Self Advocacy: Why Women Often Need to Do It and How Yoga Can Help
Speaking Up For Yourself
Do you find it easy?
Do you struggle with it?
Do you often feel swept along on a course of action that you did not want or need and feel powerless to change this?
Do you want to know how yoga can help you with this?
My classes support women at very specific points in their life: during fertility problems; during pregnancy and preparing for birth; and in the postnatal period. Because talking (and listening!) is such a key feature in my classes, speaking up when they find themselves in difficult situations is a topic that comes up again and again and AGAIN!
Fertility clients often do not feel heard by their care providers about fertility issues and their treatment protocol. They often do not feel heard on fertility issues they know are going on in their bodies. Do they have medical proof for this? Well, no, but they just “know” (and they are often right).
Fertility clients also very often don’t feel heard or supported by those around them: friends, family, employers and they find it hard to vocalise their struggles to them and set firm boundaries.
Pregnancy clients are often pressured into interventions they do not want or need or types of births that they do not want, based on flimsy logic and evidence. Saying a firm “no” to things you don't want such as scans, vaginal examinations, sweeps, inductions, can be so difficult to do when you do not feel advocated for, and are trying to advocate for yourself.
Post-natal clients are often left fighting for help with their post-natal bodies and minds, or they are told things are “normal” for their babies but they know in their gut that it’s not normal. And who has the energy to advocate when you are sleep deprived and every energy in your body is sapped by postnatal recovery and caring for your wee one?
Really, it’s often tale after tale of clients feeling that they are not being heard and their gut instinct not respected. They feel like they do not have an advocate on their side.
So what is advocacy anyway?
Advocacy can be summarised as these things:
Having your rights promoted and protected
Having your views and wishes genuinely considered when making decisions about your life
Have you been in a situation where you have felt all of the above? Feels great doesn't it?! But what happens when you feel none of the above? Well, you cannot force someone to advocate for you, but do you know who is your best advocate?
Is is easy? Not always no, but here’s how I like to use yoga to empower women to be their best advocate.
Yoga and Self-Advocacy
I might have just lost you by suggesting that yoga can help you to be your own best advocate but hear me out!
When I want to empower clients to be their best advocate, we work with specific poses and chakras to help to tap into the energy it takes to self-advocate.
For example, I LOVE to use the warrior poses to tap into the energy we need. Yoga is about so much more than cutting shapes on a mat. The poses are intricate, we need to tap into energy channels and feelings when we are in them. For me, the feelings and energies we feel when in Warrior One, Two or Three encompasses the exact energy we need to self advocate:
Energy without aggression;
Being strong but open-hearted;
Having a balance of will and surrender;
Feeling fearlessness but gentle;
"Warrior poses teach us that each day sees new challenges and many little battles. To live fearlessly we must hold the qualities of a warrior at our heart:
Steadiness, Stability, Courage.
We must choose what is worth fighting for in life."
Gabrielle Harris, The Inspired Yoga Teacher
Make sense? Let me delve a little deeper...
Clearing the Throat Chakra To Make Your Voice Heard
I also like to work with the throat or Vishuddha chakra when a client needs to find their voice to advocate for themselves.
What is the throat chakra?
The fifth chakra, Vishuddha Chakra, is located at the base of the throat, at the centre of the Larynx. This is the reason this chakra is also called the Throat Chakra. The energy element governed by this chakra is effective communication. It also represents inspiration and expression. Vishuddha Chakra establishes a strong connection to both verbal and body language.
When the energy of the Vishuddha Chakra is imbalanced, communication breaks down. We refuse to listen to our inner Self and to others. Others are unable to understand us and feelings of loneliness surround us.
The symptoms of a disturbed Throat Chakra are:
Hesitation in expressing emotions
Lacking the vocabulary to describe your feelings
A sense of feeling misunderstood by people around you
Use of negative words and action
You can clearly see the parallels with self-advocacy right?
There are lots of ways we can work with this chakra: I like to use breath-work (pranayama), asana and affirmations in my classes.
Let me expand.....
The Ujjayi Breath
The Ujjayi breath is wonderful for connecting with, and balancing the throat chakra. This is a breath regulating technique that is a soft, whispering breath that stimulates the back of the throat. With Ujjayi breath you breathe in and out of the nose with the lips sealed – no breath passes the lips. This also serves to build heat in the body. The lips gently close and although the breath is passing through the nostrils the emphasis is in your throat.
You create a constriction in the throat as if breathing in and out of a thin straw. Whilst maintaining a closed mouth position be mindful of held tension in the teeth, jaw, throat and/or neck – let it go. You can feel the breath stroke the back of your throat as you inhale and exhale. This comes hand in hand with the audibility of the breath, compared often to the sound of waves. The tone, the audibility is smooth and steady, continuous uninterrupted cycles of inhales and exhales.
Asana for Clearing the Throat Chakra
When working with the throat chakra we are looking at lengthening and contracting the throat and neck muscles. There are a lot of postures we do in class, but here are a few simple ones to try at home:
Simple Head Rolls
Sit in a cross legged position, and while working with your Ujjayi breath, take your chin towards your chest, lengthening the back of your neck, then roll your neck side-to-side, releasing tension in the neck and shoulders
Cow and Cat Pose ( Bitilasana and Marjaryasana)
Start on your hands and knees, aligning your wrists underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips.
Inhale and Arch for Cow Pose
Curl your toes under.
Tilt your pelvis back so that your tailbone sticks up.
Let this movement ripple from your tailbone up your spine so that your neck is the last thing to move.
Take your gaze gently up toward the ceiling without cranking your neck.
Exhale and Round for Cat Pose
Release the tops of your feet to the floor.
Tip your pelvis forward, tucking your tailbone. Again, let this action move up your spine. Your spine will naturally round.
Draw your navel toward your spine.
Drop your head.
Take your gaze to your navel.
Repeat the Cat-Cow Stretch on each inhale and exhale, matching the movement to your own breath.
Continue for 5 to 10 breaths, moving the whole spine. After your final exhale, come back to a neutral spine.
For the most accessible version of this asana, baby cobra, begin by lying on your stomach with your palms planted on the mat next to your chest. As you inhale, lift the head, chest, and shoulders up off the mat, using the strength of your back rather than your arms. Hold this position for a few breaths or flow in and out of it several times, always using the inhale to lift yourself up.
For full cobra (pic above), start with the same motion, but then press into the palms to lift the entire torso off the mat and straighten the elbows. Rather than flowing in and out of this pose, hold here for a few breaths. If it doesn’t hurt your neck, you can look up toward the ceiling for a deeper opening in the throat.
Affirmations for the Throat Chakra and Self-Advocacy
There are lot of lovely affirmations for the throat chakra, but when working to empower clients to self-advocate I just love these:
“I have a right to be heard”
“My words are important and I am easily able to express what needs to be said”
How empowering are these?!! If you are dealing with a situation where you know you will have to advocate for yourself repeat these affirmations daily, with conviction!!
You Can Be Your Own Best Advocate
Yoga can help you find your voice, empower you, and teach you to trust your intuition!
I’d love to know if you found these yogic tips for self-advocacy helpful in the comments below!
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