Power poses are static, yin-like postures that create powerful internal changes.
Stand with your feet apart, hands on hips, chest lifted and a half smile on your lips.
Can you feel the power beginning to flow through your body, your heart and mind? If you feel like you don’t deserve this empowered feeling, do it anyway—fake it.
The next time you begin your yoga practice, instead of coming into Tadasana or Mountain Pose, try Viramudra instead. Stand like Superman or Wonder Woman. Feel your cape flowing in the wind behind you. Stand tall, expand your chest, look up slightly. Spend a few minutes here feeling the not-so-subtle effects of this simple posture.
Then, when you have finished your practice, celebrate your accomplishment and for two minutes throw your arms high in the air and arch your back slightly. Feel the exhilaration of Jayamudra, the victory pose.
Our physiology affects our psychology and, not surprisingly, our psychology affects our physiology.
We can tap into these proven facts to improve our health physically and mentally—and all we have to do is do it!
When someone is depressed, they will often allow their body to collapse into a classic slumped posture. One study found that individuals suffering depression will allow their head and neck to flex forward, the upper back to round, the shoulder blades to abduct, and the top of pelvis to tilt backwards.
Charlie Brown is an eloquent model of this debilitating mood.
This works both ways, as Charlie Brown explained. If we adopt a depressed posture, we will become depressed.
These positions are called “low-power poses” and they have been shown, within just two minutes of adopting the posture, to increase blood serum cortisol levels by about 17 percent and decreased testosterone about 10 percent. Fortunately, this can also work in reverse: by adopting “high-power poses” these hormonal levels can be dramatically improved.
Testosterone is an important hormone for many reasons: it helps to keep bones strong and healthy, it helps to maintain or grow muscles mass, sharpen mental faculties like memory and concentration, and improve libido and overall energy levels.
While men produce testosterone in their testes, women rely upon their adrenal glands and their ovaries: the levels of testosterone in women is only about five percent of that in men, but it is an important factor in keeping women’s bones strong and healthy as they grow older.
And just as women’s levels of essential hormones drop as they begin to approach menopause, so too men’s levels of hormones like testosterone drop as they reach middle age: we go through “man-o-pause,” more technically known as andropause.
We all need ways to keep our testosterone levels high, as we get older.
Cortisol is a stress hormone: when we are stressed, the amount of cortisol released by our adrenal glands shoots up to help prepare us for the coming struggle. We need this, but not all the time. Our cortisol level is highest first thing in the morning: it helps us wake up and get ready for the day. Cortisol is required by our liver in order to produce the glucose that our muscles will soon need to be active. It can also reduce our immune function temporarily, allowing more energy to be diverted to the muscles.
Cortisol is great at reducing inflammation, at least in the short term. If cortisol levels remain elevated for long periods of time, however, our muscles can begin to waste away, our immune system becomes compromised and our bones can lose mineral density.
A Simple Power Pose
Here we see the legendary yoga teacher Tirumalai Krishnamacharya posing for a picture in his book Yoga Makaranda: The Nectar of Yoga.
While it is a tiny picture, you can clearly see him in the power pose of Viramudra. This simple pose is available to everybody who can stand up. All it requires it that you place your hands on your hips, spread your feet slightly wider than hip-width and make yourself feel big.
Amy Cuddy, a professor at Harvard Business School, and a few colleagues, conducted a very interesting experiment. They had volunteers adopt a variety of postures and then measured their blood chemistry before and after taking the poses.
There were two kinds of poses struck: high-power poses and low-power poses. The high-power poses included Viramudra as well as Jayamudra, where the arms are cast high and wide, like a runner crossing the finish line. This celebratory gesture is found in all cultures all over the world.
Even blind athletes spontaneously make this gesture when celebrating a victory. The researchers found that holding either pose for just two minutes increased testosterone levels in the blood by 25 percent, while decreasing cortisol levels by 15 percent!
Professor Cuddy has explained her findings in a TED Talk.
In this talk she explained how simple, easy and accessible power posing is for everybody. She changed the normal catch phrase of “fake it until you make it” to the more positive “fake it until you become it.”
She has seen first hand how unempowered people, folks who feel that they have no right to be seen or heard in social or business settings, can blossom into confident and active participants contributing to the group’s goals and to their own success. (Beginning yoga teachers who feel nervous and anxious facing their classes—take note!)
Try it yourself: feel the difference just a couple of minutes can make in your own attitude.
Before you walk into a challenging situation, adopt the posture, charge your batteries and prepare yourself to face whatever challenge is ahead of you with confidence and strength. This can include your next yoga class—start with Viramudra and become empowered.
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Ed: Cat Beekmans
1 See Posture and body image in individuals with major depressive disorder: a controlled study by Canales JZ, Cordás TA, Fiquer JT, Cavalcante AF, Moreno RA.
2 See Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance by Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy, and Andy J. Yap. (Psychological Science, vol 21, p 1463).
3 Testosterone given to post-menopausal women was shown to improve mineral bone density and sexual libido. See Testosterone enhances estradiol’s effects on postmenopausal bone density and sexuality. Davis SR, McCloud P, Strauss BJ, Burger H.
4 The book was originally published in 1934, so the picture is even older.
5 These are my names not the researchers’ names.
6 Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance by Dana R. Carney, Amy J.C. Cuddy, and Andy J. Yap. (Psychological Science, vol 21, p 1463).
7 Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are. Filmed Jun 2012 – Posted Oct 2012 – TEDGlobal 2012.