Use your body to change how you feel

Power Pose
Leading an audience in a Power Pose at Anita Moorjani’s Being Myself workshop in London, Feb 28 2015.

If you’ve read ‘I Heart Me’ recently you’ll be very familiar with Power Posing. It’s a simple way of using your posture to change how you feel.

Research at Harvard University led by Amy Cuddy found that just a couple of minutes standing in a Power Pose, like Wonder Woman, (OK, if you’re a male let’s go for Superman) could dramatically alter your body chemistry.

Basically, your muscles are connected to your brain. Notice that when you feel happy you smile. You don’t feel happy and then remember that you’re supposed to smile. The muscles on your face do that automatically because they are connected to your brains’ emotional areas.

Similarly, when you feel stressed you don’t suddenly remember you’re supposed to frown or tense your shoulders. These things happen automatically because your muscles are connected to emotional regions in your brain.

What most people don’t realise is that it goes the other way as well. Just as a feeling causes responses in your body, so holding your body in a certain way affects how you feel. It’s one of the reasons why laughter yoga is so popular. It works! And it does so because laughter actually produces positive emotion at the neurological level.

It’s like ‘fake it until you make it’. But please note, when I say fake it I’m meaning to do it on purpose, wholeheartedly; not as a pretense that everything is hunky dory in your life.

There’s a world of difference between smiling or laughing to pretend that everything is OK when it’s not, and smiling and laughing on purpose with an awareness that doing so can actually change your emotional state.

At Harvard, Amy Cuddy found that standing in a Power Pose for just a couple of minutes increased hormones associated with confidence by 20% and lowered cortisol (a stress hormone) by 25%.

I have found that power posing is a really great way of actually ‘wiring-in’ self-love. It was one of my key practices during my self-love project.

When we find ourselves lacking in self-love, whether it’s in a testing situation, around certain people, in particular environments, or if we feel self-conscious in any way, we wear the feeling on our body. But if we practice holding and moving our bodies in a way that says, ‘I am enough’, ‘I matter’, ‘I am important’, ‘I’m worth it’, or some other version of these, the practice quite quickly affects how you feel and therefore how you function in these environments and around these people.

During my work on self-love, I found it very useful to practice it for only a couple of minutes in the morning just after I got up and before I took shower or had breakfast.

The brain is ‘neuroplastic’, which means it’s always changing. It changes in response to what you learn, what you do, what you experience, but also on account of what you think and, importantly, how you hold and move your body. Learning ‘I am enough’ body language is a sure-fire way of altering the emotional architecture of the brain, specifically in the areas that control how we feel about ourselves.

Think of the practice like going to the Self-Love Gym (that’s what I call it in the book). Just as going to the gym to exercise makes your muscles grow, so doing a regular self-love practice like power posing makes the self-love areas of your brain grow.

Have a go. Try it on for size and see if the simple exercise fits.

10 thoughts on “Use your body to change how you feel

  1. Karon Clements

    Think I will be Wonder Woman today! I remember you talked about this before you went in for an important interview. I tech people techniques to improve their confidence horse riding so I will add this to the list. Thank you

  2. This is really interesting. I will try it out for myself and suggest it to my clients. Thank you David

  3. Theres

    Thanks, David! This was a great article and a great reminder of the effect our posture has on our physiology and on our state of mind…it does feel good to do the Power Pose you recommended. I am committed to doing it daily! 🙂 Best wishes on all that you are doing.

  4. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Thanks Theres. I hope it works well for you. Keep up the good work.

  5. Sal Tarsey

    This was mentioned on greys anatomy last week and though I laughed I have been trying it! Being your own superhero is amazing and a great way of telling ourselves and our body that we can do it. Many thanks sal x

  6. Hi,

    Where are the exercises?? I would love to practise!

    Best regards,
    Britt Lundkvist

  7. David R. Hamilton PhD

    Hi Britt,

    The exercises are in my recent book, ‘I Heart Me: The Science of Self-Love’. I hope that helps. 🙂

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