How Changing Your Posture Changes Your Hormones -- The Science

There is an amazing TED Talk by Amy Cuddy who is a social science researcher at Harvard University that has studied how posture and body language affect not only the more obvious factor of how others see you, but how you actually see and feel about yourself. What she found was that even two minutes in a power pose caused significant hormonal changes.

The experiment she and her team conducted consisted of taking saliva samples of 42 students before and after having them engage in both high power and low power poses and measuring the changes in three factors: risk tolerance, testosterone levels, and cortisol levels.

Higher testosterone in both men and women leads to increased feelings of confidence. Cortisol is the stress hormone.

Engaging in a high power pose for just two minutes lead to an increase in risk tolerance (likelihood to gamble or take a risk). 86% in the high power pose would opt to gamble while only 60% in the low power pose would take the same risk. The high power pose lead to a 20% increase in testosterone, while the low power pose lead to a 10% decrease. The high power pose lead to a 25% decrease in cortisol, while the low power lead to a 15% increase.

Here are some examples of the poses she used: 


The findings of her study are really important. It only takes two minutes to change your testosterone and stress levels. And changing your posture can change your mind. This is quite amazing when you think about it. 

As Amy says in her TED talk, the takeaway is not that you walk around looking like the people in the photo up top. But think about expansion and how expanding instead of contracting your body can change how you feel and also how other people treat you. You have the right to hold yourself up, to walk through the world with your chest open and your head high. It's ok if you don't feel that way now. Try it for two minutes. Try it for the duration of your work day. Try it in a meeting. Try it walking down the street. 

Other people are not confident and stress free because they were endowed with a special gift. Their life story may differ from yours. Maybe no one ever put them down, bullied them, etc. Maybe they were physically larger or more athletic. But inside we're all walking around with the same hormones and the good news is we can change them.

Now, from an orthopedic standpoint... good posture is incredibly important for your muscles and spine. Collapsing inwards shortens the pecs, your medial rotators (which causes your shoulders to get stuck and lose range of motion), prevents proper expansion of the rib cage, puts pressure on the disks which can lead over time to degeneration and herniation, over-stretches your paraspinals (which run all the way up and down your back), and ultimately leads to weakness that makes it harder when you do try to correct it. Not a good scene!

I will leave you with a supportive and restorative pose that you can do at home with a pillow under your neck and a bolster or stack of pillows under your thoracic spine to gently begin to allow the front of your body to expand and open. Though Amy's study focused on high power poses, these poses were largely about expansion and it stands to reason that expansive poses like this one would lead to similar hormonal results, at least when it comes to cortisol. In fact, we know that if you breathe deeply, this is the case. Here is a patient and I trying it in the office. Please let me know if you'd like to demo this with me sometime! After your full length session, I am more than happy to take a few extra minutes to walk you through it! 

<3 Razelle @ Satya