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Are Positive Affirmations Bullshit Or Life-Changing?

I admit it. I was the person who rolled my eyes every time any yoga teacher or self-help expert would suggest that I try adding positive affirmations to my practice and life. It just seemed a little too simplistic. Not happy? Well, just tell yourself you’re happy a lot and Voila! Happiness!

It seemed even more far fetched when the affirmations were things like “I am abundant” or “My business is thriving.” Umm.. Life doesn’t work that way. Last I checked, you have to work your ass off to be “abundant.” It doesn’t just happen because you will it to like Harry Potter conjuring up a spell with some choice magic words. It seemed silly, and maybe just plain dumb. How could anyone believe this kind of magical thinking?


But last year something shifted for me and I changed my mind. I read a book, about how exercise impacts the brain, written by a respected neuroscientist. The book, Healthy Brain, Happy Life by Wendy Suzuki, Ph.D. explained all about the effects that taking up regular exercise could have on the brain. This is fascinating stuff. It strengthens connections, boosts your memory, and, well, it just makes you smarter all over. I was also really interested in Suzuki’s story because it showed what kinds of activities someone who studies the brain as their life’s work does when she wants to re-boot her life. She ended up in an exercise class that combined movements with…. positive affirmations. I remember reading it thinking, You’ve got to be kidding me! Positive affirmations again!?

But if a Ph.D. in neuroscience got something out of it, I figured maybe I could, too. I began to incorporate some positive affirmations into my running routine. When I felt like stopping I would repeat (sometimes quietly, sometimes out loud and with the help of my 3-year-old who I was pushing in a stroller) I am strong. I am confident. I am connected. And you know what? It really did make me feel all of those things. It made it easier to tackle some challenges in my life, too.


Now that I think back on it, it makes total sense. I’m reminded of a yoga training I did many years ago to learn how to teach yoga to teenagers in a school setting. The woman leading the workshop, Leah Kalish, shared a demonstration with us. She had someone stand in front of us, hold her arm out to the side (like a half T), close her eyes, and think to herself. “No. No. No. No.” Leah walked next to her, and with very little effort pushed the woman’s hand down next to her side again like it was the easiest thing in the world. She asked the same woman to repeat the exercise, but change her inner dialogue to “Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.” And when Leah pushed her arm this time with the same amount of force, the arm barely moved. By simply changing a word she was thinking, that woman seemed to have increased her muscular strength. Pretty cool.

As yogis, we know that our mind, body, breath, and spirit are intimately connected. What we do with one can have a tremendous impact on the others. (The word yoga, does mean yoke, or connection, after all.) I find myself explaining to my yoga classes very often the connection between the breath and the body/mind. When you consciously slow down your breath to how it would be if you were really truly relaxed (think those long, deep breaths you take right as you’re drifting off to sleep at night) you can kind of trick your nervous system and your muscles into a more relaxed state, too. The mind falls in line, too, though that takes a bit longer for me usually.


If you can take advantage of your body/mind/breath connection to calm yourself down when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed, it makes sense that you can change the way you’re feeling overall by changing the thoughts that are going through your head—even if you don’t really believe them.

You might think that the things you think to yourself (“I’m not good enough,” “I’ll never be successful,” “I’m a failure,” or whatever other bullshit story you tell yourself) doesn’t make a big outward change in your life, but the truth is that your words—even the ones in your head—are incredibly powerful. Thinking “I’m a millionaire” won’t make it true, but it might shift the way you feel, the way you behave, and how you hold yourself as you walk down the street. If you can do that just by changing the words that run through your head, then why wouldn’t you?

Want to try for yourself? Click on over to my post Find Your Mama Mantra and find one that makes you feel strong, confident, abundant, safe, healthy, or something else you need in your life. I promise you, it’s not as crazy as it sounds (but it is a little bit magical).

To read more of Erica Rodefer Winters's work, click here or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

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