Our bodies and brains have a reciprocal relationship. Dysfunction in the body often leads to dysfunction in the brain and vice versa. Let’s say you’re feeling sad. Take a moment to become aware of your posture. Are your shoulders slumped forward? Is your trunk slouching? If you were to draw a line from the end of your breast bone to the top of your pubic bone, would that line be short or long? Are your head or eyes looking down? While your posture is this way because you are sad, it’s also true that you are sad because of your posture.
Think of a time when you were really happy—maybe the day you got married, or perhaps that time you got that big promotion. What did your posture look like at that time? You looked and felt pretty confident and open, right? It’s no coincidence.
“What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexible brains.” “No matter how closely we look, it is difficult to find a mental act that can take place without the support of some physical function.” – Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais
Is there a way to take advantage of this awesome fact about the human mind/body relationship? Yes, there is.
But first, let’s explore why this phenomenon occurs.
Charting Neural Pathways
In a 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, researchers studied 71 college students to see how their posture affected their outlook on their future professional success and satisfaction. They asked some students to sit up straight and the others to sit slouched forward. As the students held their assigned postures, the researchers asked them to list either three positive traits or three negative traits that would affect how they performed in their chosen professions. After the study, the researchers also asked the student participants to fill out a survey where they could rate how well they thought they would do in the professional world. What the study showed was that those students with “positive” upright posture were able to think of both positive and negative traits more easily than their “negative” counterparts. The “positive” students also believed in their traits more firmly, which demonstrates that posture contributes to confidence.
The effect that a single session of holding a certain posture has on the mind is thus significant. With that in mind, imagine how great the effect is when these postures become habits. When we repeat physical actions over and over again, we create neural pathways that make us inclined to repeat these actions or postures again, ad infinitum. Because of this feedback loop, it can be difficult to rise above negative and dysfunctional thought and movement patterns without a concerted effort.
“The only thing permanent about our behavior patterns is our belief that they are so.”
– Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais
Re-Mapping the Brain with Positive Choices
The simple act of exploring how to sit upright, without struggle and fatigue, has the power to reshape our lives, but it doesn’t stop with posture. It all begins with awareness of our physical and mental habits—how we react to stress, how we hold ourselves when we are worn out, how we think about ourselves. Each conscious (and unconscious) choice that goes against our “negative” habits can help to re-map the neural pathways that determine our confidence and outlook. With awareness, we have the power to change.
Carol is a physical therapist, a co-creator of Integral Human Gait theory, a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, and a Senior Trainer in Movement Intelligence. Focus, Align, Teach and Inspire! These qualities not only describe her work, but they also describe her presence. She is passionate when it comes to reconnecting learning with human function and health. Carol is in private practice at MontgomerySomatics.com in Columbus, Indiana.