Professional Fitness for the 21st Century

Posture and Performance: Why Employers should not underestimate the role of posture as an essential tool for productivity

There are recognisably strong associations with mood and posture. The body and mind feed off each-other, with our bodies responding accordingly to emotion and cognitive state. This phenomenon is known as ‘embodied cognition’ and was first proposed by William James in the 1890’s (Kennerley et al. 2017). For example, if we feel depressed, we tend to slump and if we feel anxious we tend to cower. We have different postures for different moods, whether this is sleep or relaxation, feeling angry or depressed, or happy and confident.

There has been a growing body of research that states the same is true in reverse – that our minds can also feed off the actions of our bodies. It has been noted that a change in posture is often enough to ‘break-state’ push the physical ‘reset’ button! (Stonebridge, 2017).

To demonstrate this theory, let’s do a little experiment:

Part 1: Slump your shoulders, hang your arms low, look down at the floor, breathe deeply outwards and sigh. Try your very best to feel any joy in this position.

Part 2: Sit up straight, hold your hands up high, smiling at the sky or ceiling and try to feel feelings of sorrow.

It is very difficult to complete the objectives in each part because of the strong association between our posture and our mood. This is a useful little trick that can be used from the comfort of your office chair!

A similar study was conducted at Ohio State University in 2003 – which found that our opinions can be sub-consciously influenced by our physical behaviour. For example, when participants in the study nodded in agreements or shook their heads to signal disagreement, these actions affected their opinions without them realising (Cooper, 2013).

This happens is because physical movement and posture affects our hormone levels. Inside our bodies, actual bio-chemical changes are happening as our body language changes, particularly with respect to levels of – Testosterone: The “power” hormone, which amongst lots of other things helps us to be a better leader, have more focus and attention, and Cortisol: The “stress” hormone, which amongst lost of other things makes us less re-active to stress, makes us feel overwhelmed and powerless (Widrich, 2013).

body-language-power-poses

A Ted talk delivered by Cuddy (2012) gives details of ‘high-power’ and ‘low power’ poses (Fig 1.) and the effects these have on these hormone levels. In ‘High Power’ poses levels of testosterone in saliva samples were shown to be higher than those who remained in the low power pose. The opposite was the case when considering cortisol levels. When considering the types of workers you need within your organisations, those who are the high performers will more than likely be those who are more focused and less re-active to stress!  

So, to conclude, what this article has tried to explain is that the power of non-verbal expressions can massively affect how we feel and therefore perform in the context of the workplace. It’s true that when we feel powerful, positive and confident, or powerless, negative and fearful our bodies will naturally reflect this in how we hold ourselves and move. However, what this article has also shown is that it is also perfectly possible to reverse the procedure to change mood by changing body position.

Taking a quick look round your office and observing the postures of those in your employment can therefore be a useful tool when considering optimal performance and productivity. Are all your staff upright and expansive, smiling and energetic or are they the opposite? It may well be the difference between a ‘good’ month and a ‘bad’ month. 

Our Manchester Personal Trainers can give you a great selection of exercises that can naturally improve posture in the workplace and set you off on your journey to being the Workplace Wonder-Woman!

Cooper, B. (2013) The Science Behind Posture and How It Affects Your Brain – http://lifehacker.com/the-science-behind-posture-and-how-it-affects-your-brai-1463291618

Cuddy, A. (2012) “Your body language shapes who you are” TED Global – https://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are

Kennedy, H. Kirk, J. and Westbrook, D. (2017) ‘An Introduction to Cognitive Behaviour Therapy: Skills and Applications’ Sage Publishing. Edition 3. pp486.

Stonebridge College (2017) Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Level 5 Diploma. Assignment 13.

Widrich, L. (2013) The Secrets of Body Language: Why You Should Never Cross Your Arms Again – https://blog.bufferapp.com/improve-my-body-language-secrets

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