One of the great contributions to culture in the recent past is the TED Talks. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design. Accomplished people from all over the world and from many disciplines appear on the TED stages to share the compelling work they are pursuing.
National Public Radio in the United States has formed a partnership with TED and broadcasts a weekly one hour program comprised of related talks. One that was aired recently brought together five experts addressing language. My favorite talk of this recent show is Amy Cuddy, Professor of Social Psychology at Harvard University. Dr. Cuddy’s presentation focused on the intentional use of body language and how it can change our attitudes through influencing our neurochemistry. Cuddy’s talk has been heard by more than 17 million people.
As others have done before her, Dr. Cuddy has analyzed postures that communicate both confidence and defeat. The confident postures are expansive and broad. Defeated postures are contracted and withdrawn. Our nearest cousins the primates exhibit these postures just as we do.
Of course, I immediately thought of yoga postures and how their practice changes our feelings and attitudes. Cuddy’s work also aligns with her Harvard colleague, Sara Lazar (another TED alumna), about whom I’ve written in the past. Lazar used MRI to show the positive brain changes in yoga and meditation practitioners.
Cuddy’s favorite illustration of a confidence building pose is what she calls the “Wonder Woman” stance. Picture Lynda Carter, who portrayed the character in her trademark pose—feet wide, hands on hips, erect torso, and direct gaze. Practice this pose with intention and breath awareness and see if you don’t feel more confident.
Cuddy cited medical evidence that leaders who used assertive body language secreted dominance hormones like testosterone (women and smen) and less of the stress hormone, cortisol.
If you don’t quite feel as confident as you look, no matter. You will look that way to others. Cuddy used some recent studies about how people perceived body language and how that body language caused them to favor people with confident postures versus those who looked less self-assured.
But the major point of her talk that stood out for me was her “fake it ‘till you make” attitude or do it until you become it. Rather than faking it, what she is really saying is practice who you want to be until you become that person.
This is the whole point of practicing yoga. As we practice yoga postures with mindfulness and breath awareness, we change our brain chemistry. The yogis intuitively understood this. As we take up yoga practice we may feel unsure or even doubtful that it will make any difference. With practice we see our lives and attitudes begin to change. We develop self-mastery. Each pose, as I’ve said in the past, is a specific energy template that helps us express prana or life force in different beneficial ways.
Once again, modern science and the ancient science of yoga are in profound agreement. Thank you Amy Cuddy for further confirmation that asana, or postural yoga, speeds us on our paths toward being ever-more positively stronger, better human beings.