I confessed to a friend the other day that, as a newly-minted yoga teacher, I felt somewhat as a fraud. Intellectually I knew this was nonsense; I’ve completed certified training program and had practiced for over 10 years prior. That’s not peanuts. However, I hadn’t yet embodied my teaching, and I’d been grappling with that while preparing to teach a beginner’s class starting in two days’ time.
Today it seems Universe swooped in to shift this thinking: My yoga mentor insisted that I spend serious time imagining what it will feel like to have been teaching for 10 years, and to bring that wisdom and knowingness to the teacher’s mat. Fair game; that’s great advice. Then I listened to a brilliant TED talk sent from yet another friend, which underscores the importance of faking it until you become it. Forget making it: Be it.
“Fake it until you become it.” Lest it sound like some annoying platitude, “fake it until you become it” actually has a neuroscientific basis. In case you don’t have speakers, or are in a place where you can’t use them, the general gist is this: the social psychologist Amy Cuddy tells us that posture changes everything. All those times mom told you to sit up straight? She was onto something.
The inter-relationship between empowerment and embodiment is really quite intuitive. People who feel weak or afraid, in general or circumstantially, tend to become smaller; they collapse inward, withdraw physically, and even use their limbs to shield themselves, such as drawing the arms around one’s torso. By contrast, the empowered claim their space. They are expansive, open, and paradoxically, vulnerable. Body language communicates all of this, and it is no news that those visual cues inspire in us prejudice and judgment about others, colouring our decisions about who they are or what they might be like. However, we ourselves are similarly influenced by our own body language. Collapsing into a protective ball can encourage a sense of fearfulness and anxiety, while stretching the arms and fingertips skyward can inspire a feeling of strength and real control.
Cuddy tells us that the sensation of smiling created by holding a pen between our teeth will actually lead to a feeling of happiness. “When you pretend to feel powerful, you are more likely to actually feel powerful,” she says.
Holding your body in a certain way for as little as two minutes is enough to make a change.
If placing the body in a posture, if “faking it” can lead to a more empowered outcome, imagine the power of yoga, just at the physical, asana-based level, to change one’s life. Getting into the gross muscles that we use (or don’t, but probably ought to) is obvious, but so is stretching into the little spaces, the small muscles, the dark places, the deep, forgotten areas. There is tremendous power and freedom that comes with stretching the fascia that engages and connects every aspect of our physical bodies. Stretching, though, is just a part. Think, too, about strengthening those muscles that support healthy joints with a full range of mobility, that allow us to do the work of daily life with grace and ease and confidence. Imagine being so completely present and at home in your body that nothing and no-one can upset your strength, your balance, your flow.
Our bodies can change our minds, and two minutes is all it can take.