EVANSTON, Ill. – Sitting at a desk, staring at a computer can be pretty boring work.It can even bring you down.
But when you succumb and let your body angle toward the ground, that makes your mood plummet.
“This is something we have implicitly known for a long, long time which is that when you are feeling energized, courageous, proud you tend to have a stronger, taller posture than when you are feeling down, Dr. Mark Reinecke, Northwestern University Chief Psychologist.
But it turns out the mood doesn't always direct the posture. By sitting straight -- you'll smile. Slumping you'll scowl. Body position alters the brain.
“It appears to have direct biological effects on hormone levels, on cortisol levels, testosterone levels and that's the remarkable thing,” says Reinecke.
It's called embodied cognition.
Repeated studies have shown a change in brain chemistry is triggered by changes in body position.
People sitting upright had more empowering thoughts and lower stress hormone levels than their bent over counterparts filled with negativity.
“Our moods are regulated by sub-cortical systems in the brain that are regulated by the frontal lobe and higher cortical function. These systems are very sensitive to what's happening in our environment including our bodies,” says Reinecke.
In his own practice -- Northwestern University Chief Psychologist Dr. Mark Reinecke encouraged his patients to stand at the precipice of their world.
“I will pose them like that, put your foot out, your chest out. Lean into your life and I'll say how do you feel?” he asks.
The answer -- powerful.
We wanted to see the effect in action so we didn't tell them why, we simply asked students -- some incredibly stressed out -- to take that carpe diem pose.
Many reported they felt powerful, happier in the upright posture.
It's something people who practice yoga have known for centuries -- and now science is confirming real changes in the brain associated with a change in body position.
But the effect doesn't last forever.
“These are momentary changes in your physiology. They are not going to have a long term or enduring effect. But they will put you in a clearer mental space to be able to take on whatever challenge you are approaching at the moment,” says Reinecke, adding “It's worth trying on your own because it does work!”
In the same way standing up straight and improves mood, softening your body and tossing your arms around can throw stress right out of the body.