Increase strength and mood

 “Don’t slouch! How many times do I have to tell you to sit up straight?”

“I couldn’t believe it, I could not think of any positive thoughts while looking down?

Body posture is part of our nonverbal communication; it sometimes projects how we feel. We may collapse when we receive bad news or jump up with joy when we achieve our goal. More and more we sit collapsed for many hours with our spine in flexion. We crane our heads forward to read text messages, a tablet, a computer screen or watch TV. Our bodies collapse when we think hopeless, helpless, powerless thoughts, or when we are exhausted. We tend to slouch and feel “down” when depressed.

We often shrink and collapse to protect ourselves from danger when we are threatened. In prehistoric times this reaction would protect us from predators as we were still prey. Now we may still give the same reaction we worry or respond to demands from our boss. At those moments, we may blank out and have difficulty to think and plan for future events. When the body reacts defensively, the whole body-mind is concerned with immediate survival. Rational and abstract thinking is reduced as we attempt to escape.

When standing tall we occupy more space and tend to project power and authority to others and to ourselves. When we feel happy, we walk erect with a bounce in our step. Emotions and thoughts affect our posture and energy levels; conversely, posture and energy affect our emotions and thoughts. At San Francisco State University, we have researched how posture changes physical strength and access to past memories. Experience this in the following practice (you will need a partner to do this).

How posture affects strength

Stand behind your partner and ask them to lift their right arm straight out as shown in figure 1. Apply gentle pressure downward at the right wrist while your partner attempts to resist the downward pressure. Apply enough pressure downward so that the right arm begins to go down. Relax and repeat the same exercise with the left arm. Then relax.

fig 1 Muscle testing

Figure 1. Experimenter pressing down on the arm while the subject resist the downward pressure

For the rest of this exercise, do the testing with the arm that most resisted to the downward pressure.

Have the person stand in a slouched position and then lift the same arm straight out. Again the experimenter applies enough pressure downward so that the arm begins to go down. Relax.

Then have the person stand a tall position and lift the arm straight out. Again, the experimenter now applies enough pressure downward so that the arm begins to go down. Relax.

Describe to each other how easy it was to resist the downward pressure and how much effort it took to press the arm down while standing tall or slouched.

In our just completed study in the Netherlands with my colleague Annette Booiman, we observed that 98% of the participants felt significantly stronger to resist the downward pressure when they stood in a tall position than when they stood in the collapsed position as shown in Figure 2.

fig 2 perceived muscle strenth graph

Figure 2. The perceived strength to resist the down pressure on the arm in either the erect or collapsed position as observed by the subjects and the experimenters (Exp).

The subjective experience of strength may be a metaphor of how posture affects our thoughts, emotions, hormones and immune system[1]. When slouching we experience less strength to resist and it is much more challenging to project authority, think creatively and successfully solve problem. Obviously, the loss of strength mainly related to the change in the shoulder mechanics; however, the collapsed body position contributes to feeling hopeless, helpless, and powerless.

With my colleague Dr. Vietta Wilson (Wilson & Peper, 2004), we discovered that in the collapsed position it was very difficult to evoke positive and empowering memories as compared to the upright position (for more information see the article by Wilson and Peper: http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/the-effects-of-posture-on-mood.pdf).

Consistently, my students at San Francisco State University have reported that when they blank out on exams or class presentations, if they stop for a moment, change their posture and breathe, they can think again. Similarly, clients who are captured by worry and discomfort, when they shift position and look up, find it is easier to think of new options.   Explore for this yourself.

How Posture effect Memory Recall

Sit comfortably at the edge of a chair and then collapse downward so that your back is rounded like the letter C. Let your head tilt forward and look at the floor between your thighs as shown in figure 3.

Fig 3 collapsed sittingFigure 3. Sitting in a collapsed position (photo by Jana Asenbrennerova). Reprinted by permission from Gorter and Peper (2011).

While in this position, bring to mind hopeless, helpless, powerless, and depressive memories one after the other for thirty seconds.

Then, let go of those thoughts and images and, without changing your position and still looking downward, recall empowering, positive, and happy memories one after the other for thirty seconds.

Shift position and sit up erect, with your back almost slightly arched and your head held tall while looking slightly upward as shown in figure 4.

Fig 4 erect sittingFigure 4. Sitting in an upright position (photo by Jana Asenbrennerova). Reprinted by permission from Gorter and Peper (2011).

While is this position, bring to mind many hopeless, helpless, powerless, or depressive memories one after the other for thirty seconds.

Then, let go of those thoughts and images and, without changing position and while still looking upward, recall as many empowering, positive, and happy memories one after the other for thirty seconds

Ask yourself: In which position was it easier to evoke negative memories and in which position was it easier to evoke empowering, positive, and happy memories?

Overwhelmingly participants report that in the downward position it was much easier to recall negative and hopeless memories. And, in the upright position it was easier to recall positive and empowering memories. In many cases, participant reported that when they looked down, they could not evoke any positive and empowering memories. It is not surprising that when people feel optimistic about the future, they say, “Things are looking up.”

Mind and body affect each other. The increase in depression and fatigue may be in part be caused by the body position of sitting collapsed at work, at home and walking a slouched pattern. By shifting body movement and position from slouching to skipping one’s subjective energy may significantly increase (Peper & Lin, 2012) (for more information see: https://peperperspective.com/2012/09/30/take-charge-of-your-energy-level-and-depression-with-movement-and-posture/)

Take charge, lightening your mood and give yourself the opportunity to be empowered and hopeful. When feeling down, acknowledge the feeling and say, “At this moment, I feel overwhelmed, and I’m not sure what to do” or whatever phrase fits the felt emotions. When your energy is low, again acknowledge this to yourself: “At this moment I feel exhausted,” or “At this moment, I feel tired,” or whatever phrase fits the feeling. As you acknowledge it, be sure to state “at this moment.” The phrase “at this moment” is correct and accurate. It implies what is occurring without a self-suggestion that the feeling will continue, which helps to avoid the idea that this was, is, and will always be. The reality is that whatever we are experiencing is always limited to this moment, as no one knows what will occur in the future. This leaves the future open to improvement.

Remind yourself that you to shift your mood by changing your posture. When you’re outside, focus on the clouds moving across the sky, the flight of birds, or leaves on the trees. In your home, you can focus on inspiring art on the wall or photos of family members you love and who love you. When you hang pictures, hang them higher than you normally would so that you must look up. You can also put pictures above your desk to remind yourself to look up and to evoke positive memories.

These two studies point out that psychology needs to incorporate body posture and movement as part of the therapeutic and teaching process. Without teaching how to change body posture only one half of the mind-body equation that underlies health and illness is impacted.

Each time you collapse or have negative thoughts, change your position and sit up and look up. Arrange your world so that you are erect (e.g., stand while working at the computer, use a separate keyboard with your laptop so that the top of the screen is at eye level, or place a pillow in your lower back when sitting). Finally, every so often, get up and move while alternately reach up with your arms into the sky as if picking fruits which you can not quite reach.

After having done these two practices, I realized how powerful my body effects my mood and energy level. Now each time I am aware that I collapse, I take a breath, shift my position, look up, and often stand up and stretch. To my surprise, I have so much more energy and my negative depressive mood has lifted.

References:

Gorter, R. & Peper, E. (2011). Fighting cancer-A nontoxic approach to treatment. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level. Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.

Wilson, V.E. and Peper, E. (2004). The Effects of upright and slumped postures on the generation of positive and negative thoughts. Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback.29 (3), 189-195.

[1] In an elegant study by Professor Amy Cuddy from the Harvard Business School, she demonstrated that two minutes of standing in a power position significant increased testosterone and decreased cortisol while standing in the collapsed position significantly decreased testosterone and increased cortisol. By changing posture, you not only present yourself differently to the world around you, you actually change your hormones (For more information, see Professor Amy Cuddy’s Ted talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are).

 


Making the Unaware Aware*

“You only have to think to lift the hand and the muscles react.”

“I did not realize that muscle tension occurred without visible movement.”

“I was shocked that I was unaware of my muscle activity—The EMG went up before I felt anything.”

“Just anticipating the thought of the lifting of my hand increased the EMG numbers.”

“After training I could feel the muscle tension and it was one third lower than before I started.”

                                                            -Workshop participants after working with SEMG feedback

Many people are totally unaware that they are tightening their muscles and continuously holding slight tension until they experience stiffness or pain. This covert low-level muscle tension can occur in any muscle and has been labeled dysponesis, namely, misplaced and misdirected efforts (from the Greek: dys = bad; ponos = effort, work, or energy) (Whatmore & Kohli, 1974; Harvey & Peper, 2012). This chronic covert tension is a significant contributor to numerous disorders that range from neck, shoulder, and back pain to headaches and exhaustion and can easily be observed in people working at the computer.

While mousing and during data entry, most people are unaware that they are slightly tightening their shoulder muscles. One can often see this low level chronic tension when a person continuously lifts an index finger in anticipation of clicking the mouse or bends the wrist and lifts the fingers away from the keyboard while mousing with the other hand as shown in Figure 1.

Fig 1 hand lift

Figure 1. Lifting the hand without any awareness while mousing with the other hand (from Peper et al, 2014)

People may hold a position for a long time without being aware that they are contracting their muscles. They are focusing on their task performance. They are “captured by the screen” – until discomfort and pain occur. Only after they experience discomfort or pain, do they change position. Factors that contribute to this apparent lack of somatic awareness include:

  • Being captured by the task. People are so focused upon performing a task that they are unaware of their dysfunctional body position, which eventually will cause discomfort.
  • Institutionalized powerlessness. People accept the external environment as unchangeable. They cannot conceive new options and do not attempt to adjust the environment to fit it to themselves.
  • Lack of somatic awareness and training. People are unaware of their own low levels of somatic and muscle tension.

 Being Captured By the Task

People often want to perform a task well and they focus their attention upon correctly performing the task. They forget to check whether their body position is optimized for the task. Only after the body position becomes uncomfortable and interferes with task performance, do they become aware. At this point, the discomfort has often transformed into pain or illness.

This process of immediately focusing on task performance is easily observed when people are assigned to perform a new task. For example, you can ask people who are sitting in chairs arranged by row to form discussion groups to share information with the individuals in front or behind them. Some will physically lift and rotate their chair to be comfortable, while others will rotate their body without awareness that this twisted position increases physical discomfort. As instructors, we often photograph the participants as they are performing their tasks as shown in Figure 2.

Fig 2a sitting on chairs
Figure 2. Workshop participants rotating their bodies or chairs to perform the group exercise (from Peper et al, 2014).

Although there are many strategies to teach participants awareness of covert tension, our recent published article, Making the Unaware Aware-Surface Electromyography to Unmask Tension and Teach Awareness,describes a simple biofeedback approach to teach awareness and control of residual muscle contraction. Almost all the subjects can rapidly learn to increase their recognition of minimal muscle tension as shown in figure 3.

Fig 5 EMG graphFigure 3. Measurement of forearm extensor muscle awareness of minimum muscle tension before and after feedback training (from Peper et al, 2014).

This study showed that participants were initially unaware of covert tension and that they could quickly learn to increase their sensitivity of muscle tension and reduce this tension within a short time period. Surface electromyograpy (SEMG) provides an objective (third person) perspective of what is actually occurring inside the body and is more accurate than a person’s own perception (first person perspective). The SEMG feedback (numbers and graphs) learning experience was a powerful tool to shift participants’ illness beliefs and encourage them to actively participate in their own self-improvement. It demonstrated that: 1) they were unaware of low tension levels, and 2) they could learn to increase their awareness with SEMG feedback.

The participants became aware that covert tension could contribute to their discomfort and would inhibit regeneration. In some cases, they observed that merely anticipating the task caused an increase in muscle tension. Finally, they realized that if they could be aware during the day of the covert tension, they could identify the situation that triggered the response and also lower the muscle tension.

For detailed methodology and clinical application, see the published article, Peper,E., Booiman, A., Lin, I-M., & Shaffer, F. (2014). Making the Unaware Aware-Surface Electromyography to Unmask Tension and Teach Awareness. Biofeedback, 42(1), 16-23.

References:

Harvey, E. & Peper, E. (2012). I thought I was relaxed: The use of SEMG biofeedback for training awareness and control. In W. A. Edmonds, & G. Tenenbaum (Eds.),Case studiesin applied psychophysiology: Neurofeedback and biofeedback treatments foradvances inhuman performance. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 144-159.

Whatmore, G. B., & Kohli, D. R. (1974). The Physiopathology and Treatment of Functional Disorders: Including Anxiety States and Depression and the Role of Biofeedback Training. Grune & Stratton.

*Adapted from: Peper,E., Booiman, A., Lin, I-M., & Shaffer, F. (2014).Making the Unaware Aware-Surface Electromyography to Unmask Tension and Teach Awareness. Biofeedback.42(1), 16-23.


Optimizing ergonomics: Adapt the world to you and not the other way around

Having the right equipment doesn’t mean we use it correctly. It turns out that usage patterns matter just as much as fancy new office furniture. This post was inspired by a wonderful article that David Kadavy generously interviewed me for. His article explores split keyboards and working wellness. In this post, I go in-depth on some complimentary workplace tools and techniques.

fig 1 extended neck

After working on a laptop, smartphone or computer, many people experience discomfort and exhaustion.  Back and neck pain and vision problems are very common. Although there are many components that contribute to maintaining health and productivity with digital devices, two factors stand out:

  • Ergonomic arrangement: the way the physical environment forces the person to adapt, such as bending over to read and perform data entry with a tablet.
  • Work style: the way the person manages themselves to perform the tasks.

Fig 2 computer stress

Many problems that are aggravated or caused by inappropriate ergonomics can be compensated by changing workstyle.  For example, if you bend forward to read the tablet or squint to see the text on the monitor, you can take many movement and stress reduction breaks to compensate for the challenging ergonomics.  Having the right equipment, appropriately adjusted, is the focus of ergonomics. Working so that health is maintained regardless of equipment is the focus of work style.

Shoes are a great example. Healthy shoes would look like duck feet–wider at the ball of the feet and toes and narrower at the heel. However, most shoes have pointy or narrow toe boxes. Over time, incorrect footwear becomes a major cause of bunions, foot, hip and back pain for older adults. It causes physical deformity just as the 19th century Chinese practice of foot-binding crippled many women.  If you want to run a 100 meter race or a marathon—running shoes are better than high heels. Adapting the environment to you instead of the other way around is the underlying theme of ergonomics.

But even with correctly fitting shoes many people still experience discomfort. Often this is because of misaligned movement patterns. such as their feet point outward while walking instead of pointing ahead.  Or they unknowingly favor one leg over the other because many years earlier they broke that leg and adapted their walking pattern to reduce the pain. After walking to avoid pain for a month, this new dysfunctional pattern became habitual and their gait never returned to normal. Changing how you walk or work is the focus of optimum work style. For useful suggestions about workstyle see Healthy Computer Email Tips by Erik Peper.

Many experts have worked for decades on defining optimal ergonomics for using digital devices. The results are always compromises because human beings did not evolve to sit in a chair for hours without movement or read from a small screen in front of them. Nevertheless, the ergonomic setup while using laptops and tablets can be significantly improved.  It is impossible to achieve a healthy ergonomic setup while using a laptop or tablet.  If the screen is placed so that is easily readable, then the fingers and hands need to be lifted (which often involves lifting the shoulders) to perform data entry.  On the other hand if the keyboard is at the appropriate height then you have to look down on the screen. If you regularly use a laptop or tablet, consider purchasing a separate monitor and/or keyboard to improve your setup.

And if you’re replacing your keyboard, make sure to check out David Kadavy’s excellent blog: This weird keyboard may be the biggest thing since your standing desk.

 

 

 

 


There is Hope! Interrupt Chained Behavior

“I was able to self-heal myself. I didn’t need anyone else to do it for me.”

“I was surprised that I actually succeeded and had some really great results.”

“How much control I really had over being able to change several of my habits, when I previously thought that it was impossible.”

“That I actually have control.”

                                    Students who have practiced stress management at SFSU

This blog summarizes our recent published article that describes a teaching healing approach that can be used by many clients to mobilize their health.  The process is illustrated by a case report student who had suffered from psoriasis for more than five years totally cleared his skin in six weeks and has continued to this benefit (Klein & Peper, 2013).  At the recent one year follow-up his skin is still clear.

Low energy, being tired and depressed,  having pain, insomnia, itching skin, psoriasis, nervously pulling out hair, hypertension and other are symptoms that affects our lives. In many cases there is no identifiable biological cause. Currently, 74% of patients who visit their health care providers have undiagnosed medical conditions. Most of the symptoms are a culmination of stress, anxiety, and depression.  In many cases, health care professionals treat these patients ineffectively with medications instead of offering stress management options. For example, if patients with insomnia visits their physicians, they are most likely prescribed a sleep inducing medication (hypnotics). Patients who take sleeping medication nightly have a fourfold increase in mortality (Kripke et al., 2012).  If on the other hand if the healthcare professional takes time to talk to the patient and explores the factors that contribute to the insomnia and teach sleep hygiene methods, 50s% fewer prescriptions are written. Obviously, you may not be able to sleep if you are worried about money, job security, struggles with your partner or problems with your children; however, medication do  not solve these problems. Learning problem solving and stress management techniques often does!

When students begin to learn these stress management and self-healing skills as part of a semester long Holistic Health Class at San Francisco State University, 82% reported improvement in achieving benefits such as increasing physical fitness, healthier diets, reducing depression, anxiety, pain and eliminating eczema or reducing hair pulling (one student with Trichotillomania reduced her hair pulling from 855 to 19 minutes per week) (Peper et al., 2003; Bier et al., 2005; Ratkovich et al., 2012). The major factors that contributed to the students’ improvement are:

  • Daily monitoring of subjective and objective experiences to facilitates awareness and identify cues that trigger or aggravate the symptoms.
  • Ongoing practicing during the day and during activities of the stress management skills as adapted from the book, Make Health Happen (Peper et al, 2003)
  • Sharing subjective experiences in small groups which reduces social isolation, normalizes experiences, and encourages hope. Usually, a few students will report rapid benefits such as aborting a headache, falling asleep rapidly, or reducing menstrual cramps, which helps motivate other students to continue their practices.
  • Writing an integrative summary paper, which provides a structure to see how emotions, daily practices and change in symptoms are related.

The first step is usually Identifying the trigger that initiates the illness producing patterns. Once identified, the next step is to interrupt the pattern and do something different.  This can include transforming internal dialogue, practicing relaxation or modifying body posture. The mental/emotional and physical practices interrupts and diverts the cascading steps that develop the symptoms (Peper et al., 2003).

Interrupting and transforming the chained behavior is illustrated in our article “There Is Hope: Autogenic Biofeedback Training for the Treatment of Psoriasis” published in the recent issue of Biofeedback. We report on the process by which a 23-year-student totally cleared his skin after having had psoriasis for the last five years. Psoriasis causes red, flaky skin and is currently the most common autoimmune disease affecting approximately 2% of the US population. Many people afflicted with this disease use steroids, topical creams, special shampoos, and prescription medication. Unfortunately, the disease can only be suppressed, not cured.  Thus many people with psoriasis feel damaged and have a difficult time socially. Stress is often one of the triggers that makes psoriasis worse. In this case study, the 23-year-old student learned how to train his mind/body to transform his feelings of stress, anxiety, self-doubt, and urge to scratch his skin into a positive self-healing process.

Initially, the student was trained in stress management and biofeedback techniques that included relaxation, stress reduction, and desensitization. He learned how to increase his confidence by changing his body posture while sitting and standing. He also took time to stop and refocus his energy when he felt the need to fall back into old habits. What did he really do?

The moment he became aware of skin sensations, he would:

  1. Stop, take a deep breath into his abdomen and slowly exhale
  2. Assess how he was thinking-having negative and hopeless thoughts
  3. Change the negative thoughts into positive affirmative thoughts
  4. Breathe deeply
  5. Imagine as he exhaled feeling heaviness and warmth in his arms and feet
  6. Talk to his body by saying, “My skin is cool, clear, and regenerative.” “I am worthy.”

To become aware of his automatic negative behavior was very challenging. He had to stop focusing on the task in front of him and to put all of his energy into regaining his composure. This is very difficult because people are normally captured by whatever they are doing at that moment. As he stated: “Breaking this chain behavior was by far the hardest things I’ve ever done. It didn’t matter what situation I found myself in, my practice took precedence. The level of self- control I had to maintain was far beyond my norm. I remember taking an exam. I was struggling to recall the answer to the last essay question. All I wanted to do was finish the exam and go home. I knew that I knew it, it was coming to me, I began to write… Yet in that same moment I felt my right elbow start to tingle (the location of one of the psoriasis plagues) and my left hand started to drift towards it. Immediately I had to switch my focus. Despite my desire to finish I dropped my pen. I paused to breathe and focused upon my positive thoughts. Moments like this happened daily, my normal functions were routinely interrupted by urges to scratch. Sometimes I would spend significantly more time doing the practices than the task at hand.

Similarly, whenever he observed his body posture “collapsing” and “hiding” — thus falling into a more powerless posture — he would interrupt the collapse and shift to a power position by expanding and being more erect.  He did this while standing, sitting, and talking to other students. As he stated: “I hadn’t realized how my collapsing posture was effecting my self-image until I began practicing a more powerful posture. In class I made myself sit with my butt pushed back against the back of the chair instead of letting myself slide forwarding into a slouch. Just like the urge to itch I had to stay conscious of my posture constantly.  At work, at school, even at home on the couch I practiced expanding body posture. The more I was aware of my posture the better my posture became, and the more time I spent in power pose the more natural it began to feel. The more natural it felt the more powerful I felt.”

After three weeks, his skin had cleared and has continued to stay this way for the last year as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 2 elbow and knee croppedFigure 1. Pre and post photos of the elbow and knee showing the improvement of the skin.

There are many diseases and ailments that require the use of medication for appropriate treatment, but when stress is a factor in any diagnosis, or when a diagnosis cannot be found, it is important for stress management to be offered as a viable option for patients to consider. As shown by the student with psoriasis, learning stress management skills and then actually practicing them during the day can play a major factor in improving the health of an individual. The same process is applicable for numerous symptoms. There is hope=-Just do it.

References:

Bier, M., Peper, E., & Burke, A. (2005). Integrated stress management with ‘Make Health Happen: Measuring the impact through a 5-month follow-up. Presented at the 36th Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Abstract published in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 30(4), 400. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/2005-aapb-make-health-happen-bier-peper-burke-gibney3-12-05-rev.pdf

Klein, A. & Peper, W. (2013). There is Hope: Autogenic Biofeedback Training for the Treatment of Psoriasis. Biofeedback, 41(4), 194–201. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/published-article-there-is-hope.pdf

Kripke, D.F., Langer, R.D., Kline. L.E. (2012). Hypnotics’association with mortality or cancer: a matched cohort study. BMJOpen, 2:e000850. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000850 http://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/2/1/e000850.full.pdf+html

Peper, E., Gibney, K.H. & Holt. C. (2002).  Make Health Happen: Training Yourself to Create Wellness.  Dubuque, IA: Kendall-Hunt. http://www.amazon.com/Make-Health-Happen-Training-Yourself/dp/0787293318

Peper, E., Sato-Perry, K & Gibney, K. H. (2003). Achieving health: A 14-session structured stress management program—Eczema as a case illustration. 34rd Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Abstract in: Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback, 28(4), 308. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/2003-aapb-poster-peper-keiko-long1.pdf

Ratkovich, A., Fletcher, L., Peper, E., & Harvey, R. (2012). Improving College Students’ Health-Including Stopping Smoking and Healing Eczema. Presented at the 43st Annual Meeting of the Association for Applied Psychophysiology and Biofeedback. Baltimore, MD. http://biofeedbackhealth.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/2012-improving-college-student-health-2012-02-28.pdf


Adopt a power posture and change brain chemistry and probability of success

Less than two minutes of body movement can increase or decrease energy level depending on which movement the person performs (Peper and Lin).  Static  posture has an even larger social impact—it affects how others see us and how we perform. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy, professor and researcher from Harvard Business School, has demonstrated that by adopting a posture of confidence for two minutes—even when you just fake it—significantly improves yourchances for success and your brain chemistry. The power position significantly increases testosterone and decreases cortisol levels in our brain. If you want to improve performance and success, watch Professor Amy Cuddy’s inspiring Ted talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are.html)


Take charge of your energy level and depression with movement and posture

I felt depressed when I looked down walking slowly. I realized that I walk like that all the time. I really need to change my walking pattern. When doing opposite arm and leg skipping, I had more energy. Right away I felt happy and free. I automatically smiled.    –Student

Hunched forward at the computer, collapsed in front of the TV, bent forward with an I-pad and smart phone while answering emails, updating Facebook, playing games, reading or texting—these are all habits that may affect our energy level.  Students may also experience a decrease in energy level and concentration when they slouch in their seats.

The low tech solution is not caffeine or medications; it is episodic movement and upright posture. In the controlledresearch study published October 5, 2012 in the journal Biofeedback, Erik Peper, PhD of San Francisco State University and I-Mei Lin, PhD of Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan, showed that subjective energy level can quickly be increased.

In this study 110 participants rated their immediate subjective energy level and their general depression level.  The participants either walked in a slouched position or engaged in opposite arm and leg skipping (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Illustration of slouched walking (left) and opposite arm and leg skipping (right). Reproduced from Peper & Lin (2012).

Skipping even for even one minute significantly increased energy level and alertness for all subjects. On the other hand, walking in a slouched pattern reduced the energy level significantly for those participants who had high levels of depression as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. Self-rating of energy level for the top and bottom 20% of the students’ self-rating of depression. Reproduced from: Peper & Lin, (2012).

For people with a history of depression, their energy level may covertly increase or decrease depending upon posture and movements. When individuals have less energy, they feel that they can do less, and this feeling tends to increase depressive thinking. They also tend to label the lower energy state as the beginning of depression instead being tired. At the same time, the lower energy state tends to evoke depressive memories and thoughts which escalate the experience of depression. This process can be interrupted and reversed by shifting body posture and performing movement.

This study offers a strategy for people with depression to reverse conditioned cues associated with posture that evoke depressive thoughts and feelings. Wilson and Peper (2004) showed previously that ‘‘sitting collapsed’’ allowed easier access to hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories than sitting upright and looking up. Posture appears to be aan overlooked aspect in the prevention of depression.

There is hope if you tend to become depressed and experience low energy. Numerous participants reported that after they performed opposite arm/leg skipping they did not want to walk in a slouched position.  This suggests that this type of movement my act as a protective mechanism to avoid energy decrease and depression. Some participants with attention deficit disorders reported that after skipping they could focus their attention much better. I recommend being more aware of your body posture during the day and increasing your arm and leg skipping movements.

*Adapted from: Peper, E. & Lin, I-M. (2012). Increase or decrease depression-How body postures influence your energy level.  Biofeedback, 40 (3), 126-130.