“The way you walk through a room is the way you walk through life”- Ida Rolf.
I think that’s a lovely quote.
I disagree with the mechanics of Rolfing (it does not work consistently to make bodies healthy – although it does help a lot of people for a time), but Ida did hit the nail on the head when it comes to highlighting the body-mind-life connection.
I’ve seen it for years. A patient comes in depressed or anxious and has low self-esteem.
Then just a few weeks later, they are more smiley, confident, self-assured, calm and composed. Results occur on a spectrum (and some do need additional help from the relevant professionals). Still, they are very evident and speak volumes about how connected the mind and body are.
But what is the mechanism at play here? Does it affect everyone, and can you utilise it to your advantage?
The Hidden Skill Of Observing Movement
Have you ever watched a random guy approach an attractive woman (or vice versa) for the first time? If you watch this sort of interaction with a curious eye, you can tell in advance just how confident both parties are. You can tell whether they genuinely believe they are worthy of attention and whether they are likely to be successful or not. How do you do this? You achieve this insight purely by observing the dynamics and fluidity of their movement, body language, and posture. And you do all that in an instant without giving it any thought. Your opinions form automatically. Evolution through the pressures of survival has instilled astute observation skills in us all.
All humans possess this ability; some are just more aware than others. Researchers have even proved the link between posture and self-belief. I discuss a fascinating study in my book ‘Unlocked‘ where researchers at Ohio State University showed how a person’s posture during communication affects the way that others perceive you and may even affect your degree of self-belief.
Here are the basics. They asked study participants to list three positive and three negative traits they possess that would impact their professional performance at a future job. Half of the participants were asked to write these traits while they were in a hunched-over position, while the other half were asked to assume an upright posture during the process.
The results were striking. Their posture not only impacted whether or not they identified with the positive things they were asked to write about themselves but also affected a participants belief in the statements, positive or negative. So a person’s belief of their OWN words is associated with their postural position while thinking them. When you are hunched over, you may begin to distrust yourself in the same way that others would distrust the level of confidence in your statements. This is alarming when you consider just how many people in the world spend their day compressed and stooped in front of the computer or TV! These poor lifestyle habits entrain a forward stooped curve to your back that can require significant expertise to unlock and correct. Talk about holding yourself back in life (which is ironic, considering that you are really stuck forwards).
In a way, this is common sense and what you’d expect. Think about charismatic, confident, and persuasive people that you know – they will have an open upright chest, squared shoulders and their head held high. On the contrary, if you think of a stereotypically ‘unconfident’ person, you automatically think of a person with a stooped back, rounded shoulders, a forwards head and mopey type movements. The external posture and body language are often dead giveaways for what’s going on mentally and emotionally.
Understanding this connection can help you develop a better awareness of yourself and better control your effects on others.
And this is important because it turns out that we are continuously communicating non-verbally with the people around us. UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian coined the 55/38/7 ratio to explain the different ways we communicate. He found that 55% of our communication is through body language (which includes posture, movement, gestures and anything else that changes your outward appearance), 38% is voice tonality. Only 7% gets conveyed through the literal words that you speak.
Even more interesting is that Mehrabian noted when there are incongruences in communication, people tend to trust what they are reading from the body over what you are saying!
If you ever doubt this – stand in front of a mirror and smile without using your eyes, just move your mouth — notice how scary and disingenuous you look! I anyone saw that they would immediately discount whatever you said and find it hard to trust you.
Being unaware of what your body posture is communicating to others could leave you at a disadvantage in life.
“Who you are speaks so loudly, I can’t hear what your saying ” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
There are two crucial aspects to your posture that may affect your personality and how you get along in the world.
- Your posture affects your mental-emotional state and physiology as a whole.
- Your posture affects how others perceive you as well as how you perceive yourself.
It can be pretty simple to work this in your favour.
At the time of writing, the second-most ever viewed TED talk of all time is by Amy Cuddy, which describes the power of ‘faking it until you make it’. Essentially, she demonstrates that you can drastically improve your mental state by assuming a posture known as the power pose (think Superman or Wonder Woman). Try it right now – stand up straight with your shoulders back, hands-on-hips, head held high and try not to feel confident. You may struggle to keep yourself from smiling.
There is no doubt that your emotional state and posture are linked. The way that you move affects the way that you feel, and the way that you feel changes your internal chemistry. Both affect how you present to the world around you.
Think back to when you’ve watched Olympic sprinters get ready on the start line or boxers stepping into the ring. They embody this sort of power posing and optimistic, confident movement. Why? Because doing so puts them in the right frame of mind for competing and winning.
Tony Robbins (a success coach to high performers) teaches this principle like a precise science and skill. If you play around with it yourself, you may notice that there is a particular position to lift your chest to make you feel more confident and assertive. Move it a couple of millimetres up or down and you lose the effect.
Posture and Joint Mechanics
From a mechanical point of view, we should note that the whole body plays a role in this. It’s not fully adequate to just lift your chest; what about the precise alignment and tension of your lower back, pelvis, legs and feet? It is all one synchronous single system, head to toe. If one section is out of proper alignment, then a negative tensioning and effect spreads mechanically through the whole system. The more mechanical problems you have, the less integrated your structural system is, the harder it is to balance physically and emotionally.
Any patient who has completed a session of Advanced BioStructural Correction treatment will tell you – there is a dramatic positive difference felt when that very final bone of the session is put back into alignment. When the whole system is integrated, aligned and organised, you are at your peak.
Learning about the impact of posture on personality and communication is motivating. And yes, you could ‘fake it until you make it’ by working at home to improve your posture and improving your non-verbal communication with the world. Hold your head up, keep your shoulders back, lift your chest and smile more!
However, you will find that the most profound benefits of great positive posture come when your structure is mechanically corrected. A properly aligned skeleton automatically holds itself with perfect poise and a confident tone.
The core premise of Advanced BioStructural Correction is that when you are correctly aligned, your body holds itself effortlessly upright. A natural upgrade in your biology, a calm centred mind, an organised, integrated and grounded body ensues. It’s all interconnected – and it is designed to work in this ideal way.
The natural human traits of confidence, high self-esteem, self-belief and the desired states of vitality and abundant energy are the normal human condition. They are what we should and would be experiencing if the years of accumulated physical stress and poor posture were not holding them at bay.
Posture goes beyond back pain. It’s a topic that includes how you integrate with society, how you are perceived, how you feel, how you perform and the degree of health and longevity you can attain.
You can learn much more about the fascinating links between your structure and health, and how to take control of it in Unlocked – Release Your Peak Potential and Rebuild a Body that’s Futureproof.
- Pablo Brunol et al., “Body Posture Effects on Self-Evaluation: A Self-Validation Approach,” European Journal of Social Psychology, August 2009.
- Albert Mehrabian, Nonverbal Communication (Piscataway, NJ:1972), 108.