Power Poses for Personal Presence
So what about those power poses?
How we stand affects our speech and conveys our self-image. We need to be aware of our stance and when the time is right, use those power poses.
You might have heard of the research carried out by Dana Carney, Amy Cuddy and Andy Yap concerning the influence of certain poses on the physiology of the body. Their 2010 study concluded that taking certain poses influenced the production of testosterone and cortisol in the body. This in turn affected risk-taking behavior and feelings of power. Expansive poses increased testosterone and decreased cortisol, increasing risk-taking behavior and feelings of power. Restrictive poses had the opposite effect.
As a trainer in body language and Taiji, a Chinese martial art, posture is key to my teaching and daily practice. In my opinion, good posture is vitally important for health as well as for personal presence.
Studies on power poses
When the studies on the effect of power poses came out in 2010, I was very happy to see that they seemed to confirm what I observed happening in real life. Since 2105 other scientists have tried to replicate the research on what has become known as ‘power poses’. But they could not duplicate the results of the previous study – there were no increases in risk-taking behavior or hormonal changes. However, the more subjective result of an increased feeling of power was successfully replicated. For details, please see this article.
One of the original researchers from the 2010 studies, Amy Cuddy, became well known for her work. After the inconclusive 2015 studies, she became the primary recipient of blame for possibly not having carried out the original research properly. To learn more about what occurred, please see this extensive and objective article.
Personally, I was disappointed that the 2015 research did not confirm the results of the previous studies. But I was happy to read that at least the feelings of power that people can experience when taking expansive postures was confirmed.
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Posture conveys our self-image
It seems that the media in general dismisses the fact that there is a connection between what we do with our bodies and how we feel or think about ourselves. Posture not only affects how we feel about ourselves, but also very clearly conveys to others our self-image. In my 25 years’ experience as a taiji and qigong teacher I witness on a daily basis the importance of posture. How a person thinks and feels about himself is set in the body. Where else could this possibly be expressed?
In class people learn to stand taller and feel better about themselves. Students say things like “I finally had the courage to walk away from this or that difficult situation.” Or “I feel stronger now and I’m more able to stand up to my difficult neighbor.” There was a student who would sigh and hang her head whenever she talked about something she found difficult. When I made her aware of what she did, she started paying attention to what she was saying and the accompanying movements. She stopped hanging her head and found that those ‘difficult’ things weren’t so difficult after all.
There have been various other studies such as this one, where people who consciously imitate a happy or sad way of walking create noticeable changes in their mood. Our mood can affect how we walk. We are slump-shouldered if we're sad, bouncing along if we're happy. But in this study they noticed that it also works the other way round. Subjects who were prompted to walk in a more depressed style, with less arm movement and shoulders rolled forward experienced worse moods than those who were induced to walk in a happier style.
Another preliminary study by Wilkes et al investigated whether changing posture could reduce negative affect and fatigue in people with mild to moderate depression undergoing a stressful task.
The researchers in this study started from the premise that
“slumped posture is a diagnostic feature of depression. While research shows upright posture improves self-esteem and mood in healthy samples, little research has investigated this in depressed samples. In this study we randomized participants to sit with usual posture or upright posture and physiotherapy tape was applied.”
Physiotherapy tape is applied to induce a gentle manipulation of the spine. Results of the study suggested that adopting an upright posture may increase positive affect and reduce fatigue. It can also decrease self-focus in people with mild-to-moderate depression. The researchers go on to say that:
“future research should investigate postural manipulations over a longer time period and in samples with clinically diagnosed depression.”
Expressions matching our stance
Our posture also influences our verbal expression. When we are not feeling great we are down, letting the head hang, feeling low, etc. These are all expressions that create a downward movement. The opposite is also true. When we are feeling good in ourselves we are upbeat, in high spirits, lighthearted - expressions that create an upward movement.
Please try the following exercise:
- Stand straight, put your hands up in the air as though you’ve won a competition. And then say “I feel like I’m a total failure.”
And then the opposite:
- Stand or sit in a stooped position and say “I feel on top of the world.”
How did these work? Could you match the emotion with the opposite posture?
I very often use this exercise in training. And people usually start laughing because they feel it is impossible…
It is all linked
In my view, posture, mindset and feelings are intrinsically linked. And when you want to change things in your life, changing your posture is as important as changing your mindset. If for instance you stoop when you sit and hunch your shoulders, you can learn to become aware and change your posture for the better.
However, it is not just taking an expansive pose for a minute or two once in a while that will make a difference. It is repeatedly standing tall. It is time and time again being aware of what you are doing and changing it. In order for the body to remember what good posture is, it is necessary to repeat the adjustments over and over again, many times during the day, day after day. The more often this is practiced, the more your body will remember, and will ‘incorporate’ what it is to stand tall, to feel free and open.
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