Surrender 75: Power Poses

My book club met tonight, and we tried something different. We are in between books, and rather than dive right into another tome, we decided to all watch the same TED talk and discuss it this evening. 

Karen suggested Amy Cuddy’s talk, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are”. There’s a link to the talk at the end of the blog post. I’m familiar with the nuances of body language. I’m an observer of people and read them well, studying body language, words, subtle energy and using my intuition, which truly does serve as an extra sense. Amy’s talk, however, inspired new thoughts and confirmed some realizations about myself that I  uncovered as I’ve journeyed. 

Amy Cuddy is a social psychologist, author and lecturer known for her extensive research on stereotyping and discrimination, emotions, power, nonverbal behavior, and the effects of social stimuli on hormone levels. She is an Associate Prof of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit. Her TED talk, delivered at TEDGlobal 2012 in Edinburgh, Scotland, and posted in October 2012, has been viewed more than 27 million times and ranks second among the most-viewed TED talks. 

Amy delivers a fascinating 21 minute talk focusing on the strong or weak poses we adopt as we interact with others. As shown in the graphic above, high power poses are open, making the person appear larger than they are. The low power poses close off the person, making them appear to shrink and grow smaller. Amy discovered that in job interviews those exhibiting high power poses were much more likely to be hired than those in low power poses. 


I especially appreciated what Amy went on to share. Not only does our body language affect others, sending a signal, it affects how we perceive ourselves. Scientific studies revealed that when a high power pose was held for as little as two minutes, changes occurred in the body that could be measured chemically. In males and females, holding a high power pose increases testosterone, decreases cortisol (the stress hormone), increases appetite for risk, and causes better performance in job interviews. Holding a low power pose has the opposite effect. 

I know I adopted using low power poses early in my life. I held a pillow in front of me if I was seated anywhere near one. I crossed my arms in front of my chest, held a hand in front of my throat, curled up tightly on the sofa. All these poses were intended to make me small, invisible, unnoticed. 

I see how these poses enhanced or minimized at an energetic level. Holding a pillow blocked and protected my solar plexus chakra, which is my main sensing center and where my feelings about myself are housed. Shielding the front of my neck cut off my throat chakra, silencing my voice. Crossing my arms over my chest closed off my heart chakra. I’ve had to unlearn that behavior the past seven years, opening up, allowing who I am to be. 


In sharp contrast are my grandchildren, who naturally display high power poses. I spent a couple of hours with my granddaughter Aubrey today, and having listened to the TED talk earlier, I noticed how often she throws wide her arms, or places her hands on her hips in the “Wonder Woman” pose. She is confident, and comfortable with who she is. My grandsons are equally confident in themselves.  

Amy concludes her TED talk with a touching personal story about how she learned to see herself differently as she became aware of her body language. Power poses are not intended to overpower others. They are a way to shift our thoughts, which then changes our behavior and our beliefs about ourselves, which in turn affects outcomes. 

                              Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk

I’m looking forward to striking a high power pose, and holding it for two minutes, the next time I need to make a difficult call, before I stride into a room full of people to give a talk, or even when I’m feeling beat up upon by others and find myself shrinking into smallness. Wonder Woman? You bet. Hand me a cape.