What do these things have in common?
I have been thinking about this as I prepare for a workshop I’ll be co-presenting with my good friend psychotherapist Miriam Granthier during my visit to the UK this August. We’ll be exploring the body-mind connection through the lenses of both Alexander Technique and Gestalt Psychotherapy.
I find myself once more drawn to the work of social psychologist Amy Cuddy and the “high-power poses” which, when done for just two minutes, were shown to raise your testosterone (the “dominance” hormone) and lower your cortisol (the “stress” hormone). (The opposite happened if you did “low-power poses”….) In interactions after doing the high power poses (in this case a job interview), participants were perceived as having more presence, and were described as confident, passionate, authentic or comfortable. And that’s not all. It not only changed the way they were perceived by others, but also how they felt themselves.
Here I am experimenting with low- and high-power poses:
Cuddy stated that there is already a body of evidence that our minds (how and what we think, our emotions) change our bodies. Her studies, however, clearly showed that our bodies also change our minds. As a practitioner and teacher of the Alexander Technique this is not news to me, although I am very pleased to see that we are now getting clear evidence of this. In fact, in the Alexander Technique we do not even speak so much of the mind-body connection – rather of mind-body unity. The two really cannot be separated.
Coming back to the “high-power poses,” it strikes me that these open, expansive postures actually display incredible vulnerability – exposure of the neck, the throat and the belly, for instance. By comparison the “low-power poses,” in which we contract and close ourselves in, can be thought of as a way to protect or armor ourselves. It is ironic perhaps that we experience power, confidence and presence by allowing ourselves to be more vulnerable.
In an Alexander Technique class students are invited to let go of unnecessary tension – contraction. For me this was a wonderfully novel experience, but one that, in the beginning, also brought on feelings of vulnerability and exposure. I persisted despite these feelings, as I was experiencing a great relief in my neck tension and pain, that I’d carried around for years. And the more I was able to open up, the more confidence I felt and the more able to be my true self.
From what I can glean from Cuddy’s study, it does not matter how you do the “high-power poses” to get a positive effect. I am interested in exploring how adding some Alexander Technique thinking and awareness to how the poses are executed might enhance them further. My guess is that the two together will be even more effective.
In the meantime, next time you have an important or stressful event coming up, try doing (in private) two minutes of “high-power poses” beforehand. You’ll likely go into it more confidently and with greater presence – in a way that feels comfortable and true to yourself.
If you’ve experimented with “high-power poses” I’d love to hear about your experiences. Of, if you’ve studied the Alexander Technique, has your confidence increased, for example? Any observations or questions would be most welcome. Please comment in the space below.