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How to power pose like a pro

By Your Headspace Mindfulness & Meditation Experts

Did you hear “stop slouching” a lot growing up? Looks like the adults in the room were right. Turns out, a range of studies show that slouching and closed-off, crumpled postures can elicit feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness while upright, open postures increase feelings of confidence. Power posing is a “life hack” that involves standing in an upright, confident superhero-like pose. Harvard Business School Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy and her colleagues popularized the concept and benefits of power posing in a 2010 study for Psychological Science and further spread the word in Cuddy’s wildly popular 2012 TED Talk, “Your Body Language May Shape Who You Are.” While some researchers were unable to replicate the effects of Cuddy’s study, power posing hasn’t been completely debunked. Scientists have determined that slouching is harmful to our well-being and can affect our mood.

So, what is a power pose, exactly? Why is it so beneficial? And does it really work? If you’re a sloucher or simply power pose curious, keep reading to learn more about the origins of power posing and how you can incorporate them into your daily life to boost your confidence, before, say, a blind date or big job interview.

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What is a power pose?

Active posturing – also known as power posing — is when you choose body postures that are expansive and, in turn, elevate your testosterone and decrease the stress hormone cortisol. Power posing can look like standing upright with your shoulders back, legs in a wide V, elbows bent, and hands firmly at your hips. Power posing isn’t just for show, though. It has been found to increase feelings of control and confidence, making it an effective tool for stressful situations.

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What’s the history of power posing?

Body language is the oldest form of human expression, dating back to prehistoric times, before the existence of verbal language. The origins of power posing are fairly new and can be traced back to the 19th century psychologist and philosopher William James. He theorized that emotions stem from our physiology, which meant that our bodily expression — our posture, for example — contributes to our emotional state, and, in turn, our confidence. This is also referred to as embodied cognition in the field of social science. Embodied cognition is when your body language affects your mind.

This brings us back to Cuddy and her team of social scientists who tested James’ theory by asking 42 participants to assume either a contracted posture (a hunched over position where participants were asked to lean inward and cross their legs) or an expansive posture (a power pose where participants were asked to make themselves appear taller and wider) for a few minutes at a time before completing a gambling task. The scientists found that after the active posture, participants in the study were far more likely to feel powerful, take more risks, and perform well in a mock interview than those participants that adopted a contracted posture. It’s no wonder these findings led to Cuddy’s popular “More Confidence in 2 Minutes” Ted Talk and quotable soundbites from Cuddy like “Our bodies change our minds.”

What are the benefits of power posing?

Cuddy and her team found that participants felt an increase in confidence after power posing: 86% of power posers opted to gamble during the task, while only 60% of the hunched over posers felt comfortable gambling. Even more — participants' saliva samples showed that increased testosterone and stress relief were also associated with power posing. While active posture power posers showed an 8% increase in testosterone, contracted posture posers had a 10% decrease in testosterone. The inverse was found for the stress hormone cortisol: The power posers saw a 25% decrease in cortisol levels, while contracted posers had a 15% increase of the stress hormone.

Although the research has been hard to replicate, a 2020 meta-analysis (a statistical summary of 73 power pose studies) comparing open poses to closed poses found profound effects for changes in both mood and behavior. One of the researchers, Mia Skytte O’Toole, a professor at Aarhus University in Denmark, told Forbes, “It is non-controversial to say that the way we approach the world with our physical bodies shapes the way we think and feel.”

So, these poses are powerful enough to increase confidence and testosterone, help relieve everyday stress, and improve our moods.

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How do power poses work?

You might hate it when a stranger tells you to smile, but they might be onto something. Turns out, even if we’re not in the mood to lift the corners of our lips up to form a smile, making ourselves smile can actually improve our mood because our body language is that powerful. Power poses work because of the James-Lange Theory of embodied cognition, when our body posture affects our mood.

The meta-analysis study from 2020 conducted by O’Toole and team ultimately found that postural feedback was at its strongest when hunched low postures were absent rather than when power poses were present, which translates to: hunched over poses have a stronger negative impact on our mood and behavior, so it’s essential to avoid these positions and consider replacing them with something more upright, wide, and… well, powerful.

When should I power pose?

Next time you’re on a first date (or second or third…); or prepping for a job interview; or meeting your partner’s friends or family for the first time; or giving a big presentation at work; or making a speech at your best friend's wedding; or reciting a eulogy at a funeral; or reading your poem out loud for the first time at a poetry reading — whatever it might be — consider taking a few minutes to power pose to boost your confidence, relieve feelings of stress/anxiety, and improve your chances of success.

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Six power poses to try right now

According to Microsoft 365 Life Hacks, there are several solid power poses you can try that may help boost your confidence.

1. The Flying Superhero

Lift your arms straight up and make fists with both of your hands as if you’re trying to punch the ceiling, or, as the name suggests, as if you're a superhero about to take flight.

2. The Peter Pan

Bring both hands to your hips and stand straight with your legs wide apart. Keep your shoulders back and your feet planted to the ground, as you hold your head high and appreciate your talents.

3. The Performer

Spread your fingers wide and stretch your arms up to the sky making a V shape with your upper body. Imagine you’re a marathon runner who just reached the finish line.

4. The Boss

Sit in a chair and bring your hands behind your head. Lift your legs up on the desk in front of you and remind yourself that you’re in charge of your own life.

5. The Mr. Clean

Cross your arms and roll your shoulders back to convey strength.

6. The Loomer

When you’re speaking at a podium or behind a table, try to lean forward and place your hands on the table or podium. This gesture signals confidence and power.

"Power posing has been found to increase feelings of control and confidence, making it an effective tool for stressful situations."

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A final word on debunking myths about power posing

Even though scientists have found it difficult to replicate Cuddy and team’s findings due to something called replication crisis — an ongoing phenomenon where results of scientific studies are hard to reproduce — along with the successful 2020 meta-analysis, another 2020 study was able to prove that power posing is, in fact, beneficial. The self-reported study in Germany involving 108 German fourth graders found that children who power posed versus those who posed in contracted postures, reported feeling more positive feelings and developed better student-teachers relationships.

Whether or not a plethora of scientific studies exist clouting the benefits of power posing, it wouldn’t hurt to occasionally adopt the stance of your favorite superhero and remind yourself of how powerful you really are.

Want more? Try Headspace Mental Health Coaching

Looking to make a meaningful, long-lasting change in your life? If you enjoy the boost of confidence you feel from power posing, consider signing up for mental health coaching with Headspace. Your coach will provide you with unique-to-you tools and tips to strengthen your self-esteem and help guide you on your personal growth journey.

READ NEXT: How do I get started with mental health coaching?

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