Power Pose - Show Your Hormones
I know it seems like quite a stretch, the connection between posture and hormones but there is a connection! And I want to show you the evidence to back it up. Before we get into the actual facts, I think it is important to get some basic information so it’s more easily understood.
Hormones – What a Topic!
We all know glands produce hormones. We have 8 primary glands in our bodies. Each has a specific job, but they all work together, sometimes they fight with each other, sibling rivalry. Some really smart people think all body functions are pushed by hormones…hummmm….I’m not sure about such a broad statement, but for the posture and hormone connection, we only need to look at two, the reproductive glands (which include the ovaries and testes) and the adrenal glands.
Don't Worry, these are for illustration only
Female hormones, as we know, are estrogen and progesterone. How could we not know the primary male hormone is testosterone? But what role does the adrenal gland play with sex glands? Hopefully, I can clear it up for you.
In addition to estrogen, women also produce testosterone. Testosterone in women helps to maintain lean muscle, good bone mass density, and assist in the sense of well-being. Testosterone in women is a derivative or by-product of progesterone. Progesterone, by the way, is most important in maintaining pregnancy, basically keeping the baby in a protective cocoon until ready for birth. And crazy as it seems, progesterone is also important in men. It helps to preserve masculinity. These hormones go both ways!
But did you know men produce estrogen?
Testosterone is at high levels in teenage boys, no big surprise, but as men age, their levels of testosterone begin to decrease while their levels of estrogen start to increase. This shift in testosterone levels explain much about men psychologically and in social maturity, but that is another discussion.
Here is a factoid: when testosterone is produced, it begins to convert to estrogen due to a biochemical reaction called aromatase. Aromatase is found in fat cells (go figure, ladies). The higher the body fat a man carries, especially in the belly area, the greater the level of estrogen produced. Guys, another reason to lose the belly fat.
Higher levels of testosterone are associated with aggression, over-confidence, increased risk taking behavior and pleasure seeking. It also relates to anxiety or energy leading to poor concentration.
Higher levels of estrogen are associated with a sense of increased cognition (smarter), both feeling balanced emotionally, and moodiness, jeez, To most of you guys this is nothing new.
If you remove the ovaries or (God-forbid) the testes, both estrogen and testosterone will continue to be produced by another system: The adrenal glands. Yes, a backup plan!
The adrenal glands are located at the top of each kidney. Their primary function is to help your body control blood sugar, burn protein and fat, regulate blood pressure, with help other glands function better.
The adrenals are fundamental in stressful situations. They trigger our sympathetic nervous system into high gear. The sympathetic nervous system is often referred to as a “fight or flight” reaction when faced with stressful situations. Back in the day, this translates to: slay the lion, possibly get eaten, or run and hide. We made it this far through evolution in a great part to the sympathetic nervous system. A modern-day example of this system at work can be experienced when sliding down a hill on a snowy road, out of control and ready for a crash. Yikes!
The adrenal glands also produce three very important hormones: cortisol, adrenaline - yes adrenaline is a hormone and noradrenaline. The adrenals produce other hormones and affect other glands.
When you are in a “fight or flight” situation, what is the first hormone to rush in? You guessed it, adrenaline. We have all experienced an adrenaline rush. Adrenaline immediately causes the air passages to open up providing muscles with the additional oxygen needed to twitch fast (move). Adrenaline triggers the blood vessels to shrink so blood is re-directed toward the heart and lungs. Adrenaline also causes a noticeable increase in strength and performance. At exactly the same instance, noradrenaline is also secreted. Noradrenaline increases our alertness, and immediately retrieves important information from our memory banks, DANGER! Between these two hormones, we have what we need to deal with life-or-death situations: strength, agility, heightened awareness and amazing focus.
Many daredevils and some competitive athletes love the adrenaline high. Others have a big problem with it. Rapid heartbeat, dry mouth, feeling overwhelmed, over stimulated. Speaking in front of an audience can provoke an unwanted adrenaline flush.
Testosterone and adrenaline are often associated together, though they work differently. Body builders, runners, endurance athletes and other sports participants experience an increase in both of these hormones during and after workouts, but the adrenaline fades pretty quickly while testosterone levels return to normal levels slowly. I’m speaking both men and women here.
Cortisol is also released in stressful situations too but has a slower process time. It takes about 30 minutes to fully kick in. Cortisol balances out an adrenaline rush: it lowers blood pressure, creates fatigue while at the same time disrupts sleep, lowers blood sugar regulation, increases brain fog and is a mild depressant. Cortisol functions in basically the opposite direction of what adrenaline and noradrenaline do. The yen and yang of life.
In chronically stressed people, cortisol levels remain high and many consider it to be one of the top health issues today. The list of all unwanted side effects of increased cortisol levels includes: inflammation, decreased immunity to disease, a dampening of blood sugar regulation ( possible diabetes connection), depressive mood. It is difficult to blow off on its own. Many people resort to medication, many prefer to exercise.
Another factoid: Chronically high levels of cortisol is blamed for Cushing's Disease. A characteristic of Cushing's is a large fatty deposit at the base of the neck where it meets the upper back. The fat has it's own name: Buffalo Hump and you can see it below. I recently wrote a blog about it and you can read it here.
Now to Hormones and Posture
An important study by Amy Cuddy, et al, from Harvard University shows clear evidence that posture influences our hormones, specifically testosterone and cortisol. If it affects these two hormones, because of how and where they are produced, they could also affect, estrogen, progesterone, adrenaline and noradrenaline levels.
Let me give you the overview of her landmark study. In a nutshell, a group of people was invited to participate in what was later described as a test for the benefits of what she terms “power posing”. The link to her famous TED Talks is here.
For the study, participants were orally swabbed to find their base level or testosterone and cortisol They were divided into two groups. One group relaxed in the lounge, while the other group was sequestered into a room, shown how to “power pose”, stand tall, head level, hands on hips, like superman/woman and hold the pose for two minutes. This group was re-swabbed.
Both groups were then brought together and asked to participate in games of chance (gambling). What they found was the "power posing" group shown more risk taking tendencies, were more confident in their opportunity to win and experienced a greater feeling of wellness.
According to Amy Cuddy, the “results of this study confirmed our prediction that posing in high-power nonverbal displays (as opposed to low-power nonverbal displays) would cause neuroendocrine and behavioral changes for both male and female participants: High-power posers experienced elevations in testosterone, decreases in cortisol, and increased feelings of power and tolerance for risk; low-power posers exhibited the opposite pattern.”
Recently there have been questions regarding the statistical analysis of the original work, but as a result of the first study, nearly 50 other ones have been conducted. These experiments were cross-cultural, meaning different cultures were included as a means to eliminate cultural bias. The current body of literature “supports the existence and robustness of power posing effects.”
To go even further, there is now a large study underway asking whether or not upright power posture can influence the emotional state of people who suffer from depression hoping to improve their mood and decrease fatigue associated with depression.This is important work considering how many people have depression. It seems there is more depression now and CBS reported: “Today's teenagers are 38 percent more likely to report problems with memory compared with their 1980s counterparts”. Depression and memory go hand-in-hand. Use of electronic devices, and poor postural habits, it has been suggested, plays a role in adolescent depression.
What Does It All Mean
It’s not always the most beautiful person in the room that gets all the attention, nor does the tallest one. What most people are attracted to is calm, confident body language that sends the message. “I’m in control of myself, I am competent to complete the task, I have confidence in myself.” Could it be these people practice power posing, aka perfect posture, and other people sense both the increase in testosterone and the calming lower levels of cortisol? Could it be primordial? We have proven that power posing increases and decreases the respective hormone levels and how it much better they make you feel.
Like it or not we are always being judged. There are thousands of articles written about body language and first impressions. It is believed that over 90% of people’s judgments are based on non-verbal communication. Body language is many times more relevant than verbal communication. And 80 to 90 percent of a person’s trustworthiness is evaluated within 30 seconds of the first impressions. Very important if you are looking for a job or a mate.
The questions are: would you rather present power and confidence or disappear? Don't we feel bad for or mistrust those who cower?
The artist Kristen Visba really got it right with her sensational new sculpture on Wall Street in lower Manhattan. This young girl is power posing, and in her pose, she is exhibiting power, confidence, and defiance facing down The Wall Street Bull. People are drawn to the sculpture, she is inspiring, to everyone. Maybe it’s a David and Goliath thing but I think, certainly, in part, it is her pose. Fearless.
Even if you don't power pose before making a speech or ask your boss for a raise or vacation, your posture certainly plays an important role in how others perceive you. Everyone wants some level of control over their lives and if you could push that control, even a bit, in your direction, it's a good thing.
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