Work on your posture and build your confidence

Where’s the evidence?
Shari-Half-Moon-PoseMy yoga teacher Brenda taught me a posture called Ardha Chandrasana (Half moon posture) years ago. She said that in her school of yoga, Iyengar, it was good for spinal flexibility , upper and lower back strengthening and alignment. She also said that it was good for people suffering with depression.


How? Why ?

Those are the sort of questions our enquiring minds ask. Many people would understand how the yoga postures could improve strength and flexibility . However there is a natural healthy scepticism when it comes to assertions about how the postures improve mental wellbeing.

When it comes to the mind we prefer to rely on an evidence base. We listen to experts from the fields of psychology, psychiatry and pharmacology. They base their evidence on randomised control trials. I’ve written about the problems associated with over reliance on such an evidence base before .

Psychology studies are WEIRD

The problem with a lot of these studies are that they are based on WEIRD people :

Western, Educated, and from Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic countries

Now you might say that’s not a problem. I’m all those things. Thats until you look a little more into the detail. Between 2003 and 2007 undergraduates made up 80 percent of study subjects in six top psychology journals. Scientific America   Teenage minds and young adult brains are very different to the rest of the population. Another problem with the whole area of research in mental health is that much of the research is paid for by Big Pharma. If they can identify a brain “problem” they can sell you a solution. And the first step enabling them to do this is to fund research .

The cost of mental health 
In the UK more than 50 million prescriptions for anti-depressants were issued last year, the highest ever number and 7.5% up on the year before.  UK research  and according to a Kings University study the annual cost to society in 2010 of mental health “problems” was £105 billion . The cost of mental health . In the US one in ten people now take anti depressants  Antidepressants in the US So either there are a whole load more depressed people than in the past or we’ve become better at diagnosis or we are trying to solve problems that are not really there.

How is Yoga a science ?
imagesFor thousands of years seekers of knowledge (Sadhakas) have experimented and observed the connection between the mind and the body. They tried putting their bodies into different alignments or they experimented with breathing in a different way and they observed the effect that this had on their minds. This knowledge was passed down from guru to student and in this way a body of knowledge grew.
How thoughts and feelings influence our bodies
We already know the effect of thinking and feeling on physiology. A thought changes the body and enables healing or illness. The science is irrefutable. Our entire physiology is influenced by thought.

We can also observe how living in a city surrounding ourselves with negative influences changes the way we think and influences our physiology –  City Stress  or How emotions spread. For example our posture is negatively or positively influenced by what people say to us . We slump when we are criticised.

How our bodies influence our minds
What is now becoming apparent is how our thoughts, feelings and physiology are influenced by our posture. An Ohio State study in 2009 found that sitting up straight reinforced confidence. Further studies have demonstrated that bad posture is associated with feelings of helplessness and stress . Adopting postures associated with power can decrease sensitivity to pain.
In a 2010 study researchers Dana Carny and Amy Cuddy asked people to take on “power poses” . These were various postures reflecting confidence, such as placing their hands on their hips. The research team measured testosterone and cortisol levels before and after the test. A second group was asked to hold “weak” positions (for example crossing their legs or arms or making themselves as small as possible) . The power or weak postures were hold for just 2 minutes by each group.
Analysis of the results showed an increase in testosterone of 20% for the power group and a 10% decrease in the weak group. The power group showed a 25% reduction in the stress hormone level cortisol whilst the weak group had a 15% increase. The people in the power group also demonstrated behavioural changes. They felt more confident and relaxed and more willing to be adventurous.
In a follow up piece of research one group was asked to hold their hands in the air for just 2 minutes and a second group told to hold weak positions. They were then given mock job interviews which were recorded. The study was obviously a double blind study, which means the people conducting the interviews had no information on what the participants were asked to do before the interviews.
The group holding the power postures were seen as more confident, passionate, enthusiastic, authentic , captivating and comfortable. And more employable.
And all this happened in 2 minutes. Their physiology changed. They felt good about themselves. See more in this amazing TED TALKS

Back to Yoga
We are just at the beginning of trying to understand how changing the shape of our bodies changes our minds. We know that exercise makes us happier  and we are beginning to study posture and how it shapes our minds.

In the meantime we have ancient knowledge of Yogis to rely upon. They are the experts in body language and how we can train the brain by using the body. It’s taken Western science until 2010 to work out that standing tall and adopting a strong body position has a positive effect on your physiology and how you feel and how others feel about you.
Yoga teachers have been taught by their teachers in a line going back many thousands of years. They experiment, they observed and they passed the knowledge on.
In the meantime don’t wait for “science” to catch up with human experience. Try something that’s been taught for millennia and see if it works for you.

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Posted on April 25, 2014, in Coaching, Meditation etc., Physical Therapies, positive psychology and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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