Standing Tall

Reclaiming your power and agency is not just about posturing. But good posture equals power.

I have long been aware of my slouchy posture. If I had a dollar for every time my mom reminded me to sit up straight or stand up straight, especially while posing for a photograph…Well, I could probably have a whole closet full of designer shoes. When I started doing yoga, I strengthened up all those core muscles. Besides having a quieter mind, I found that my clothes fit better, my posture was improved, and my chronic stomachaches disappeared. Then I got pregnant, spent nearly six weeks on bedrest…you know where this goes. Muscle tone: gone. So it was with much interest that I watched social psychologist Amy Cuddy discuss how body language becomes who we are in her moving TEDTalk, which went viral. In the opening, she zeroes right in on a sensitive topic by using the phrase “making ourselves small”: crossing legs, slouching over, wrapping ankles together. GUILTY. You too? How are people supposed to know we’re awesome if we don’t tip them off?

As it turns out, powerful poses—ones that expand rather than contract; think of the pose of a person who crosses a finish line first—actually change our testosterone and cortisol levels in our brains. Even if you just do them for TWO MINUTES.

I feel like I have no extra time in the day, but I can take two minutes to be more powerful. Can’t you? Let’s not think of powerful as icky, aggressive feelings. Think of them as taking control of the awesomeness you have—it could be anything from leveraging business deals to negotiating the sharing of toys between toddlers—and showing it on the outside. For some, this is ideal, especially for Minnesotans: communicate with others without using words. Let your body send the message.

I had a little check-in about my posture at a recent massage. Tif at Phresh asked me about my current lifestyle (busy at work, busy at home with a baby, no downtime, sore shoulders, neck pain). And then I told her to go to work and do what needed to be done to make me better.

What followed was one of the most thorough good-pain massages I have had to date. As each knot detangled I heard the telltale pops and clicks, as though I was made of the world’s toughest bubble wrap. My mind-movie unreeled the muscle memories from the last year: growing a baby, lying on a couch, lying in bed, hunching over a tiny baby, then carrying around a 16-pound one in my left arm while trying to navigate life with my right arm. When I left I felt both totally relaxed—and oddly energized. I felt like I was walking taller. I felt like people turned and noticed me as I made my way to my car. I felt better about life and myself.

Then I remembered the TEDTalk. I hadn’t gotten more sleep or happened upon a totally brilliant personal insight. (Cuddy had done that for me.) I just had spent some time relaxing, got some good energy flowing, and then stood up to my full height of five feet, five-and-half inches, for the first time in a long time. And then that led me to think about my (sadly neglected) yoga practice, and how just a few sun salutes can sometimes make me feel more in control.

So there I was, sleep deprived, learning the dance of a working mom, and suddenly feeling like I was perfectly juggling, all the balls in the air. It might still be a mystery to me had I not seen Cuddy’s talk. So I’m sharing it with you. Walk tall, friends. Do the poses. Get a massage. Let yoga straighten you out.

As Cuddy says, it’s not fake it till you make it. It’s “fake it till you become it.” And it’s possible in two minutes a day for free. Or, if you want to fancy it up, get some good body mechanics from a massage therapist. Or yoga.

What do you have to lose? Take yourself to great heights.