“Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances.” -Maya Angelou
The way we hold our bodies affects who we are and who we become in the world. In this inspiring TED talk, Harvard researcher Amy Cuddy, PhD, provides practical tools for building confidence using powerful physical poses that affect brain chemistry.
It is obvious to us that our minds change our bodies. What is often overlooked is that the reverse is true too: our bodies change our minds. For example, when people win a competition, they tend to spontaneously throw their arms up into a big victorious V-shape. According to research conducted by Jessica Tracy, PhD, this is demonstrated throughout the world and even for people who are congenitally blind who have never seen this as a learned behavior. It also seems to be an innate human behavior exhibited throughout time. (Are you imagining gladiators and cavemen with their arms up too?)
By simply holding your body into such a powerful pose, you trick your brain into thinking you have achieved a victory, releasing the same hormones it does when you have actually won something. This leaves you feeling confident and powerful. Yes, you can trick your brain into thinking you are a winner.
The bottom line of this research is something that yogis have known for ages: the body is a very powerful tool to harness the mind. Once we harness our minds, we reveal our “true selves.” Authenticity, presence and confidence improve. Dr. Cuddy's research finally puts numbers to this ancient wisdom.
Part of these studies involved people spitting into a vial before and after holding power poses such as the victorious V pose, or a control of powerless poses such as crouching over for 2 minutes. Their saliva was tested for two key hormones based on the knowledge that effective leaders throughout the animal kingdom have high testosterone and low cortisol. After the power posing, levels of testosterone (confidence and dominance-related hormone) went up significantly by more than 20% and levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) had gone down approximately 25%.
According to Dr. Cuddy, “Testosterone is not only linked to dominance. It is also linked to risk tolerance, fearlessness and resiliency." And, from a feature on Dr. Cuddy in TIME, “Cortisol, on the other hand, is a stress hormone and is associated with an inability to adapt in highly stressful situations.”
Pharmaceutical companies probably don’t want you to know this, but you can change your brain chemistry through your posture. This has implications for depression related to low self-esteem, social anxiety and for you feeling drained as you hunch over your computer right now. Do you feel empowered or what?
The brilliant thing about these “power poses” is that they can be done anywhere by anybody. The same is absolutely true for yoga. You don't need to go out and buy fancy Lululemmon clothes or join a studio to do yoga; you can do some powerful moves right where you are sitting.
When asked about yoga, Dr. Cuddy enthusiastically says that yoga is a great tool for cultivating this confidence. She predicts that about 80% of yoga poses would be classified as high power poses and the other 20% are classified as more comforting. So sit tall and stay tuned for the next article with a simple 2-minute yoga routine inspired by this research that you will help you with all of the circumstances life presents.