Aaron Alexander, author of The Align Method, joins us today to explore the power and the science of the brain-body connection.
How the Brain-Body Connection Works
Movement is literally an expression of the way in which we think and feel. Our hormones act like messengers between our postural patterns and the states we experience.
A trio of social psychology professors— Amy Cuddy from Harvard, Andy Nap from Yale, and Dana Carney from the University of California, Berkeley—explored this idea in 2010 when they popularized the idea of “high-power poses,” which were shown to boost levels of testosterone by around 20 percent and reduce cortisol (a stress hormone) levels by 25 percent after spending just two minutes in each pose.
Inversely, the researchers found that “low-power poses” (e.g., hunching over to scroll on your phone) increased cortisol levels and decreased testosterone. This study was a testament to the speed at which the body is continually processing postural information into chemical stimuli: Your cells are always listening.
In Cuddy’s TED Talk, she describes the power of “faking it until you make it,” suggesting that you can literally change the way you feel and behave based upon the way you organize your physical body. This particular study has gone through an immense amount of scrutiny, in large part due to its popularity. A paper came out in 2017 refuting Cuddy’s findings, and then another in 2018 reaffirmed the concept referred to as “postural feedback.
The way you move affects the way you feel, and the way you feel is inseparably tied to the expression of your internal chemistry.
At this point, it’s fairly indisputable that the way you move (or don’t) affects the way you feel, and the way you feel is inseparably tied to the expression of your internal chemistry. Envision a weight lifter hyping themselves up before stepping onto a platform or a UFC fighter strutting into an octagon as a display of dominance. Research on these miraculous moments can be challenging because life doesn’t happen in a controlled, double-blind, static, sterile laboratory setting, and thus these debates will likely continue.
How Does Body Language Influence the Brain?
Let’s illustrate it: Have you ever noticed a random guy approaching a beautiful girl (or vice versa) in a coffee shop and curiously observed the dynamic? You can tell from across the room if he feels confident in his approach and simultaneously see if she believes he’s a viable mate worthy of sharing her coveted digits with based purely on the dynamics of their movement. Is this because you’ve been endowed with telepathic superpowers, or could it be that you’re reading their body language?
A fascinating study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University showed how posture during communication not only informs the way others perceive you, but may even shape your own self-belief.
A study conducted by researchers at Ohio State University showed posture during communication not only informs the way others perceive you, but may even shape your own self-belief.
Researchers asked the participants to list three positive and three negative traits they possess that would impact their professional performance at a future job. Half of the participants were asked to write these traits while they were in a hunched-over position, while the other half were asked to assume an upright posture during the process.
The results were striking. Their posture not only impacted whether or not they identified with the positive things they were asked to write about themselves, but also affected a participant’s belief in the statements, positive or negative. That’s right: A person’s belief in their own words is associated with their postural position while thinking about them. When you’re in a hunched-over position, you may begin to distrust yourself, in the same way others would dis- trust the level of confidence in your statements.
Along with affecting the way you think about yourself, postural patterns even impact the filter in which you access memories. A study conducted at San Francisco State University by professor of health education Erik Peper showed that more than 85 percent of the time, students found it easier to access uplifting memories in an upright (aligned) position and, reciprocally, easier to access depressive memories in a slumped posture.
Peper states, “You can take charge of yourself. Put yourself in an empowering, upright position. Remember that our thoughts and emotions are represented in our bodies. And vice versa: Our bodies can change our thoughts.”
How Floor Sitting Resets Our Brain and Body
Time spent on the ground acts as a natural tuning mechanism for your whole body. The stress of the day can be taxing on the body, and time spent on the ground naturally restores your function by massaging your tissues, mobilizing your joints, and passively retuning the nervous system. Some of these positions include kneeling, squatting, toe sitting, crossing your legs, and simply lying down on flat ground.
There are many neurological benefits to these floor-based movement patterns too, including memory consolidation, brain hemisphere integration, and overall neural development. These core movements and resting positions act as natural physical tuning mechanisms to reorganize our body parts after a long day of work.
Here’s how to get started. Create a designated floor-sitting area in your home. Get yourself a comfy rug or thick floor covering, and cushions. Choose a location with lots of natural light. Make it comfortable, fun, and colorful. You’ll notice children, pets, and yourself will be drawn to this area if you do it right. I’m actually lying on my belly in a sphinx-like yoga position—with a pillow under my pelvis to support my low back and my computer in front of me—as I’m writing this very sentence.
A Three-Step Process to Move the Way You Feel
- Step one: Think about how you would like to feel. It could be strong, confident, humble, graceful, powerful, flexible, aggressive, humorous, light, or anything of the sort.
- Step two: Visualize the way your body moves when you feel this way, and be specific. Notice how your arms and legs swing when you walk, how you sit, stand, breathe, communicate, and even the tone and pace of your voice.
- Step three: Take a walk and explore moving in the way you just visualized. How does it feel? Start actively thinking about moving more this way as often as is reasonable, choose sports or activities that promote this style of movement, and begin to notice how your postural patterns affect the way you think and feel.
Get to Know Aaron Alexander, Author of The Align Method
What books are you reading right now?
Drop Acid, by David Perlmutter.
Your personal favorite quote?
“The way you walk through a room is the way you walk through life”- Ida Rolf.
What is one biohack you cannot live without?
Cold therapy. It not only has amazing effects on your physiology, transforming adipose fat tissue into healthy brown fat, reducing inflammation, promoting a healthy metabolism, but it also has a huge effect on our psychology. It releases endorphins that boosts your focus and mood, mitigating depression and anxiety and boosting productivity. There is no way you’re going to step out of a cold plunge and not be happy. I don’t believe it’s possible.
Last, do you consider yourself a good sleeper? When did you realize you were one? What helped you become a good sleeper?
I’m a good sleeper when I follow my ritual below.
Walk us through your sleep routine from dinner until you hit the pillow. What devices, supplements/teas, tech, textiles, etc. do you use?
I hold off from eating carbs until dinner time. I believe carbs are great, but best eaten when you want your body to start winding down for the day. Carbs are great for enhancing sleep, hence why I wait until I am done needing my brain to be focused and sharp.
Two hours before I go to bed, I transfer all the light over to red light and candles and I take Qualia Night. Qualia Night helps me fall asleep faster and gives me vivid dreams. I’ve never had such vivid dreams before in my life!
At night, I tape my mouth to minimize mouth breathing while sleeping. This makes a huge difference on the quality of your sleep (as well as your overall health!).
If I’m traveling, I always bring some lavender and sage to burn and a face mask to ensure no artificial light while sleeping.
Connect With Aaron Alexander
Aaron Alexander is the author of The Align Method: A Modern Movement Guide for a Stronger Body, Sharper Mind, and Stress-Proof Life (from which many excerpts in this article originated from) and host of the Align Podcast.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products and services mentioned are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
The recommendations in this article represent the opinions and experience of the interviewee, and are not a guarantee, promise, or reflection of other users’ results.
Learn more about the brain-body connection
Podcast: Harness the Power of Your Brain-Body Connection: An Interview with Amy Cuddy
Podcast: 12 Lifestyle Hacks for Better Posture: An Interview with Aaron Alexander
Podcast: Healing the Mind-Body Connection: An Interview With Keesha Ewers