You have the power to shift your mood using quick and easy body tools…
Science has proven that the way you hold your body and the way you move can dictate much more about how you feel than you may have realized.
Here’s how I know this from my own personal experience…
When I was a young competitive gymnast, my coaches decided that everyone on the team needed to work on their postures in order to impress the judges and get higher scores. The coaches instituted a mandate: for the 6+ hours per day that we were in the gym, we had to suck in our stomachs (flexing stomach muscles) and tuck our butts under by flexing our glut muscles and slightly tensing our lower back.
My team members and I spent an entire summer on high alert in our bodies, hearts and minds — fearful of the next time we were caught by our somewhat intimidating coaches with less than perfect posture.
If we got caught with a loose gut or an untucked butt, even while on a break, the coaches would yell out to the poorly-postured child: “Rachel, suck and tuck!” When my name was called, it was jarring! Immediately, I flexed my stomach, tucked my butt and put the required penalty of a quarter in the community piggy bank. By the end of the summer, we were all permanently tensing our bodies into our coaches’ desired posture…and there was enough money in the piggy bank to throw a party for the whole team.
This summer was when a fear-response pattern became imprinted in my body. Even without hearing someone yell my name and punish me for not sucking and tucking, I began to live in tension at all times. This body tension translated to emotional tension…and so it went.
Why did I sharing this story with you? Looking back and knowing what I know now…
Your body releases tons of hormones all the time that influence your mood, your thoughts and your feelings.
I know that one of the worst things you can possibly do to your body is create constant tension, especially in your gut. This tension sends a false alarm signal to your sympathetic nervous system, alerting it to potential danger (that actually isn’t danger at all). And, when this alarm switches on, your flight/fight/freeze response gets turned on. It’s a false alarm that never turns off…unless…you consciously do something to reverse the pattern.
It’s empowering to know that your body (not your mind) is hugely responsible for how you feel emotionally.
You have agency to shift your mood…
by shifting your body!
Consider choosing one of the following to focus on over the next week, setting a timer for 3x/day to try it out.
1) Loosen your Jaw – If you’re a jaw-clencher, stop! Ok, ok I know, it’s not that simple! When your timer goes off, take a breath and soften your jaw. Start with a huge open-mouth stretch, sticking your tongue out as far as you can. Follow this stretch with a little jaw massage, by doing circular movements with your finger tips at the hinge where your lower jaw meets your upper jaw.
2) Soften the space around your eyes – Holding tension anywhere in your face increases your body’s sense that there’s something to be worried about. Let your body know that you’re safe by closing your eyes and imagining the area around both eyes releasing. Breathe into this sensation. Then, open your eyes and again envision softness surrounding your eyes. Breathe.
3) Relax your belly – Your gut is known as your second brain. There are more receptors for specific hormones related to mood in your gut than in your brain. So, take a moment to breathe, with the intention of inflating your belly. With each breath, feel your belly soften and the muscles of your core release.
4) Drop your shoulders – Holding/tensing your shoulders is a sure-fire way to create an unnecessary stress response in your body. In cold weather, especially, it’s very common to tense your shoulders as a way to abate the cold. Play with shoulder rolls – practicing rolling your shoulders forward, up, then down while breathing into the center of your shoulder blades.
5) Stand tall(er) – Your central nervous systems relies on you to know if there’s a threat to your well-being. Slumping makes your body small, as if you’re hiding from danger. Making your body small has been proven to increase the stress hormone (cortisol) and decrease the confidence hormone (testosterone).
6) Open your arms – Fan your feathers, so to speak, and take up space with your upper body. Let your system know that you don’t need protection right now. As you open your arms, breathe in deeply and repeat in your mind: “I am safe. I am at ease. All is well.”
7) Take a deep breath – The simple act of taking a big, conscious breath makes a huge impact in your body, mind and soul. Sit tall and feel the breath inflate your lungs, and expand your diaphragm, expanding your rib cage and back body and inflating your belly. Then, feel the release as your body deflates on the exhale.
The more you practice these simple stress relieving body-based exercises, the more you create healthy patterns in your body, mind and mood.
Which one will you try first?