People often come to my classes with complaints of burn-out, stress, and chronic fatigue. They often say that they are “too much in their head,” that they “think too much,” or that they “don’t feel grounded.” And they have no idea how to change this.
If you also may suffer from these complaints, it is important to learn to observe carefully how you sit, stand, and use your body.
There are strong connections between your body language, professional image and executive presence. Posture and body language are basic elements of non-verbal communication and vital to the impression we make.
The 3 important elements to posture and body language:
1. Body Awareness
In the system of exercises I teach, you learn to become aware of how you move. In the beginning you may have the tendency to tense up your muscles, especially the shoulders, the elbows, and the knees. And at first you may not even be aware of it.
Try this simple exercise right now: raise your arms above your head with the palms facing upwards and the fingers pointing backwards. Then imagine that you are pushing up towards the ceiling with your palms. Take time to observe how you do this. Are your shoulders up? Do they need to be? Can you relax them and still push upwards? What about your elbows? Are they locked? Or can you move them? You need to be able to move joints freely rather than locking them. And what about the muscles in your arms? How much can you relax them and still have the sensation that you are pushing upwards? This is possible, although most of us have not yet learned how to do it.
The same goes for the legs. When standing, we very often lock the knees and have a lot of tension in the leg muscles.
How can you possibly feel relaxed if you have so much physical tension in your body? The answer is that you need to learn to relax the muscles while simultaneously keeping the joints free and flexible.
When you have tension in your body, you also have tension in your mind.
We need to become aware of where we have tension, and then to consciously and gradually change the patterns that create tension. There are various methods we can use such as mindfulness, taiji, yoga, taijiwuxigong (the Chinese exercises I teach). Please remember that to realise lasting changes in our bodies and mental state we need to practice these exercises regularly and over a period of time.
2. Body Position
We have the tendency to stand with our weight on our heels, which causes our centre of gravity to fall towards the outer edge of the body rather than in the middle. In reaction to this imbalance, certain muscles automatically tense up: the upper thigh muscles, the diaphragm, and the sterno-cleido-mastoid muscle in the neck. This happens automatically, we have no control over it.
In my experience, practically everyone stands with his or her weight too much towards the back. In just the simple act of standing. We unconsciously create so much tension in our bodies!
It is impossible to feel relaxed in this unbalanced position, because the upper thigh muscles, the diaphragm and the sterno-cleido-mastoid muscle are tensed the entire time.
We need to bring our centre of gravity more forward in the body, more into the abdomen. How can we do this? By bringing our weight more forward in the feet, between the middle of the foot and the ball of the foot – and by bringing the upper body slightly more forward from the groin area.
Try this exercise: stand up, putting your feet shoulder width apart and standing straight. Feel first that your weight is in the heels. Then shift your weight more forward in your feet, and be aware of what happens in the upper thigh muscles – they should relax. Do this a few times, moving your weight back and forth, and observing when these muscles tense up and when they relax. Your optimal standing position occurs when the upper thigh muscles are relaxed.
3. Body Posture
We often tend to collapse both when we stand and when we sit. Check yourself right now. You are probably sitting now.
- Are your feet firmly on the floor? Or have you pulled them back, or are they out in front of you? Or are your legs crossed? Or are you leaning on one foot?
- Is your back straight? Or rounded? What about your neck? Is your head jutting forward?
- And your shoulders? Are you pulling them up, or are they relaxed? Is your upper back tense?
When you collapse there is less space within your body. Everything becomes pushed together, the organs, the bones, the muscles, blood vessels, nerves, etc. All these structures and tissues have less space to do their work. Think of a car that has been in an accident and the front part has been pushed in: the engine does not have adequate space to function properly.
This lack of space in the body creates stress. For instance, if you jut your head forward, the vertebrae in the neck are not properly aligned. This creates a lot of tension in the neck muscles. There are also two large arteries in the back of the neck that sometimes become slightly folded or narrowed, and then need to work harder to pump blood up to your head.
Another example – when the middle of your back is collapsed, the stomach has less space. It cannot function properly, and digestion may slow down or become difficult.
What can you do to begin alleviating stress in the body?
- Become aware of how you use your body. It takes time to do this, so begin now, the sooner the better. You need to know what is going on in your body to be able to change it. Body awareness is the first step.
- Stretch more! When you are tired and yawn, add a stretch of the arms upwards to open your body. Do this often – the more often you do this the more benefit you will gain. Think of a cat or dog yawning and their whole body enjoys a luxurious stretch. The fancy name for this is “pandiculation!” Look it up, if you don’t remember how to do it
- When you stand and sit, keep your body open and bring your centre of gravity more into the centre of the abdomen. When you stand, put your weight between the middle and the ball of the foot. When you sit, feel you are sitting on your sitting bones. And always stand and sit straight: from now on, remember to keep your body in its comfortable and correct alignment.
Be aware that these are just a few of the elements essential to correcting posture. There is much more to it – this article has touched on only a few of the most common issues. Please feel free to contact me for information on classes and workshops.