A fascinating combined study by the Harvard and Columbia Business Schools found that “power-posing” has an almost immediate effect on the levels of two extremely important hormones.
When subjects were asked to assume a two-minute “position of power” – for example, standing with straight spine and open chest, or posing with one hand on waist (think Wonder Woman), testosterone levels increased and cortisol decreased.
Translated, simply holding the body in an easily maintained posture increased the subjects’ self-confidence and lowered their stress.
For those of us whose nervous systems are daily pushed into overdrive by our modern lifestyles, lowering cortisol is a very big deal. Not only is it a sign of reduced stress, it’s highly beneficial in health terms, too, because elevated levels of the “stress hormone” cortisol are associated with premature aging. And a testosterone boost is welcome when we’re in need of a boost to our self-confidence.
Fortunately, we don’t have to resort to a bottle of pills to regain a sense of inner balance and poise. The body has its own, built-in mechanisms that, when we deliberately activate them, can achieve the same effects, safely and reliably.
Most people are aware of the intimate relationship between the breath and the emotions. Anxiety manifests as racing thoughts and rapid heartbeat and breathing. Ages ago, the yogi-scientists of India discovered that deliberately calming the breath is a powerful way to calm the emotions and quiet the restless mind.
With deep, regular breathing, we gradually begin to slow down. The slow, calm movement of the breath stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, evoking the famous “relaxation response.” We literally feel like our entire being is shedding stress like a sailboat drifting to stillness on a peaceful lake.
By contrast, when we’re feeling anxious, the body finds it hard to sit still. That’s why placing the body in a calmness-inducing Wonder Woman posture or the Child Pose from yoga, helps the body shed excess its restless energy and come to a calm state.
By combining breathing, postures, and imagery, we can greatly amplify the effects, resulting in a deep, permeating sense of mental and emotional calmness that restores us to our optimal state of mental balance.
But it’s good to remember that mental health isn’t just about the mind – it’s a synergistic state where our body, emotions, mental processes, and social sense all cooperate to generate a state of harmony.
Deep, true mental health is about being able to feel inwardly balanced, poised, and calmly self-confident even when things go wrong, amid health challenges, personal loss, and financial, social, or emotional difficulties.
Mental imbalances can manifest on physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels as low self-esteem, insomnia, chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and constant worrying.
How can we maintain a powerful sense of inner emotional and mental well-being that is unaffected by what happens to us outwardly?
On the one hand, it’s about our inner relationship with our emotional reactions. We’ve all experienced negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, anger, sadness, or shame, and their opposites – courage, confidence, forgiveness, elation, joy, compassion, and the like. And if we can learn to remain centered inwardly, we’ll gradually learn to free ourselves of those instinctive negative reactions, and develop the resilience to rise above them. Daily, regular breathing exercises, plus deliberate relaxation and yoga practice appropriate to your physical constitution can help us achieve unshakable inner poise.
The body has a powerful impact on the mind.
When it comes to dispelling occasional worries or depression, Yoga Therapy will give you tools that can help you return to your balanced self at will, and attain vibrant mental health. It will help you become more sensitively aware of your body and mind, and more relaxed and centered within yourself in the present moment. You will find a new world opening to you, and a connection with a deeper, more fulfilling part of your own nature.
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Adriana Buenaventura offers private yoga therapy sessions at Pacific Naturopathic. Please phone to schedule an appointment and for more information: 650-961-1660.