In a survey as part of an ongoing study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, 40% of 9-and 10-year-old girls surveyed have tried to lose weight. According to a study from the National Institute on Media and the Family, at age 13, 53% of American girls are "unhappy with their bodies." By age 17, this percentage is 78%. The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports that at least 8 million people in the United States have an eating disorder and 90% of these are women, whose conditions began in their teens.
Founder of Khalsa Camp, Jai Fuller agrees that the messages and images a girl receives from the media can be very disempowering, instilling the idea that they are not good enough as they are. "But the practice of yoga can help," she says. "Girls can awaken to the innate power and wisdom they were born with. Through breath and mantra (ancient self-affirmations), they can literally rewrite the limiting thought patterns that sap their confidence and creative abilities," she says.
The practice of asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), and meditation, empowers girls to develop concrete practices to connect them to their own bodies and to a larger sense of self-worth. Jamine Ackert, who leads yoga classes for inpatients and outpatients of the Eating Disorders program at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario speaks to the value of confidence cultivated through yoga.
“What yoga can do for girls when practiced in an appropriate way,” writes Ackert, “is help them listen to messages from inside their own bodies. When girls are more confident, they make better choices and have a chance of being more truly self-expressed and creative. I've seen it with my own daughter, not just with traditional asana practice, but with awareness and attention to signals from the body."
The practice of yoga gives girls a taste of what it can feel like to step out of the noise of the world for a moment, and step into an experience of the Self. It challenges them to connect to their deep inner strength, where they can begin to transcend physical limitations and learn to rely more on their own spirit. Girls learn that the well of power and wisdom they carry within is deep, and that what they are capable of is boundless.
With daily yoga practice, girls can thrive—not judge, not compare, not starve—and take their place in the larger community.
© 2013 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies