The Science Behind Breathing, Gratitude and Visualization

The Science Behind Power Posing

What is up with the “Superwoman Pose?” Also known as “power posing, “ Harvard business school professor Amy J.C. Cuddy and coauthors studied the effects of various high-power and low-power poses on 42 male and female participants. In “Power Posing: Brief Nonverbal Displays Affect Neuroendocrine Levels and Risk Tolerance”, they wanted to see how various poses would affect cortisol and testosterone levels as well as if various poses would induce higher risk-taking and feelings of power.

Photo by Jessica Castro on Unsplash

Participants were randomly selected to either do two high-power (similar to the Superwoman pose) or two low-power poses (standing with arms and legs crossed tightly) for one minute. Saliva samples were taken before and after the test to measure cortisol (the stress hormone) and testosterone (hormone linked to dominance and power) levels. To evaluate risk tolerance, participants were given $2 and told they could roll the dice for a 50% chance of either doubling or losing it. In the end, participants were asked to share how “powerful” and “in charge” they felt on a scale from one to four.

What were the findings? Cuddy and her coauthors found that those who participated in the high-power poses had a 25% decrease in cortisol levels and a 19% increase in testosterone for both women and men. For the low-pose participants, they found that cortisol levels increased by about 17% and testosterone levels decreased by 10 percent. Essentially they were more stressed and felt less powerful.

They also found that the participants in the high-power pose group felt more in power and being in charge as well as they took the risk and gambled 86% of the time compared to the low-power group who only took the risk and gambled 60% of the time.

Just do the powerful “Superwoman pose” for two minutes each and experience the difference.

The Science of Breathing Exercises

There have been numerous studies on the positive effects of doing breathing exercises. , they found that breathing regulates your blood pressure. they found that breathing exercises may boost the immune system and improve energy metabolism. And in In one study Another study found that counting breaths increased the brain activity in the brain related to emotion, memory, and awareness. In another, another, a study showed that regulated breathing can help improve memory.

We are all familiar with the “Fight or Flight” stress response where our body kicks in to get us out of potentially life-threatening challenges. However, this same stress response can also be triggered during the day to day activities like worrying about money, waiting in traffic or job and relationship challenges. One result of this stress is health problems like higher blood pressure, suppression of the immune system, and even depression. A way to counteract these problems is to do breathing and relaxation exercises.

A book written by Harvard physician Herbert Benson called, “The Relaxation Response,” found that being in a state of profound rest like doing meditation, relaxation and breathing exercises can help decrease the stress response.

Dr. Darshan Mehta, medical director of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital argues that it even goes much further than that.

“It does even more than that: when you elicit the relaxation response, you secrete beneficial hormones and reduce the activity of harmful genes,”

The Science of Gratitude

People who are grateful report feeling healthier and experience fewer aches and pains than those who are less grateful according to a study in 2013 entitled, “Examining the Pathways between Gratitude and Self-Rated Physical Health across Adulthood.” Within the study, they said their findings “suggest that grateful individuals experience better physical health, in part, because of their greater psychological health, propensity for healthy activities, and willingness to seek help for health concerns.”

The Science of Visualization

Ask any successful athlete if they use visualization to practice in their mind, and all of them would say yes. It has been proven that visualizing your success, can increase the probability of success dramatically.

There have been numerous studies that show the brain cannot differentiate between a real memory and an imaginary one. When we visualize our success and feel the emotions associated with the act, we change the chemicals in the brain to make it believe the memory is real. For example, if you visualize over and over again what it feels like getting a standing ovation during your next speech, your mind will record this as if it already happens. This will decrease your anxiety of speaking dramatically and enable you to confidently give that speech just like you did 50 times before in your head.

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