Recent research on embodied cognition shows that cognitive states are influenced by the state of the body- this means that your thinking doesn’t just come from your brain, it also comes from your physical experience of the world around you. If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘fake it ’til you make it!’, know that this actually does kind of work. Back in 1988, this awesome German psychologist made people watch cartoons while holding pencils in their mouths. He was studying the ‘facial feedback hypothesis’, and found that people who had forced smiles (via the pencil) rated the cartoons as much funnier than people who had no pencil.
This kind of study doesn’t tell us to go around fake smiling, and certainly doesn’t ask us to carry pencils in our teeth- but it does point out that the way your body behaves can influence the way your mind thinks and feels. Another cool scientist (Dr. Erik Peper, who started the first Holistic Health program at a U.S. university) found in a study that all participants who skipped a certain distance felt happier and more energetic, while those who slouched felt sad and lonely.
The key here is that this shift in your mood state can be an incredibly simple fix. You don’t have to sign up for a gym membership, you just have to practice mindfulness and become self-aware of your body. Try setting a timer on your phone, and every few hours check in on yourself. How are you sitting or standing? How do you feel? If you can get rid of the old habits of slouching, leaning, twisting; you’ll experience a lower stress level and better overall health. Motion is related to emotion, and emotion is often related to pain. Basic self-awareness of one’s body can lead to stress reduction, mood management, and disease prevention. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
It takes a bit of patience to get used to sitting and standing correctly, but it’s absolutely worth it. Working with a physical therapist or a trainer can help you move efficiently, hold your head correctly, and distribute your body weight evenly when sitting. Good posture also tones your core muscles, which can aid in digestion and keep your bones strong and healthy. Like any habit, once you’ve got the structure down you can check in with yourself frequently and make adjustments. And keep moving!
Here are the basics on posture from the NHS: