Tag Archives: Amy Cuddy


Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.

I’ve been teaching wearing a superhero cape this week and I LOVE it. I may never take it off. Maybe this post should be called 4 Ways to Be Your Own Superhero: the first of which is to wear a cape all the time. Done and done.

Even if that sartorial choice doesn’t work for you, there are ways to bring out your inner superhero.

Being your own superhero is really like setting a super-intention: identify the qualities that matter the most to you and make them a priority in the choices you make. Of course, that can be way easier said than done. Here are three ways to support your superhero self.

1. Body Language Shapes Who You Are

The research of Harvard Business School social psychologist, Amy Cuddy (whose TED Talk is one of the most popular of all time and is totally worth watching ) indicates that how you hold your body affects your emotion, mind and even your physiology. Her findings show that holding a powerful position for 2 minutes (think Wonder Woman pose) makes you feel more powerful … and actually makes you more powerful. Notice and choose how you hold your body and pay attention to both how you feel and how others respond to you.

2. Act As If

There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first, ranging from grizzly bears to ‘mean’ horses and gun-fighters; but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.” – Theodore Roosevelt

What happens if you act as if you have the superpower you want to cultivate? While this isn’t a great idea if you want to fly or walk through walls, it can be extremely helpful if you want to be patient or courageous or kind. Pretend you are what you want to be and pay attention to how it is different than your habit. You may find yourself standing, moving and speaking differently simply by pretending you are what you want to be.

3. Bring in an Ally

When you’re going into a tricky situation or starting something you’re anxious about, bring an ally with you! Think of someone who you admire or who has the qualities that you want to have in this situation and imagine them coming with you. Before making choices or taking action, ask yourself, What would my ally do? Sometimes, I take a breath and ask my ally for help or advice. Maya Angelou has helped me out of more pickles than I can count!

You already have all the qualities in you that you want to cultivate. Really! Being a superhero is consciously choosing those qualities you want to bring forward. So put on your cape and go flex your superpowered self.

wingtip clavicles michael jordanRight now: how are your collarbones? Are they folded in? Lengthened to the side? How you hold your collarbones impacts your stress response.

Sound funny? Two things: posture and breath.

A closed posture, shoulders rounded in, signals danger to the brain and turns on the limbic brain (that’s the lizard-y one). An open posture, with collarbones wide, tells the brain to relax and go with higher reasoning from the prefrontal cortex.

No surprise: you handle stress way differently from those two places!

Lengthened collarbones also allow the breath to deepen: another way to trigger the higher brain!

(Much more here!)

wingtip clavicles maleImagine a party. The host is a friend, but not a close friend, so it’s pretty sure that you won’t know many people there. You walk up the steps, open the front door and…how do you hold your collarbones?

Imagine a conversation. One you want to have, need to have, with your partner. Honestly? You don’t know what response you are going to get. So you sit down together, you take a breath and…how do you hold your collarbones?

Imagine a project. You are excited and inspired about it but do you know how to do it? No. Not even a little. And yet the pull of the possibility is strong. So you get your tools together (whatever they may be) and…how do you hold your collarbones?

Does that sound like a funny question in these scenarios? Shouldn’t I be asking something like “who do you ask for help?” or “where do you find your courage?” or “what deity do you pray to to talk you out of it?” Funny as it sounds, the way I hold my collarbones in these situations will have a huge impact on my stress response and therefore my behavior.

The collarbones, or clavicles, are the only long bones in the human body that lie horizontally. I imagine these curved bones as wings that I can fold in, like a bird sleeping, or stretch out, creating more space, wingtip to wingtip. Our collarbones help us define the width of our bodies, help us take a powerful open posture, and feel connections between ourselves and others.

Posture impacts our brains and our behavior. Even more so for habitual posture and alignment. The research of Amy Cuddy (I wrote about her work earlier this year in Body Language) and the work of Richard Strozzi (among others) demonstrate the a connection between how we feel and the posture we take, and the connection between the posture we take and how we feel.

Not surprisingly, the whole posture/nervous system connection is more complicated than just how I hold my collarbones. Diaphragmatic breathing, and pelvic tilt, and tension in the psoas muscle have major impacts. (See Physical Therapist, Matthew Taylor’s 3 Diaphragms Model for a simple, easy-to-understand explanation.) But start with how you hold your collarbones. Feeling the width of your body is a fundamental way to feel where you end and the world begins without being swallowed up or overbearing.

From an experiential anatomy point of view you can experience how you hold your collarbones right now: imagine the posture you’d hold if you were sneaking late into a crowded meeting. You’d fold your collarbones in, right? And what if Anne Lamott posted a comment on your blog to the effect of “you are the most insightful gifted writer since…her”? You’d sit up and spread out your collarbones like heron wings, wouldn’t you? (Well, I would, anyway.) In the second it takes to hold a different alignment, there is an immediate response in the nervous system that aligns posture and presence.

Play with your collarbones. Imagine them five feet long. Take up space. Show up. Center in your width and breathe into more power and ease, wingtip to wingtip.

P.S. I’ve recently discovered the excellent work of Amanda Blake who offers all kinds of great education. You can download her 7-Day Centering Challenge for free from her site. In it, she coaches you through the process of centering in the body including centering in length (our focus last week with the top and bottom of the spine), width (our focus this week with the clavicles), and depth (guess what? That will be our focus next week!)

NiaMoves at Houston Rockets 031313Below are the playlist from a week of classes focused on Body Language.  Our minds certainly move our bodies, but our bodies also move our minds.  Our focus played with both arm and hand movements as well as body posture.  Nia Principle 9: Creative Arm & Hand Expressions trains and conditions the body (all those little muscles get lots of action!), engages the mind (it takes concentration to move feet and hands!), and allows for expression (a little dramatic style never hurts!).  We also played with the idea that the way we hold our bodies communicates not just to others, but internally to ourselves.  (If you missed it, definitely check out Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk about this.  Then strike a Wonder Woman pose and get powerful.)

Our friends in Houston at Helen Terry’s NiaMoves Studio and from Nia communities all over the area (see their photo above) danced the One Billion Rising anthem, Break the Chain, as the pregame show at the Houston Rockets NBA game on Wednesday.  I love how they are spreading the love!

Enjoy the music.  Remember that we’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day on Monday, Mar 18 at 1045am with Firedance!  So wear your green on Sunday AND Monday, and join us to dance your O’Self!

As always, please let me know if you have any questions and how I can help more.



Body Language – Monday, Mar 11, 2013, 1045am

Aquarius – 4:48 – Hair, the Musical / Renn Woods

Always Waiting (fest. Irina Milkhailova) – 7:08 – Kaya Project

Quero Saber (fest. Orieta Pines) – 6:29 – Rodney Hunter

Walk Into The Sun – 5:21 – Dirty Vegas

Moon & Sun – 6:02 – Dalminjo Fjörd Fusioneer

Just a Little Bit of Love – 4:06 – Celine Dion

Deeper (Into Places) (Silk Spinner Mix) – 6:23 – Afterlife

Body Language / Interpretation – 5:00 – Booka Shade

Bodyrock – 3:36 – Moby

Hold My Hand – 4:14 – Hootie & the Blowfish

Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World – 3:53 – U2

With My Own Two Hands – 3:00 – Ben Harper/Jack Johnson

Body Language – Wednesday, Mar 13, 2013, 1045am

Heroe – 4:23 – Enrique Iglesias

The Hush – 5:24 – Rae & Christian

Survivor – 3:49 – Destiny’s Child

Agolo – 4:50 – Angelique Kidjo

Succumb to Me – 5:15 – Terence Trent D’Arby

Blind Television – 5:23 – Jammin’ Unit

Jogando Capoeira – 6:20 – Beatfanatic

Right Hand Man – 5:01 – Joan Osborne

Break The Chain – 4:32 – Tena Clark

Hold My Hand – 4:14 – Hootie & the Blowfish

Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World – 3:53 – U2

These Arms Of Mine – 4:39 – Joan Osborne

Body Language – Thursday, Mar 14, 2013, 9am

Heroe – 4:23 – Enrique Iglesias

The Hush – 5:24 – Rae & Christian

Survivor – 3:49 – Destiny’s Child

Sometimes – 5:14 – Kaskade

One World, One People – 4:43 – Xcultures

City of Light (Reverso 68 Remix) – 5:53 – City Reverb

Jogando Capoeira – 6:20 – Beatfanatic

Vogue – 4:49 – Madonna

Hold My Hand – 4:14 – Hootie & the Blowfish

Shining Path – 7:23 – Dreadzone

These Arms Of Mine – 4:39 – Joan Osborne

End Credits Munich – 4:06 – John Williams

Body Language – Friday, Mar 15, 2013, 9am

Kecharitomene – 6:35 – Loreena McKennitt

Countess Cathleen/Women of the Sidhe – 5:42 – Bill Whalen

Siamsa – 4:28 – Ronan Hardiman

Agolo – 4:50 – Angelique Kidjo

Firedance – 6:04 – Bill Whalen

Slip into Spring – 3:46 – Bill Whalen

Body Language / Interpretation – 5:00 – Booka Shade

Bodyrock – 3:36 – Moby

Hold My Hand – 4:14 – Hootie & the Blowfish

Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World – 3:53 – U2

Grandma’s Hands – 2:00 – Bill Withers (Thanks, Sally, for this sweet song!)

These Arms Of Mine – 4:39 – Joan Osborne

Bonny Portmore – 4:20 – Loreena McKennitt

amy cuddy power poseWatch Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk.  It rocks (and makes me cry).

Body posture communicates in and out.  “Fake it ‘til you become it.”

Nia’s Principle 9 — hand and arm movements train, condition, and integrate upper and lower bodies, activate core, keep joints juicy.

Annnd, Nia Principle 9 allows movers to show up in different ways – physically and in life.

Whether it’s blocks and punches or fluttery butterfly hands, you might say, “It’s just not me.” Actually, it is.  An un-exercised part of you.  It’s human to move and express with power, gentleness, fierceness and tenderness.  Principle 9 let’s us exercise those “muscles,” too.

woman punchintAmy Cuddy’s amazing research shows that not only do my body postures communicate to others, they actually communicate to me!  By intentionally holding our bodies in a powerful posture, we actually become more powerful.  Did you know that Nia does this, too?

Principle 9 of The Nia Technique is Creative Arms & Hand Expressions.  On a strictly physical level, this principle is revolutionary in regards to how it trains and conditions the body.  By intentionally using the hands and arms in different ways, the upper and lower bodies are integrated, the core is activated, and the joints are both strengthened and freed with a  variety of movement.  If you want to get a feel for it, do Finger Flicks (four fingers under your thumb and flick out like you are flicking water off your fingers) or Creepy Crawlers (use all ten fingers – especially the thumbs – as if you were plucking berries off a branch) for 30 seconds and see what sensations you have in your forearms!  (When I do it, I can feel all the muscles in my forearms turn on and get a heated up.)  And that’s just finger movement!

Nia uses a wide range of arm and hand movements in its choreography which stimulates the body in a variety of healthful ways (see the whole list of movements here) — and not only physically.  In alignment with Amy Cuddy’s research, Nia arm and hand movements allow movers to use their body language to show up differently – in their bodies, in class, and in life.

It can be challenging to move our arms and hands in ways that are outside of our usual style.  Some people feel awkward with punching or blocking moves.  As a generalization, women often not only haven’t done these movements, but they’ve been discouraged to use strength, fierceness, or power in their upper body.   Others are challenged with the more fluid, dance-like hand movements in Nia.  Many people, men, in particular, are culturalized not to move expressively.

“It’s just not me,” they’ll say.  And to that, I say, “Actually, it is you.  It’s just an un-exercised part of you — just like an un-exercised muscle.”

It is human to have strength and fierceness.  It is human to have tenderness and gentleness.  It is a cultural phenomenon to abandon some gestures and movements and over-develop others in order to fit into social norms.  In my classes this week, we’ll focus on hand and arm movements.  If you’re dancing this week, notice how different movements make you feel physically as well as mentally and emotionally.  If you’re dancing through life this week, notice how you tend to use your hands and arms.  See if you can experiment with using them in different ways and see how it changes how you feel and how you show up.  And if you’ve got something challenging to do, go into the bathroom and stand like Wonder Woman for two minutes before you do it.  Then, go get ’em!

Arms and hands are how we connect with the world and with ourselves.  I’d love to hear what you observe in your practice and your life.  Please do leave a comment below!

Wonder_WomanAirports are emotional places.  Lots of people saying good-bye, anxious about catching a flight (or storing their carry-on, or making their meeting, or the TSA finding their 4.5 oz bottle of shampoo).  People worrying about what they’re missing and anticipating coming back.  Just a whole stew of emotions.  When I’m traveling, I love to watch people interact.  I’m not a big eavesdropper, but I love watching the physical language of conversation.  Even without hearing the words, I can often see what is being said:  the sharp hand gestures speak anger, the outstretched arms show longing, the bowed head displays disappointment, and the hands to heart reveal tenderness.

What I see at the airport is how our bodies communicate to each other.  And it’s true:  research shows that more than half of what we communicate comes from our body language and gestures rather than our words.  That’s really interesting, but did you know that  my body language also communicates with me?

In her brilliant TED Talk, Amy Cuddy talks about the science behind how powerful body postures actually make you more powerful.  Dr. Cuddy tells her own story about how she changed the way she felt about herself by acting as if she deserved to be where she was (I cry every time I watch it).  By consciously using body language, we change the way we feel and … the way we ARE.  She speaks about the “impostor syndrome”:  the common feeling that we don’t belong or that we’ll be found out as a fraud.  (I know a woman who was a gifted and beloved teacher for 35 years.  Every September, she would be in her room and she would think, “This is it.  This is the year they will come in here and say, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!’ and I’ll be found out.”  I’ve had that feeling many times in my life.  Have you?)  Dr. Cuddy’s experiments show that we can empower ourselves by the way we hold our bodies.  She doesn’t believe in “fake it ‘til you make it,” her research shows that body language allows you to “fake it ‘til you become it.”

So do watch Dr. Cuddy’s wonderful talk (it’s so well worth the time!) and when you do, try out her experiment:  stand in a powerful pose for two minutes (my favorite is The Wonder Woman pose – feet wide, standing tall with hands on hips) and see how you feel!  The idea is not to do the pose for others but to communicate with your own nervous system and actually feel — become — more powerful!

What’s supercool to me is that Nia has been doing this for 30 years!  Tomorrow, I’ll post about how.  Come back and play!

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