“Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you’re saying.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Do you ever wonder how others see you?
One way to find out is to look at your posture. It speaks volumes about you and causes people to respond to you in very particular ways.
Take my client Mary who was having trouble being taken seriously at work. In meetings she’d stand on one leg, barely breathing, head tipped to one side and no one paid attention to what she was saying. She was so frustrated she thought about quitting.
We worked together to balance her weight between her legs, free her breath and put her head back on straight. When the day finally came for one of those dreaded meetings she calmed her breath, stood up straight and walked into the room to speak. What happened next shocked her.
Everyone was looking at her. No one interrupted. And after the meeting her boss called her into his office to tell her how impressed he was with what she had to say. “Why haven’t you ever spoken up before in meetings?” he asked her. She just smiled.
Your posture contains your entire history. Every trauma, emotional and physical, is stored in your soft tissues. Your whole psychological outlook on the world announces itself the moment you walk into a room.
So what’s your posture saying about you? Let’s examine the two most basic postures and find out.
1. Straight posture
The straight posture is exactly as it sounds. All limbs are straight and joints aligned. Weight is equally balanced between both legs, head is on straight, eyes level. Movement is deliberate and punctuated by moments of complete stillness.
This person typically conveys credibility and authority and tends to be associated with men. They can tend to be inflexible depending on whether or not this posture is natural or dysfunctional.
A functional straight posture is the natural result of mental and physical balance with a calm breathing pattern. This person would have a lot of charisma. You’d probably admire them, look to them for leadership, and find them interesting.
When the straight posture is dysfunctional – the result of stiffening up against the world and becoming stuck on the in-breath, you’d probably be more afraid of this person and try to avoid them. Just being around them could make you hold your own breath and feel like you’re walking on eggshells.
2. Bendy posture
In the bendy posture joints are misaligned and weight is unbalanced between the legs or one leg is completely weighted, hip jutting out to the side. Arms are bendy, head is tilted and eyes dart around. Movement is fluid and continues even in “stillness” with head bobbing and weight constantly shifting.
This person tends to be more likeable and the posture is often associated with women. These are your best friends or the “over pleasers” depending on where their posture comes from.
In a functional bendy posture with a calm breathing pattern, this person is someone you’d be very comfortable opening up to. You’d feel relaxed in their company and probably seek them out as friends.
When this posture is dysfunctional – a result of collapsing inwards, stuck on the out-breath, you probably wouldn’t respect this person as much. You may feel like your energy is being sucked by them and you’d start to avoid bumping into them or stop returning their calls.
Can you identify with one or more of these postures?
Neither is better or worse. Ideally you can move between both of the natural postures depending on what the situation calls for.
If you’re more bendy like Mary, you can adopt a straight posture to gain credibility at work or other times you need to be heard and taken seriously. You definitely want a straight posture and calm breath if you’re negotiating with your boss for example, or when teaching something important to your kids.
Think you’re more straight? Cultivate a flexible posture to attract more friends and help your kids open up to you. Even if you hold a position of authority, you need to be seen as approachable by your staff in order to establish a productive team environment.
If you feel stuck in a dysfunctional posture don’t worry, you can change it. Most people can return to their natural way of being with deliberate therapies like Structural Integration aka Rolfing. Lifestyle practices such as yoga and meditation can also free your posture over time.
The next time you’re in a situation that calls for a certain posture, adjust yours and see what happens. Breathe calmly and notice how others respond to you. More importantly, notice how you feel inside. Ultimately, people see you the way you see yourself.