Monday 28 February 2011

Posture causes mood causes posture causes mood

As this fellow tai chi blog pointed out to me, scientific research has demonstrated that posture can affect mood. This is already (subconscious) common knowledge to most, but we usually interpret it the other way round, i.e mood affects posture. Think of the slumped shoulders of detection, the puffed out chest of victory or the humility and deference of a bow. As I am beginning to see everywhere, it is not simply a cause and effect, but in fact that it is a reinforcement loop. Posture affects mood and mood in turn affects posture.

Tai chi is all about posture, and relaxing the body. Naturally therefore this feeds into an enhanced emotional mood and balanced lifestyle. And of course vice versa, if I've had a stressful day rushing all over the place, I find that when I come to do tai chi in the evening I am stiff and tense which makes it difficult for me to hold the correct posture. But if I persevere with the practice, my posture improves, and at the end guess what? I don't feel so tense any more.

In practical terms this was pointed out to me by one of my fellow students at a recent class. It had been a long day and we were studying hard trying to learn new moves. "And one other thing" she said, "try to smile more". And she was right, for many years I have been practising with a "concentration frown" as I try to make sure every part of my form is correct, but if I smile, it is amazing how much better the whole posture feels. I now try to practice smiling all the time, but it's going to take a lot of time to undo all my years of subconscious frowning.

Reinforcement loops are wonderful things. If you are able to affect your mood your posture will follow, if you are able to affect your posture your mood will follow. But it is not just posture and mood of course but the whole gamut of emotions. "Fake it till you make it" springs to mind. I know it works, because I use it quite often when I'm on my way to the pub or a party. I know when I get there everyone is going to be laughing and joking, but when I'm walking there I'm just on my own being solitary and quiet. When I arrive therefore it's naturally going to take me a while to "get into the swing of things". To remedy this, a few minutes before I arrive, I force myself to laugh out loud (quietly so as not to attract attention) so by the time I arrive my mood is much more sociable and outgoing and I immediately feel at home. We like to think of ourselves as sophisticated and logical, but really we're just simple animal machines. Smile and you feel happy. Frown and you feel sad. It really is that simple.

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