Bringing Body and Soul into Harmony

Body and soul are not independent but influence one another. You probably already know that about yourself: When you are sick and feel weak and tired, your mood is rather more gloomy and you don’t feel nearly as ready to face challenges as you do when you are healthy. Conversely, that which moves your soul also reflects in your body: When you are happy or proud your posture generally tends to be rather more erect, you hold your head high and appear to be taller. On the other hand, sadness or shame literally push us down: We double over, hang our head and shoulders and somehow become smaller. So much for the generalities.

We now encounter interesting psychological research presented under the catchphrase “Bodyfeedback”. Numerous studies point out that this body/soul interconnection can actually be used to influence one’s own mood and even one’s performance. It is a fact that the psyche continuously receives feedback from the body about its activities and condition, e.g. muscle movements and -tension. And while our capacity of controlling our emotions is normally limited, this does not apply to our skeletal muscles. Therefore we are able to take a virtual detour, in order to influence our feelings.
In a study experimental subjects were led to believe that they are participating in an experiment dealing with muscle reaction and skin conductivity. They were instructed to assume a certain posture – half of the participants sat hunched over, the other half upright and everyone was connected to electrodes that were alleged to be measuring muscle activity. The participants were to remain in their respective positions without moving for eight minutes. Afterwards the subjects were given a test consisting of complicated, entirely unsolvable problems that purportedly was to provide results dealing with spatial cognizance. In reality this exercise was designed to determine whether the participants would display different levels of perseverance in their efforts with this frustrating task. And indeed: The group that had previously been sitting hunched over threw in the towel much earlier than those who had been sitting upright. According to the researchers the probable explanation lies in their previous posture that had subconsciously “programmed” them for reactions like depression, despondency and quitting.

Other experiments even demonstrated that people’s attitudes dealing with specific subjects can be modified by having them perform specific movements. For instance, students again allegedly measuring something totally unrelated while listening to a report dealing with increased tuition fees had been told to continuously nod their head in one second intervals for six minutes. Afterwards the majority of them was convinced that tuition increases were a good thing! Other studies have demonstrated that having experimental subjects position their palms underneath a table top and lightly push up as if they wanted to lift the table induced a positive basic attitude. The basic attitude turns negative when the participants position their palms on the tabletop and lightly push down on it.

These are exciting findings and I believe it is worthwhile to apply them to everyday life. The next time you feel down, anxious or discouraged go ahead and consciously pay attention to your posture. Do you sit or stand somehow hunched over? Are you looking downwards? Are you pulling your shoulders forward and down rather than back? Now consciously change your posture to reflect something you associate with situations reflecting satisfaction, success, happiness, joy or something similar. Pull your shoulders back, stand up straight, slightly raise your head and look upwards. Can you sense a change? (Please don’t get impatient – just remember those who were called upon to solve those unsolvable problems had to remain in the prescribed posture for all of eight minutes!) Consciously observe your breathing – does your chest expand, are you breathing deeper and calmer? Is there now more room for your lungs and heart than before? If you practice Yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong you are surely already familiar with lots of exercises that would be perfect for this situation (and if you don’t, this is a great occasion to give it some thought!).
By the way, making yourself laugh is a great way to take advantage of the embodiment mechanism! Laughing activates certain muscles messaging the brain about joy and positive emotions. As a prophylaxis it would be helpful to use every opportunity to bring a smile to your face! Opportunities are always around the corner and if not – create them: in the morning with a funny tear-off calendar, with a book that’ll make you smile, with a comedy on television or with a little something you can give yourself on a lousy day.