine through you.”
Throughout history, the female form has often been forced to hide according to societal norms.
“It’s really liberating when you can bare your belly and bare your soul without any judgment and with just pure acceptance,” she says.
While moves like the shimmy can intimidate women initially because it involves opening, or expanding through, your chest, belly, pelvis and buttocks and letting everything jiggle, “once you let loose, it really helps to support that body image,” says Erin Jones, owner of Erin Elizabeth Belly Dance in Denver.
Most other dance forms include stigmas, be it age, training or ability, whereas belly dance welcomes all people of any age, size or ability. The community, usually made of women (though historically men have belly danced), offers connection in a time where many people are disconnected through technology, isolation or staying a little too busy.
“It offers an inclusive sisterhood,” Jones says. The norm to perform also helps dancers build confidence as they support one another and receive positive audience responses.
Moves for Every Body
Nia, founded in the early 1980s, fuses martial arts, dance and healing arts like yoga, Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais into 60-minute routines. They begin with a gentle, embodied warm-up, rev up to solid cardio workouts, and end with slow, grounded movements. Every class starts with a step forward, encouraging rooted, present-moment awareness.
Instructors use a variety of metaphors, such as reaching arms out like tree branches (as opposed to just telling students to put their hands in the air), to further a sense of connection to one’s own body. While it’s based on 52 basic moves, every class offers a couple short minutes of free dance, where people can “tap into oneself and notice what’s going on inside,” says first-degree black belt Nia instructor Karen Olsen of Boulder. It also encourages the use of vocal sounds every so often, which can improve self-esteem and confidence by connecting with the power of voice.
Nia encourages people to take time for themselves as they become immersed in the movements.
“It feels like self-care,” Olsen says. “Body cues and speaking about sensation in different parts of the body brings awareness without judgment.”
Like yoga and belly dancing, it offers an accepting, joyful community.
“Nia is very freeing,” Olsen says. “There’s a joy that comes through dance. First the body gets happy, then the mind and spirit calm.”
There’s a joy that comes through dance. First the body gets happy, then the mind and spirit calm.
Through the process, participants begin to appreciate body sensation, and thus, their own body — no matter what shape, form or ability.
“It helps to lengthen my body, open my mind and calm,” Olsen says. “It gets obstacles out of the way for me to dance.”
While individually, yoga, belly dance and Nia each contribute to better body image, when practiced together — or even coupled — the modalities can highly amplify confidence, positive body image, sense of community and overall joyfulness.
Photo by MW imagery.