Written by Jenny Blake Did you know that just the way you sit might be causing anxiety? Or that by straightening your spine and scanning the horizon you can calm your central nervous system, just as deer in the savannah do?
For example, if you furrow your brow, try to think happy thoughts (it does not work). If you smile, try to think of something negative (it is very difficult). If you curl your body into a tight ball (or even sit hunched over), try to think of something exciting—notice how you start to feel very tense. Conversely, if you widen across your collarbones, sit up straight, lift the crown of your head and lengthen your spine, see if you do not feel instantly lighter and calmer.
According to positive psychology research, if you hold your arms outstretched in the air, open to the sky, tilt your head back and smile—and hold this position for at least two minutes—you cannot feel depressed.
In one of the most widely viewed TED Talks of all time (approaching 30 million views), social psychologist Amy Cuddy revealed that “power poses” that mimic confidence even when we are not feeling that way, can lower our stress hormones, and even lead to improved performance.
Stacy Sims, founder of the True Body Project, is an expert on somatics, or how our physical and psychological bodies relate to one another. “Oftentimes we are trying to make change, but we don’t think about how to restore and bring our bodies along for the changes we want to make,” she said. “People who have dynamic lives have dynamic motion. It is important to have movement in the body to match the intensity of the mind.”
Try These 3 Body Basics
These exercises will help you get sense for your body, and how it relates to your mood and well-being. As Stacy says:
“If we want to change our thoughts and emotions, we have to understand our own body patterns. Good alignment allows the body to do the work of the body with the least amount of effort. Thought, digestion, respiration. Once things get out of alignment, it is way more work which takes way more energy, which means we probably can’t comprehend, innovate, and activate.”
1) Face & Forehead — Lightening: Most of us unintentionally sit with furrowed brows as we read or work. Take your thumbs, and starting the space just above your eyebrows in the middle of your forehead), and with a nice amount of pressure glide your thumbs in opposite directions across your forehead, stopping at your temples and ending by making small circles on each temple. You can also rub your hands together to create warmth, then place the palms over each of your eyeballs. Do you feel anything lighten by doing this?
2) Stomach — Centering: We often unconsciously suck in our stomachs almost all day long. This shortens our breath, sending it up into our chest and throat, and sending our thoughts spinning right along with it. Settle into your seat, place one hand on your belly, and as you inhale deeply, fill up your belly like a balloon, using its full capacity for breath. Tighten slightly up and in on the exhale. After doing this for at least three breaths, do you notice a sense of calming or centering?
3) Feet — Grounding: What also tends to send us too far into our monkey minds is that many of us forget our feet. To feel grounded, it helps tremendously to move (point, flex, rotate) and awaken the feet, then to plant them firmly on the ground (if you are sitting, place your feet hip-width, legs at 90 degrees). Optional: close your eyes. Do you feel your thoughts dissipate at all? Can you feel a sense of being more grounded?
Pivot Podcast with Stacy Sims
For a deeper take on the science behind tips like these, take a listen to the recent Pivot Podcast interview with Stacy on how our physical and psychological bodies relate to one another. I had the great fortune of stumbling across her workshop in Bali when we were both there in 2013, and we have kept in touch since.
In this podcast Stacy shares her story of recovering from alcoholism through body awareness and movement practices. She describes why if your body is holding stress—even just sitting in a certain positions that visually mimic those of tension, fear or depression—your emotions and thoughts will create a story to match.
Take a listen to our hour-long chat on iTunes, SoundCloud, or Overcast:
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Jenny Blake is the author of Life After College and the forthcoming book Pivot. She is a career and business strategist and an international speaker who helps smart people organize their brain, move beyond burnout, and build sustainable, dynamic careers they love. Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients through big transitions — often to pivot in their career or launch a book, blog or business. Today you can find her here on this blog (in its 8th year!) and at JennyBlake.me, where she explores the intersection of mind, body and business. Follow her on Twitter @jenny_blake.