Teaching girls self-empowerment through yoga

Gift of empowerment

By Naila Francis

It’s a moment Jillian Troth recalls whenever she’s having a bad day at school, not getting along with a friend or simply not feeling her best.

Earlier this year, the 10-year-old stood in the Warrior II pose, arms outstretched parallel to the floor, one thigh extended outward, the other leg bent at the knee, with her mother, Johanna Frank, behind her. As Frank placed her hands on her daughter’s upper arms, Marianne Impal’s words floated around them, conjuring up a day where Jillian woke up and didn’t feel like going to school. She’d done badly on a test the day before, none of the clothes she tried on fit well, and her friends were being mean to her. … As Impal layered one challenging scenario atop another, she encouraged Jillian to feel how much she disliked herself in those moments, then asked her mom to push down on her arms. They collapsed effortlessly at Jillian’s side.

Impal, a certified yoga instructor, then created a different scenario as Jillian again adopted the pose: This time, she woke up excited for school with just the right outfit to wear. As the day wore on, everything kept going right, from the many friends who made her feel included to the good reviews she got from her teacher. When her mom finally pushed down on her arms, they wouldn’t budge, lowering only slightly the more pressure Frank applied.

“I usually think about that class and how good I felt and I just feel good about myself,” says Jillian, of the lessons she took from the mother-daughter empowerment workshop taught by Impal.

“It was amazing how much strength it took to push down on her arms when she had a positive outlook as opposed to a demoralizing outlook,” says Frank, of Doylestown. “It really enforced the idea of what a powerful outlook can do in terms of strength and self-esteem.”

The message is part of a broader mission that Impal, a yoga teacher for more than 12 years, says she wishes she could bring to girls everywhere.

For now, the Doylestown resident is starting in her backyard. On Saturday, she will launch Y.E.S. Yoga, a training she developed specifically for teens and pre-teens to give them tools to live a positive and healthier lifestyle through the mind-body discipline.

While she has been teaching workshops incorporating empowerment themes and tools for years, Y.E.S. (Youth Empowerment 4 Self-esteem) is now her exclusive program. Impal will offer a Y.E.S. Yoga workshop for girls ages 10 through 15 at Cornerstone’s TreeHouse Studio in New Hope on Saturday, the first of several she plans to bring to the area, while also certifying other yoga instructors to teach the confidence-boosting class.

“Yoga itself is known as a practice. When you practice something over and over, when you start to get it, when you feel like you’re finally achieving something, that’s where the empowerment comes from,” says Impal, who also teaches vinyasa and hatha yoga at Cornerstone in Doylestown. “This is about practice makes possible. I want girls to get rid of practice makes perfect … to know instead that practice makes anything possible.”

Beyond incorporating strategic yoga poses — with Fierce Pose, for instance, one of the more strenuous postures, she encourages girls to think of a particular challenge in their lives as they go deeper into the pose, using their ability to hold it for longer than they imagined as a metaphor for the strength to take on life’s struggles rather than run from them — Impal also includes self-esteem activities, journaling and stress-relief tactics. And she sends each girl home with her signature Y.E.S. Kit, a red keepsake box featuring a meditation CD for kids and teens, positive affirmation cards and a gratitude journal, among other items, that she initially designed for her own daughters, Nicole, now 13, and Renee, 15, as they approached their teenage years.

“I wanted to make sure I was raising confident, strong girls for the future,” says Impal, who gave her daughters their boxes when they entered middle school. “I wanted the girls to have a sentimental keepsake they could go to to literally practice self-esteem and self-care.”

The kit ultimately inspired her to start her own business, RaeCole LLC — a combination of her daughters’ nicknames — to help empower girls going through the self-conscious stage of adolescence.

“Adolescent girls are often very awkward talking about anything personal. They don’t really get self-esteem. They know they’re supposed to have it, but they don’t know what they’re supposed to do to get it. That’s why I wanted something tangible to give them,” says Impal.

“(Self-esteem) is not a stroke of luck. It’s not a magic pill. It’s not something that only happens to other people. They have to participate in it, and that’s why these tools are so affirming.”

With the pressure girls feel from today’s media and social media, they’re also critical.

“I think the thing that affects girls the most is the fact that on magazines, the girls or women look so perfect with their (airbrushing) and changes that they make to the pictures,” says R. Otto, 15, who has taken several workshops with Impal. “I think that it makes girls or women feel the need to be like them and that that is the only way to be, and if you don’t look like that, then you are not ‘perfect’ or ‘beautiful.’ ”

On the mat, the body becomes another tool of sorts to engage girls in a more empowering perspective. At the outset of a recent introductory class to her upcoming workshop, Impala asked the 13 girls in attendance to pick an affirmation card from a deck she carries and keep it on the mat before them. They were to silently repeat or read the affirmation to themselves any time they felt they were struggling with a certain pose.

Phrases like “I am safe in the universe and all of life loves and supports me” or “I am great because I am me. My belief in myself only sets me free” became a mantra they would return to at the conclusion of class, as they visualized writing the words repeatedly to better absorb their meaning.

For some, like Jillian Bamford, 15, the words were an immediate confidence-booster. Bamford’s affirmation encouraged her to nourish herself first in order to maintain harmonious relationships.

“It made me feel like no matter what anybody says or what you feel inside, you can overcome it and be a better person and be positive and have a better life with more friends and with your family,” says the Doylestown resident.

Otto, who is also from Doylestown, had been practicing yoga even before taking Impal’s workshop and has seen the benefits in not only the cultivation of greater confidence but of greater compassion.

“I met this girl who was born with disabilities and she could not have been any sweeter to everybody. Most people would walk by her and ignore her. I befriended her and she always put a smile on my face,” she says. “This made me learn that just because someone may not look like you doesn’t mean that they can’t be a good contribution in your life.

“To me, positive self-esteem means you are comfortable with who you are and you don’t need to change because of what other people say. It’s being yourself.”

– The Intelligencer and Bucks County Courier Times


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