Our movements and the way we hold ourselves are strong indicators of our perception of ourselves, the world and our subsequent behaviour. The postures and movements that we do regularly become ingrained. They become our patterns and the filtered lens through which we experience the world. We are all operating our patterns all the time. It feels comfortable and familiar, it feels like home. So we think that sitting or moving a certain way is natural, when in fact it is merely habitual. Altering these patterns feels weird or wrong, but it is simply different. Comfort is how our bodies tell us to do our habits. Our habits are a bit like eating a hot curry regularly, you stop noticing the intensity of the flavour and it becomes ordinary. Over time our body begins to curve and mould to the shape of our habits. Look around at people in the street and notice the different grooves that people have carved themselves into by repeating the same physical patterns over and over again.
See the people who have an air of moroseness about them with a heavy heads, droopy shoulders and long-drawn faces. See those who move with aggression, with tight, rigid, shoulders, a set jaw and piercing gaze. It takes awareness, repetition, patience, and a lot of self-compassion to begin to shift our modus operandi, but it is possible.
So where do you begin you may ask? Below are some practices that I learned from other teachers in the field, that helped me personally and while working with a client to expand their leadership presence.
The work begins with:
- Awareness: bring your attention to the felt senses within your body, notice how you are breathing, any movement in the body, any sensations, temperature, or any feelings that emerge. Bring your attention to your core, the centre of your body (also to your jaw, shoulders, mouth, tongue, chest, and belly), and notice any sensation of constrictions or expansion in your body. Just notice how you are standing on your feet, how they are touching the floor, and how restricted or open is your torso area.
- Expand: how much space do you take up? I am talking about the postures you make. Do you spread out with open arms, legs and broad torso; or do you tend to fold in, crossing your arms and legs and rolling your shoulders forward to sink in the chest? The way we expand or shrink our posture strongly influences the way others perceive us and also our perception of ourselves. We tend to make ourselves smaller when we feel threatened or submissive. Perhaps we draw the limbs in, wrap them around us and tighten up or slump. When we take up less space in the world we take up less space inside ourselves. This doesn’t just give the impression to others that we are less competent, but it also makes us doubt ourselves. Research by Brinol, Petty and Wagner (2009) found that people were more able to access positive thoughts about themselves, and more able to hold on to these opinions, when they sat in uplifted poses with their chests out, as opposed to slumped with their backs curved. The shapes we make do affect our state of mind and how we feel about ourselves.
- Roots & Wings (grounded & free): our optimal state exists in the balance between the opposing forces of up and down. It translates into the way we feel about ourselves and how others perceive us. First, your roots. your stable foundation. To stand by your word, to look and feel confident you need a good foundation. It is a physical expression of your strength of character. Just like a tree, we grow down and up, so with our solid rooted foundation we also want to be uplifted and light. There are so many ways to help us feel rooted and open. One of my favourites is in movement and posture, by standing with feet hip-width apart and feeling the physical connection to the ground and noticing how your feet are making contact with the ground. The other would be by just tapping your feet on the ground while dancing to tribal music (feeling the bass/drums).
- Fire & Flow (Doing/Sensing): just as roots and wings help us to find the balance between up and down, we can also find the balance between the directions forward and backwards. Let’s think of these as our fire and our flow.
Fire burns through things and takes action. Do you have a sense of driving forward, being more on your toes, energised, on high alert? Some people are habitually very front-footed and keen to challenge and take action. By bringing the chest and the weight forward, and making clear, direct movements we can access more of this side of our personality. If we spend too much time in this direction without balance, we could come across as pushy or intimidating.
Flow is more adaptable and flexible. Do you have your weight back on your heels, laid back with a smoother, more fluid movement style? Maybe you swing and sway a little more. When we go with the flow we are more collaborative and receptive, placing value on relationships, acceptance and keeping the peace. Too much of this direction could be seen as a pushover or non-committal.
Pay attention to how you move daily and see what it’s like to do things a different way. Do you tend to do things with vigour and speed? What does it feel like to slow down? Are you measured and calm? Put your arms in the air, stick your tongue out and shake from head to toe! It doesn’t matter what you do. If it is different from your usual way of being, then it will lead you towards a different range of thoughts and actions.
What do you need more of?
- Results, action, challenge, vitality, courage, directive behaviours? Engage more of your forward fire.
- Flexibility, collaboration, responsiveness, empathy and ease? Settle backwards into your flow.
- Stability, order, trust, structure, focus and reliability? Ground yourself down into your roots.
- Creativity, spontaneity, humour, innovative and visionary behaviour? Lift yourself up with wings.