The two simple acts of breathing and altering our posture have such powerful affects upon brain chemistry that by merely changing the rhythm of our breath or by shifting our posture, our body’s chemical balance is changed, right down to the cellular level. This chemical change affects the way we perceive and react to the world around us. In short, changing how we breathe, walk, sit, and stand has the potential to completely change our reality and the way our lives unfold.

When I first learned this, I have to admit, I was a little skeptical. But that skepticism was soon transformed into pure amazement and excitement as I experienced the effects of these simple changes, through my training in the warrior traditions. But, you might ask, how can these simple changes have such a profound effect upon our lives?

Have you ever noticed how babies and very young children breathe, move, and hold their posture? If you have, then you’d have noticed how a healthy baby or child breathes deeply into their abdomen, moves with minimal effort, and stands/sits in a position that generates the least physical strain on their muscles and skeletal structure. In essence, it is this relaxed, effortless state of being that we are trying to achieve as we relearn how to breathe and move through our training in the warrior traditions. Restoring our natural, child-like ability to move, stand, sit, and breathe deeply, revitalises the body and mind, and generates a healthy state of being.

The problem for most of us is that we have grown up in a society that places very little emphasis on proper body awareness, and as a result we’ve picked up some very bad habits, habits that create excessive levels of tension and stress which not only leads to poor mental and physical health, but negatively affect how we see and react to our environment. As we begin to grow up, our habits and behaviors are deeply influenced by our environment and the people in it. Because of the environments most of us grow up in, we slowly begin to unlearn our natural way of moving, sitting, standing, and breathing, as we pick up bad habits from our parents, siblings, teachers and friends. These habits include high chest breathing, disjointed, awkward movements, and misaligned posture, to name but a few. The good news, however, is that simply making yourself aware of such habits can set the wheels of change in motion. Take, for example, your shoulders; like most people’s shoulders, they’re probably holding quite a lot of tension. Take a moment to check them now. Simply paying attention to the tension in your shoulders is enough to prompt you to adjust them and let them drop a little, releasing tension as they do. That’s the power of awareness, it initiates change. But the trick to making it a lasting change, and not just a quick fix, is to keep bringing your awareness back to the habit you wish to alter until you completely recondition your body and mind.

So now that we’ve equipped ourselves with awareness (our tool for creating change), let’s look at our posture, and see how changing it can alter the course of our lives.

Apart from changing the way people see us, altering our posture can positively or negatively affect the way we see ourselves. Although this is a pretty obvious statement, its implications are nothing less than startling. According to the research of sociologist Amy Cuddy, using our posture to change our self-image not only influences us psychologically, but actually alters the chemical and hormonal balance in our body. This creates either a positive or negative feedback loop, which enhances or diminishes our positive experiences in everyday life, respectively. Amy divides our posture into two basic categories, they are power postures and non-power postures. A power posture is one that positively affects our chemical/hormonal balance. It increases the level of testosterone in the blood, making us more extroverted and better able to engage with people and life in general. Power postures also lower our levels of cortisol, the primary stress hormone in the body, responsible for setting in motion the fight or flight response. This hormone wreaks havoc on the body and mind, creating serious health problems when it stays in the blood stream, while diminishing mental function. Amy’s research showed that puting your body into a power posture for as little as two minutes was enough to create positive change.

While power postures have such powerful positive effects on us, non-power postures were seen to create equally negative effects. Non-power postures increase stress hormones and lower testosterone, generating a nervous, unhealthy disposition. So what characterises a power and non-power posture. A power posture is basically one that opens the body up while a non-power posture is one that shrinks and closes the body. You can have a look at a great talk by Amy Cuddy on TED, where she gives examples of both postures. What’s particularly interesting to me is how every posture in the Japanese warrior traditions are basically power postures. Simply training in these traditions, while paying attention to correct posture, is enough to positively change your body and mind.

So, to conclude, changing our posture, by making it more open, changes us on a physiological level. This changes the inner workings of our body, making it healthier, and alters our brain chemistry, which changes our perception of the world. Ultimately, this makes us more engaging and positive. Becoming more engaging and positive has a knock on effect that changes how the world reacts to us.

In my next post, we’ll look at the effects of changing our breathing cycle and how changing the way we breathe can be used to overcome the silent killer, stress. the enemy of every modern warrior.