Body(mind) Language

I am washing the dishes, and I become aware of a heavy tension in my shoulders.  I remember to breathe and relax, and look out the window.  The sky!  Wow.  My face softens, and my eyes drink in this dappling of cotton and sea spray, cradled in a crispy yellow and orange leaf-frame.  I am happy for the break and change in perspective.

dappled sky photo by shannon mayhew

As we move into these chilly November days, it’s common for us to tense our shoulders and brace against the cold.  Sometimes we carry this extra tension indoors with us and, before we know it, we’re all knotted up.  And today, this is me.

Earlier this week, I was listening to a lecture by Louise Hay.  She said that it’s difficult for healing to flow throughout the body when it’s tense or frightened.  Of course this resonated with me.  In Grace in the Muck, I wrote about the strong connection between our bodies, our emotions and our immune system.

In her lecture, Louise Hay suggested to pause throughout the day and take three deep breaths.  On the third breath, she guides us to feel ourselves become very centered.  Then, she suggests we say to ourselves, “I love you.  All is well.”  I’ve been enjoying this reminder to my body and find it helpful in staying present, even through the more mundane tasks of my day.

to all I love you photo by shannon mayhew

In my classes this week, we’ve been playing with communicating the message that all is well to our bodies.  When we hold a stretch, we stay there and breathe deeply and calmly.

In a way, the breath is the language of the nervous system.  When we breathe with ease, we are telling the nervous system that we are safe.  Our nervous system then tells our muscles “all is well.”  The muscles can release into a deeper stretch than they would if we were communicating fear or stress.

As deep breathing communicates wellbeing to the body and mind, shallow breathing can communicate a sense of fear.  We can use breathing and centering breaks as an easy but significant boost to our health and wellbeing throughout the day.

Another form of “language” we can use to send messages of wellbeing to the body may surprise you.  Our posture itself can cause our cells to produce hormones that either increase our stress or build our confidence.

I speak wave photo by shannon mayhew

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy and her research team have shown that body posture can communicate messages of power and authenticity to the mind and secondarily, to others, with life-changing results.  In her TEDTalk, “Your body language shapes who you are,” which received over 7 million views, Dr. Cuddy explained her findings on the effects of “power posing.”

In her studies, people who posed in “high power,” expansive poses for two minutes before a job interview were more assertive, calm and comfortable, with higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of stress hormones.  Those who posed in the “low power,” collapsed poses prior to the interview were more stress-reactive, with higher levels of cortisol.  The power posers were far more positively evaluated during the interview.  Both participants and evaluators were blind to what the study was about.

Dr. Cuddy talks about this work in the video below, which is 20 minutes very well-spent.  She notes that “It’s not about the content of the speech; it’s about the presence that they’re bringing to the speech.”  In other words, using the language of their body to communicate confidence to the mind allowed these participants to bring their true selves to the interview.

In Grace in the Muck, part 4, I talked about how, at times, the path to how we want to feel, from how we do feel, seems too far to travel.  Sometimes, it feels too difficult to send the message we want, because we just don’t feel good, either emotionally or physically.  In that case, instead of “faking it ’til you make it,”  we can use strategies from yoga and related disciplines to help our bodies feel better, so that it will be easier to come into resonance with the emotions we desire.

Power posing appears to work this way too.  Amy Cuddy says, rather than fake it ’til you make it, “fake it ’til you become it.”  Instead of acting happy or calm, or confident or even powerful, when we’re not, we build a pathway to that emotion, via the body.  Then, our authentic power naturally comes through.

This research so elegantly shows us that, when you feel better in your body, the good-feeling emotions are not just easier to access, they are actually produced in the cells.  The body speaks, and the mind listens.