Two weeks ago I went to hear Amy Cuddy speak on presence and the impact of “power postures” at The London Business Forum.
If you’ve not yet come across Amy’s work, there is a brilliant Ted talk that provides a good introduction. In essence, she has found that taking on a powerful physical pose (such as “wonderwoman”) there is a bio-feedback mechanism making a person more confident, adaptable and present to deal with life scenarios.
Taking on a dominant posture for 2 minutes increases the levels of testosterone and decreases cortisol, making you a better leader & more adept to dealing with stress. This shows the rapid response which exists between the mind and the body.
She has found certain power postures to be highly effective. These are all open postures with good stability through the feet and body as a whole.
During the talk she made a reference to the importance of hand positions, within power postures, identifying that bringing your hands together, spreading your fingers to create an arch in the palms, as is often seen with Angela Merkel, can increase the energy and power of the individual.
This is also found with Cambodian dancers – there is a even a special dance of power where performers arch their feet and hands like that of tree roots.
This principle of arching the hand to increase energy up the arm is present in a number of disciplines. From studying Scaravellian yoga with Angela Farmer, there is an opening in the shoulders and upper torso that occurs by spreading the fingers apart in downward dog. A natural arch in the palm opens up an energy line up the arm (& arm pit) and a broader strength through the shoulders and upper torso.
As an aerial dancer, in acrobatics the same techniques are used in creating advanced stability for handstands. Making sure the hands are shoulder width apart, weight is directed through the “ball” of the hand with the fingers spread.
Looking at anatomy, the hands and feet are analogous (from our days as a quadripeds) with the ability of bringing a natural arch into the structure through spreading the fingers or the toes.
You can use these principles to gently strengthen your shoulders & upper back.
Explore a gentle downward dog (like nothing before!)
- With feet hip-width apart, bend over and bring your hands to be in contact with the floor (you may need to bend your knees for this, which is fine).
- Whilst bringing no weight through your hands, explore how it feels to make contact with the different parts of your hand. It can feel very new, making contact with the ball of your hand (the area beneath your knuckles).
- Keeping gentle contact from this area with the floor, imagine there is space for a small mouse to hide underneath the arch of your palm. This naturally lifts the base of your palm and wrist away from the floor. (When we bring weight down through the base of the palm we cut off energy and strength coming up through the arm.)
- As you spread your fingers, you may feel muscles in your lower arm and shoulders activate. Gently explore bringing weight through this contact point, keep this process gradual as it can take time for your body to adapt and strengthen. For some the image of roots helps support this exploration.