“We must carry forward the work of the women who came before us and ensure our daughters have no limits on their dreams, no obstacles to their achievements and no remaining ceilings to shatter” – Barack Obama.
Women empowerment is an essential issue of our time. It means giving women control of their own lives so that they can make the necessary choices to succeed both personally and professionally. Women empowerment is about creating a society in which women can make their own decisions, act with confidence, and live as equals to men.
Empowering women and girls is crucial to sustainable development and global progress. When women recognize their self-worth, it gives them the opportunity to better their own lives and to improve society on a larger scale. Education is an essential step on the road to empowerment. However, yoga is another powerful tool and one that’s increasingly being embraced. By sparking a journey of self-discovery, yoga helps us to realize our inner talents and capabilities. This means, that by encouraging us to be aware of our skills, yoga can help women to harness their true potential.
What is Women Empowerment?
According to Naila Kabeer, empowerment is “the processes by which people, who have been denied the ability to exercise strategic forms of choice, voice, and influence – both in their own lives and in their communities – gain that ability to exercise choice.” By empowering women, we enable them to harness their full potential. Empowerment gives women the opportunity to live independently and fearlessly. It gives women the power to take control of their lives, their bodies, and their choices.
However, according to Rawland (1997), empowerment involves a lot more than making decisions. It’s also about encouraging people to see themselves as able and entitled to make decisions. It’s only by undoing negative social constructs and dismantling gender biases that we can make this clear to women. When women recognise their self-worth, they realize that they also have the right to make their own decisions.
Importance of Empowering Women
Women empowerment is essential to global development for many reasons. A better economy, improved workforce, and lower rates of domestic violence are just a few of the reasons why empowering women is beneficial for society as a whole.
- Boosts the economy: Everyone has the right to financial freedom. Encouraging women to achieve economic independence is an essential part of empowerment. Also, when women are limited, the world misses out on a wealth of talent.
- Reduces domestic violence and the mistreatment of women: In some parts of the world, the mistreatment of women remains rife. In India, for example, one in three women under the age of 50 has experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of a partner or non-partner. By empowering women, we can give them the tools to fight against this, as well as an understanding of what unacceptable behavior looks like.
- Improves mental health: When women are empowered, they develop self-confidence, strengthen their sense of identity, and embrace their own power. This sense of confidence and improved self-esteem means better mental health.
Role of Yoga in Empowering Women
Since ancient times, yoga has been practiced as a form of holistic therapy. An increasing number of studies now demonstrate the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of regular practice. If you want lower stress levels, better concentration, and improved flexibility, yoga is a wonderful way to get there. However, in the specific context of empowering women, yoga also has an important role to play.
Yoga is often a journey of self-discovery. Practicing allows us to recognize our inner capabilities, rather than constantly focusing on the outer world. Recognizing our unique gifts and talents is an empowering experience, which we can take off the mat and into the world. This is why embracing yoga as a tool for self-reflection is an effective way for women to feel empowered.
Yoga is also a great way to build self-confidence, another essential aspect of empowerment. Self-confident women are more likely to make their own choices and to trust those choices, which can positively impact all areas of their lives. Practicing yoga regularly also helps us to identify potential areas of growth within ourselves, whether those are physical or emotional. By examining these inner aspects and choosing how to improve, we become empowered. Yoga can also increase our sense of self-reliance. Knowing that we can deal with challenges by coming to a place of stillness makes the ups and downs of life far easier to manage.
Empowering Benefits of Yoga
- Spiritual growth: Yoga gives us the opportunity to develop a spiritual practice, which can help us to feel more grounded and stable.
- Inner peace and contentment: As well as lowering stress levels, regular yoga practice increases feelings of contentment and peace. This allows us to deal with life’s challenges, as well as helping us to embrace happiness.
- Physical strength: Increasing physical strength and improving flexibility is an empowering experience. A regular yoga practice teaches us the capabilities and limitations of our bodies, allowing us to achieve poses we may not have realized we could accomplish.
- Improved mind-body connection: One of yoga’s greatest benefits is that it develops a deeper understanding of mind-body integration. Through yoga, we learn the power of our thoughts and emotions on the body and the impact this can have on our wellbeing.
- Discovering the authentic self: Through self-discovery, yoga can help us to define our core values and realize what we need to thrive and to succeed.
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Gender in the Yogic Tradition
Gender equality is one of the most talked-about topics in recent decades. However, although society has made progress, inequality still exists. Fewer rights, unequal pay, and sexual harassment are just a few of the issues that women deal with around the world. Although the gap between men and women is narrowing, there is still a lot of work to be done.
In the yogic tradition, however, there is no basis for gender inequality. According to ancient yogic texts, all humans share the same essence. In Swami Inanesvara Bharati’s poem, ‘The Secret of Shiva and Shakti’, the poet depicts the unity of masculine (Shiva) and feminine (Shakti) energies. According to the poem, Shiva and Shakti exist within each of us as one. By looking at these energies as a unifying essence, we understand that gender roles are not distinctive. Our identity goes beyond biological gender and although gender is one aspect of us, it doesn’t define us. When we look at gender in this yogic context, we realize that gender inequality is absurd and that we all have the right to empowerment.
Yoga Poses for Empowerment
Yogis have always been aware of the empowering benefits of yoga. However, a fascinating study now shows a clear link between practicing yoga and higher self-esteem. Comparing yoga poses to ‘power poses’, the study examined the impact of these poses on participants’ self-esteem. Researchers found that the yoga poses, particularly standing poses, resulted in greater feelings of power and control, as well as higher energy and self-esteem. Next time you need a confidence boost, roll out your yoga mat and flow through the following poses:
1. Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Although Mountain Pose might look simple, it is an essential pose to perfect. The foundation for all standing yoga poses, Mountain Pose is all about grounding and stability. Practicing it regularly will give you the chance to develop steadiness, focus, and poise – all important aspects of empowerment. Starting your yoga practice in Mountain Pose is a great opportunity to take a few breaths and set your intention. It’s also a wonderful resting pose to take in between flowing sequences.
Begin by standing with your feet together, big toes touching. Lift your toes and spread them apart, before placing them back on the mat. Rock from side to side and front to back until your weight is evenly distributed. Firm through your thighs and lift your kneecaps, as you ground down through all four corners of your feet. Make sure to draw in your abdominals and lift your chest, as you drop your shoulders, palms facing in towards your body. Stand tall and take 5-8 breaths.
2. Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Standing poses require every part of the body to be activated, making them wonderfully empowering. In life, you need a stable foundation in order to reach your full potential and standing poses mirror this. Warrior II is a popular and frequently practiced pose, that’s essential for building strength. Combining both stamina and grace, it’s the perfect pose to try when you need a confidence boost.
Start by standing with your feet wide apart. Turn the toes of your front foot to point forwards and the toes of your back foot to a 45-degree angle. Make sure the heel of your front foot is aligned with the arch of your back foot. Bend your right knee, making sure that it’s directly over your front ankle while keeping your hips level. Sink low to the ground and extend your arms, so that they’re parallel to the ground. Hold for 10 breaths and enjoy taking up space in this powerful pose.
3. Reverse Warrior (Viparita Virabhadrasana)
Sometimes referred to as “Dancing Warrior”, Reverse Warrior is great for strengthening and stretching. As well as building strength in the legs, shoulders, and arms, it improves flexibility in the spine. You might notice that your mind feels clearer after practicing Reverse Warrior, as this pose also promotes blood flow throughout the body.
While maintaining the Warrior II position of your lower body, rotate your front palm up to the sky. Move your other hand down your back leg and sweep your right hand up and back. Think about expanding your rib cage, while relaxing your shoulders. Keep your lower body engaged, as you hold for 10 breaths.
4. Wheel Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana)
Invigorating and strengthening, Wheel Pose is an intermediate/advanced backbend. Wheel is an empowering pose for a few reasons: the pose requires huge stamina, the backwards extension can help you deal with overcoming fear of the unknown, and opening up the chest and heart center is a great way to bring vitality into your life.
Begin by lying on your back, feet planted hip-width apart. Take your arms overhead and place your palms on either side of your head. Try not to let your elbows to splay out. Inhale, pushing into your hands and feet and come onto the top of your head. With your next inhale, push up into Wheel, keeping your elbows hugging in. Breathe for 3–7 breaths before exhaling and lowering to the ground. Tuck your chin into your chest as you lower, vertebrae by vertebrae, onto the mat.
5. Dancer’s Pose (Natarajasana)
Balance poses are an opportunity to gain clarity and steady the mind. It’s difficult to balance when your mind is racing. Instead, you have to be present and mindful – an empowering feeling that you can take off the mat and into life. Dancer’s Pose is a beautiful combination of strength, flexibility, and meditation. Although graceful, it’s a challenging pose that will leave you feeling empowered. <
Start in Mountain Pose and release your right arm, so that your elbow crease and palm face forward. Bend your right knee and catch the inside of your right foot with your right hand. Bring your knees together and find a point of focus in front of you. Keeping a slight bend in your standing leg, to avoid hyperextending your knee, start to lengthen through your spine. Kick your right foot into your right hand, allowing your upper body to lower and stretch your left hand out in front of you. Try to keep your hips level and keep kicking your foot into your right hand. Take 5 breaths, before repeating on the other side.
Although empowering women is currently a hot topic, there’s still a long way to go. In order for women to take control of their own lives, they must realize their self-worth and develop the necessary confidence to make decisions. The many benefits of yoga make it a powerful tool in the journey to women empowerment. By helping women to develop their mental and physical strength, as well as enabling them to discover their authentic selves, yoga offers a holistic solution to a complex issue.
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About the author:
Casey Siemasko is a content marketing consultant, travel blogger, and wandering yogi. An entrepreneur at heart, she is the co-founder of the award-winning travel blog A Cruising Couple. Besides yoga and travel, she enjoys wine tastings, being outdoors and taking on new hobbies. Follow Casey on LinkedIn and Google+.