How to create strong body language
How your body influences your mind and emotions and impacts body language.
We all like to feel powerful, we like to feel in control, at least of our own environment. It makes us feel safe and comfortable.
However, very often we won’t feel in control, certainly not of our working environment.
And the steeper the hierarchy in the company you work in, the less likely you will feel like you have any power. Margaret Heffernan in her book A Bigger Prize (p 106) tells us that all social systems – be they companies, organizations, countries – have hierarchies, formal or informal, implicit or explicit and they may be very steep of relatively flat.
If the hierarchy in the company you work for is relatively flat, chances are you will experience relative freedom to voice your opinion and you will feel relatively in control of your own work and the relations with your co-workers.
If the hierarchy in your company is steep, there will be a lot of competition and very likely you will feel more stress, as you will always be fearful to lose your place. And the lower you are in rank, the less powerful you will feel, which will have an impact on your physiological and psychological wellbeing.
Stress impairs the functioning of the pre-frontal cortex, where we do our thinking, and of the hippocampus, responsible for coordinating all the different mental activities required to solve a problem. So when we feel deeply threatened, we may have all the mental capacity we need, we just can’t quite pull it all together.
So, how do you deal with situations where you don’t feel as powerful as you’d like to? This article does not go into structural changes that might be necessary in the company itself. It will give you tips on what you can do for yourself.
In my experience, there are three routes you can use if you're stuck in a certain situation, and you want to get out: the emotional, the mental and the physical. This article is about the third route: You can change how you use your body, and then the mental and emotional aspects will follow. As Moshe Feldenkrais says in his book, Awareness through Movement, “Correction of movement is the best means of self-improvement”.
What we do with our body has a powerful effect on our mind and emotions.
We are not always aware of it, but when you start changing small things in the way you use your body, you can gradually notice the difference it makes in how you feel and think.
Research into various aspects of body language confirms this.
Research has shown that smiling during brief stressors can help to reduce the intensity of the body's stress response. This is the case when people are really smiling, but also when they are just holding a chopstick in their mouth, which engages the same muscles as smiling. So, according to Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman in " Grin and Bear It: The Influence of Manipulated Positive Facial Expression on the Stress Response". Psychological Science, 2012 (in press) the effect is there, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy or not.
Smiling also releases pleasure hormones called endorphins, natural painkillers and antidepressant hormones such as serotonin. Smiling boosts your immune system and reduces stress. Your blood pressure will go down – if you have a blood pressure monitor, you can try this out: Take a blood pressure reading, then smile for a few minutes and take another reading. You'll likely find your blood pressure decreasing as you relax.
Smiling makes you look younger, attractive, confident and successful.
Grab a mirror and check for yourself.
After you try these things, check out your mood. You'll find you feel more positive and optimistic. Your thoughts will naturally have turned to the positives in your life. When you smile your body is sending itself the message that ‘life is good’. You'll find it harder to think negative thoughts while you're smiling. Research has linked smiling to happiness, optimism, successful marriages, good health and positive longevity.
There has also been interesting research into postures that we take. If you take an expansive, powerful pose for a mere two minutes, there will be certain physiological, psychological, and behavioural changes: The dominance hormone testosterone goes up, the stress hormone cortisol goes down, you will feel more powerful and your tolerance increases. If you take a small, weak pose for about two minutes, the opposite will happen.
This research shows that just taking a posture that looks powerful, that ‘embodies’ power, will not only affect your emotional and mental state, but actually cause physiological changes, which subsequently influences our behaviour. The results of this research suggest that a psychological construct, such as power (with specific pattern of nonverbal elements) may be embodied.
Further research by the same team showed that it can be very beneficial to adopt an expansive, powerful stance for two minutes before a stressful situation (presentation, meeting, interview, etc.) Make it a habit of doing this regularly, even just in between things. The more you do this, the more your body will learn and remember the effects of this kind of postures.
Very recent research shows that our mood can affect how we walk -- slump-shouldered if we're sad, bouncing along if we're happy. It works the other way too -- making people imitate a happy or sad way of walking actually affects their mood
In this study, subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and their shoulders rolled forward, experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style.
All these things you can put into practice. If you want to change things, you can start by looking at how you use your body, and when you are aware of how you do things, change them for the better.
Smile, use power moves and walk upright.
A BIG Tip
I would like to give you one more thing: If you want to stand strong, it’s important to know that you need to use your feet and lower body. We often think we need to keep ourselves upright in the upper back.
Instead, bring your awareness first of all in your feet. Plant them firmly on the floor. It’s a bit like they are pushing down into the ground. Then you can stand upright from the feet up. Crown of the head up, neck long and relaxed (do not chuck your chin out, but bring it in slightly). Knees relaxed, chest open and relaxed.
Then, bring your centre of gravity more forward in your body. Feel centered in your belly area. In Taijiwuxigong, a Chinese energetic energy system, we talk about the ‘Dantian’, the energy centre in the lower abdomen. It is located about 4 fingers under the navel and 4 fingers inside the belly. Bring the weight more forward in the feet (just under the ball of the feet), and the upper body slightly tilted forward. In this way you put the centre of gravity in the Dantian area in the abdomen.
You can also do this when sitting.
Bring the upper body to lean a little forward and put the centre of gravity in your belly.
When you are able to do this – it does take some practice – you will feel more centered and balanced. You will be able to keep your mind more in your body and remain calm. You can project an image that says that you can stand on your own two feet, and that you will not take any resources away from other people. You are being assertive without being aggressive. People around you will unconsciously pick this up and feel relaxed around you.
"So next time you know you will face a stressful situation, practice your power poses beforehand, remember to stand tall from your feet up, walk happy and smile!
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