According, to body language expert, Amy Cuddy, holding one’s body in a 2-minute expansive power pose can change our mental state. The reason being ‘high-power’ poses stimulate the release of testosterone (the hormone linked to power and dominance in the animal and human worlds) and lower levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). When you feel powerful and confident you are less stressed.
Wish it was so simple. Maybe, when you are normal, it is. But having scoliosis and putting on some power poses only invites contempt. Which further erodes one’s self-esteem.
Sure, we kind of construct a fake bravado – as an actor in some kind of pantomime. You kind of pretend people cannot see your deformity but are over-aware of your misaligned body. And even if it is not too prominent, the constant pain and unease do not allow you to feel relaxed.
Survival Depends on Submissiveness
In the animal world, the dominant member walks around strutting his chest out. While the subordinate members adopt submissive postures – contracting the upper body, head bent and tilted sideways, and avoiding eye contact.
It is no different in a toxic family system, the power hierarchy is extremely skewed. The top dog, mainly the parent or it could be both parents expect their children to adhere to their wishes and demands.
Survival means staying hypervigilant to every nuanced change in our environment. We learn to submit and accommodate every demand placed on us. There is no let-up. Growing up in this environment permanently changes how our bodies develop. Stooped, bent, twisted.
From Confident To Submissive
I remember having very good posture prior to my mother’s death. And it had everything to do with how I was treated – equitably. Post her death, I was badgered into acquiescing to my father’s demands and wishes. I remember once when I was looking straight at him, he raved ‘if you look at me like that I will break your face.’
Till today I can still feel the utter fear I felt at that moment. It was the moment my psyche shifted from confident to submissive. I reflexively turned my head away and looked down.
Since then I, have had a problem with looking people in the eye. Unsurprisingly, this is the norm for many who grew up in abusive homes. This is due to the activation of the periaqueductal duct, a brain region associated with self-protective responses such as hypervigilance, submission, and cowering.
Changing The Ingrained Posture
You cannot change your ingrained posture overnight, particularly if you have scoliosis. Gradually, you have to retrain your mind and body. You have to hack into the wiring of your nervous system and reset it. And it takes more than a 2-minute power pose to neuroplastically change the brain program.
1) Changing Your Environment
You cannot change your brain when the environment keeps dragging you back to ground zero. Often, when we try to change our behavior—to become more confident and assertive, the people closest to us will reject us, shame us, do their best to pull us down.
They don’t want their status quo of being dominant to change. They benefit from having us as their footstool.
2) Doing An Internal Cleansing
We have to cleanse away the negative belief systems that were dumped onto us. It is not easy to overnight release the pain, shame, anger, rage, attachment.
Bit by bit, I was trained myself to stop giving a damn about what they thought about me. And stopped trying to fit in with the expectations and feelings of others. I began focussing on myself – how I felt and what I wanted to do.
3) Moving Beyond Our Limitations Mindset
For a long-time, I felt suicidal and hopeless. However, one day serendipitously I happened to watch Nick Vujicic a motivational speaker born with no arms or legs. Watching him shifted my mindset from lack to immense gratitude.
Feeling grateful for our blessings is a good place to begin in order to change our negative internal perception. Fuck scoliosis, I still have my feet and hands.
4) Taking My Power Back – Being In Control
Once I accepted that it was up to me to revamp my life, I stopped feeling like a victim instead I saw myself as Christopher Columbus in search of a brave new world. With uncertainty and trepidation, I began my journey into the unknown world of idiopathic scoliosis.
I changed my mindset from powerless to actively searching for ways to improve my life. Instead of placidly allowing circumstances to define me. I chose to take control and find ways to make things better and find solutions.
5) Developing Your Core
Core muscles (the deep muscles in your abdomen, pelvis, and back) are what keep our posture in correct alignment. Having poor core muscles makes us feel weak. Moreover, it affects how we walk and carry ourselves.
Most ancient martial arts disciplines first focus on core building via stance training. Where you stay in a certain stance for a period of time and focus your breath on the lower dan tian (energy center) which is a little below our navel. Doing this increases our chi or vital energy. I guess that is where Amy Cuddy got the idea of power posing.
My favorite core building moves are crawling and horse-stance. There are many other exercises, find what suits you. But keep it simple and easy, don’t try to cram too many moves and stress yourself. One or two exercises that are done with focus and longer duration are better than a hodge-podge of confusing exercises.
6) Working On The Mind
Finding ways to shift our negative mental state requires us to build our own personal toolbox of therapies. What works for me may not work for you. It is through trial and error we find our own special soothing remedies that will make us feel better.
At the risk of repeating myself, I will again list them:
a) Sound Healing – There are so many free ones on youtube. Sometimes I only want to listen to crystal bowls, at other times it is Shamanic drums, or sometimes it is just theta waves. Be like a researcher.
b) Guided Meditation – Often to override the earlier negative messages we received as kids, we need to actually hear positive messages. That’s the only way to change our internal beliefs that we were bad, flawed, not good enough. For a long time, I was overwhelmed with intense feelings of shame and fear which totally eroded my confidence.
c) Journaling /Writing – Writing/journaling allows you to put words to how you’re thinking and feeling. By dumping festering thoughts onto paper you can get them out of your system and improve your mood.
d) EFT- Tapping – EFT- tapping is quite helpful in moving trapped, painful memories (be it emotional or physical) from the amygdala to the hippocampus involved in memory storage. Every time a thought from the past rises up I do a quick tapping, particularly around the eye region.
e) Havening – Recently, I discovered self-havening. It is a powerful psycho sensory process that helps clear any past limiting experiences that may be holding you back. Though skeptical, I have to admit that I found it is extremely effective in calming anxious thoughts. Check out Paul McKenna’s Havening Technique. I have recently discovered him and have become a fan of his straightforward explanations.
6) Learning To Communicate
Most of us who grew up in toxic families did not learn to communicate properly. There was no equal give-and-take. Some just took and if you were the scapegoat you learned to give. Swallowing your anger only made you feel resentful.
Learning to stand up and fight for our rights is a learning process. Furthermore, you need to learn the right way and words to do so. Practicing in advance what one is going to say and how to say gives us that extra edge to tackle difficult situations and nasty people. Check out the video below:
How to Deal with Difficult People, Danger Phrases, Power Phrases
Feeling Powerful From Within
Changing how we feel about ourselves takes lots of work. Many of these quick fixes that Cuddy advocates last for just a short time if they ever do.
Putting on a fake superman cape does not cover up the deeply embedded negative internal states. Our body language exhibits our unease – that head inflection to the side, the furtive eyes, the high-pitched tone, and the constant readjustment of our clothes.
Body language is a symptom of confidence that comes from within. True confidence comes from feeling at ease in your skin and not caring about how people perceive you. For me, it is only as I got older that I have become less ashamed of my body.
Maya Angelou wrote,
Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances. You are a child of God. Stand up straight.
When you truly believe that you are capable of tackling your circumstance, you change your mindset and deep within your core you truly begin feeling powerful.