Can a pose drastically reduce your level of stress? If done before a job interview, can certain poses greatly increase your odds of getting it? Can taking a specific form improve social interactions with coworkers or people you manage? Well, based on some scientific findings, then, well….maybe!
How a pose can change your mind!
It is possible to see yoga in the context of shaping not just our physical self, or even our mental or spiritual self, but our current state in the world and how we successfully or unsuccessfully interact with that world. I didn’t know this was true until very recently when I watched a great little Ted Talk by Amy Cuddy called “Your body Language Shapes Who You Are”
Here is the gist of it. Our body language shapes who we are by chemically altering our bodies and therefore directly altering our moods and behaviors.
I know what you’re saying. Really? Chemically? How? Well, according to Amy Cuddy, and a bunch of other researcher’s I’ve looked up since hearing her arguments, dominance imposing ‘power’ poses such as those these two fellas to the right are doing, significantly increases levels of the hormone testosterone and reduces levels of the hormone cortisol. And that’s when the poses are done for just 2 min!
So what does this mean?
Well, most of us know about testosterone, an important sex hormone (mostly for men). But generally speaking for both sexes it plays a role at making you take more risks (like increased likelihood to gamble in Amy Cuddy’s study) and gives you a bit more of an aggressive temperament that usually translates to a more sociable, extroverted, type-A personality that is associated more generally with success in our modern society, greater self-esteem, and believe it or not, happiness!
But what about cortisol? Well, it’s called the “stress hormone”, and has the primary functions of increasing blood sugar, suppressing the immune system, and decreasing bone formation. It is produced in response to stress, so has some short term benefits such as heightened memory functions and lower sensitivity towards pain, but prolonged high-levels of it can lead to some messed-up physical change including increased stomach fat! That’s a crazy hormone! Elizabeth Scott has a great article on Cortisol and Stress: How to Stay Healthy.
So, there’s a BODY POSITION that significantly lowers cortisol?? Sign me up!
Amy Cuddy found that in her experimental studies, not only did she see significant changes in these two hormones by people doing power poses, she found the opposite happened by people that spent a little time in ‘low-power’ poses, aka submissive postures.
This would be body postures that make you appear small such as crossing your legs or arms tight, staring down at the floor, and especially having your hand on your neck. Low-power poses such as this decreased testosterone and INCREASED the stress hormone cortisol!
This all translated into having groups of people that she had do power poses for 2 minutes prior to short stressful job interviews be uniformly preferred by the hiring persons over groups that did submissive poses for 2 minutes. Oh, and the hiring personnel that observed knew nothing of the experiment. You can read more about her Harvard Business School research here.
So what does this have to do with yoga?
Well, I’ve been talking about poses, but aren’t asanas poses? Yep. And even though most yoga routines have some child’s pose asanas in them, most of what’s done in a yoga studio is extremely body opening and what I think would be considered power poses by Amy Cuddy.
Anyway, I’m sure no one would disagree that the feeling after a yoga class, though maybe not right after class, is one of power, clarity, and openness.
So believe it or not, and I think if you’ve ever done yoga you do, yoga might act similarly to these ‘power’ poses studied by Amy Cuddy. They might give you the chemical advantage of being a little less stressed, and a bit more of a sociable person who is more likely to succeed!
In her Ted Talk, Amy speaks about a very personal story that could be seen as vindication of her study and how we can ‘pose’ our way to the behavior we want to have. I don’t want to try retelling it because I won’t do it justice, but I will say that she overcame great physical and mental hardship, and went against everyone telling her she couldn’t, by just ACTING like she belonged and she could do the things people told her were impossible. Her story made me cry.
Her personal story, and how she couches it in her research, reminds me of my own story. While working in the corporate world, I took a 200-hr hatha teacher training to learn more about yoga. My corporate job wasn’t bad, and I truly liked the people I worked with. But hearing Amy’s research and story made me think about how being immersed in yoga on weekends for 8 months – on top of my personal practice – might have helped me become a stronger and more confident person. And maybe it wasn’t just a catalyst to quit that job, but that it actually changed me in deeper ways than I thought. It might be that her research provides a perspective of a body-mind link that explains how we are able to dramatically change careers, and ultimately our lives, for the better.
There are countless stories like mine of people whose lives dramatically changed because of yoga. I just recently interviewed Nicole, who tells us how she went from over-working in the UK and falling ill, to moving to Spain where she’s been leading retreats for 9 years. You can read it at this link: “From Illness to Bliss“