Day 31

The language you use changes who you are,  the same goes for body language.  Perhaps even more so. 

How you frame things with language can change your thought patterns.  This may be because language as a symbol system is a perfectly understood creation of the human mind, whereas the torrent of sensory information we are immersed in is not.  By framing a situation with language, and the corresponding emotional evocations, our perception is gently molded to fit into the words and terms we use for it.  Talk about a thing long enough, good or bad, and you begin to see it everywhere. 

This is a widely accepted notion in today’s world.  However, what is not widely accepted is that the same concept can be applied to body language.  How you move through the world begins to change how you see that world. 

Language and mood are interlinked.  People can work themselves into a lather by talking, to themselves or others.  Likewise people can use words to calm themselves down or enter a more peaceful or open state of mind. 

But what is the connection between your body’s posture and mood? 

In a TED talk by Amy Cuddy, experiments are cited in which participants were told to hold a variety of pre-prescribed postures.  The first was a contractive, ‘sorrowful’ pose: arms and legs crossed, hand on the nape of the neck.  The second pose could be described as a ‘victory’ pose.  Arms in the air, a beaming smile.  Both poses were held with two groups and a control; they observed the participants behavior, subjective testimony, and tested their blood.

The findings suggest that an expansive ‘powerful’ pose, struck for a little as 2 minutes, can alter your behavior (making you more outgoing or confident), your perception of yourself, and even the hormone balance in your blood.  

This is because, contrary to many opinions on brain/body intercommunication (and Plato), your brain is not the absolute, one-way, controlling force of the body.  There is an interplay between signals, ricocheting back and fourth between the body and the brain, stitching together your sensory world, within and without.

What I mean is, we don’t just smile because we are happy.  We can be happy because we are smiling.  The brain recognizes the facial muscle taxonomy associated with happiness, and begins to mirror that physical reality.

When we are scared, we draw inward.  This is a natural response most likely originating in the autonomic behavior of drawing our limbs away from harm to avoid injury.  We bring a cut or bruised limb close to our bodies to nurture the wound.  However, this does not work very well when you are wounded emotionally.  Walking around in a contractive, drawn-in posture will eventually convince your brain that something is wrong with you, or that you are in danger.

When we are elated, or victorious, we expand outward.  This behavior is not learned by observing others, as it is seen in blind sprinters who will automatically throw up their hands upon winning a race.  By emulating a position of joy and openness, the brain will eventually begin to follow the body’s emotional posture cue.  This same kind of advice is given in many anxiety self-help exercises; suggesting not to follow the natural inclination to curl up into a ball but rather to lay on the ground like a starfish; an expansive posture to counteract some of the effects of an anxiety attack .

So what is to be taken away from this?  In my personal experience, I have noticed that I have been able to pull myself out of a ‘funk’, simply by changing my posture.  I’m sure we’ve all had a day where we wake up on a particularly cold and dark morning and sit, shoulders hunched, drooped over the edge of the bed, thinking about all the ‘things’ we have to do.  This is a dangerous interplay, for the same reason that the body and the brain ‘read’ each other’s signals to interpret your mood.  A contractive, droopy body makes for  a contractive, droopy mind. 

In these states, sometimes I’ve had the force of will to stand up, throw my arms in the air, put on a beaming smile, and hold that posture.  Gradually I can feel my negative-imagination mind weaken, and drop away.  Then I can greet the day.

Try it for yourself.  See what sitting up straight can do for your well-being.  Walk down a public street like royalty, shoulders back, head held high.  I promise you wont regret the experiment.

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