When I was in England earlier this August, I co-presented a workshop looking at the mind-body connection through the lenses of both the Alexander Technique and Gestalt Therapy. I represented the Alexander Technique part of the equation, and my friend, psychotherapist, Miriam Granthier the Gestalt side of things. And, of course, our own particular interests and preferences played a big part too.
This was the second such workshop we’d done together, and in the year since our first one we’d both independently become fascinated by the work of Amy Cuddy, and the benefits of high-power poses (see my last blog post). So, during my part of the presentation, we explored both low- and high-power poses.
According to Cuddy’s findings, spending just two minutes in either a low- or high-power poses will change your testosterone (“dominance” hormone) and cortisol (“stress” hormone) levels. Two minutes in a high-power pose will raise your testosterone level and reduce your cortisol, and the opposite for low-power poses.
Without any introduction or explanation, I invited everyone to sit for two minutes with their arms and legs crossed (i.e. in a low-power pose). We then stood for two minutes with our feet somewhat wider than usual and our hands on our hips (“Wonder Woman” high-power pose). After each one we discussed anything we noticed while doing the pose – how we felt, was it familiar, was it comfortable, our breathing, and so forth. Participants generally were more familiar with the low-power pose, even though they noticed it wasn’t particularly comfortable, and one participant even noted that she felt anxious. The high-power pose fared much better, although a negative association for some was that it felt a bit “aggressive” and unfamiliar.
After a short conversation about the nature of the Alexander Technique, how it can be applied to whatever we are doing, and could help us be more comfortable and open even in a “low-power” pose, we proceeded to do an experiment of using Alexander Technique thinking while doing the “Wonder Woman” high-power pose.
I guided the group verbally for the two minutes we were in the pose. We became aware of the connection of our feet to the ground, and of our naturally upward flowing direction. We paid attention to our breathing and the movement of the ribs with each breath. We gave ourselves simple Alexander directions, inviting our necks to be free and our backs to be open and spacious. At the end of the two minutes I invited everyone to connect with their fingertips, then allow them to lightly arc up in to the air, so our arms outstretched wide above our heads. In this way we we ended up, briefly, in another high-power pose, one which Cuddy described as indicating joy or pride (think athlete winning a race).
The difference between this and the first time in the pose was stark. First, it was immediately noticeable to all of us, was how quickly the time went this time. Participants also described feeling much more spacious and calm, and yet engaged/active, and certainly more comfortable. There were no feelings of “aggression;” rather people felt more grounded and true to themselves.
This ties in with the experiences of a student of mine, who had been feeling very anxious about an impending medical test. She decided to do an “Alexander-style” high-power pose every morning for two minutes, and reported that she could not only feel the difference immediately afterward, but also that generally her anxiety and fatigue were much lessened. Miriam and I also did the high-power pose together before the workshop, and we both agreed we really didn’t feel nervous at all.
Of course this is all anecdotal, but it does indicate that the addition of Alexander-style thinking and awareness can be extremely helpful in gaining the most out of the pose.
If you’d like to try this out for yourself, I have recorded a short audio with a two-minute guided talk you can listen to when you do your “Wonder Woman” power pose. Just sign up below, and the link will be sent to you free of charge.
We know from Cuddy’s work that simply spending two minutes in a high-power pose has a beneficial effect. I recommend, however, that you give your “Wonder Woman” a power boost by using the Alexander Technique. You’ll feel more comfortable, confident and connected before you head into whatever your day has one offer.
I hope you will give this a try for yourself. After all it’s just two minutes. Why not set up your own experiment comparing high-power poses without and with the addition of the Alexander Technique. I’d love it if you would report your findings in the comments section at the bottom of the page, and of course any other questions or observations you may have.