Saturday 8 May 2021

The power of walking tall

The other day I x-rayed an elderly gentleman. I briefly glanced at his name when I called him in, and then asked him his birthday, as is our protocol. "February 3, 1927." I double-checked the requisition to confirm before his words fully sank in. I looked up at him, surprised. 
"Wow, really?" I blurted out before I could help it. "You look decades younger!" 

He did. On closer inspection I noticed various signs of his age: the hearing aids, the wrinkled face, the loose-fitting clothes that must have been bought when he was still more filled out and stronger. 
But as he had walked up towards me, albeit slowly, his upright posture had fooled me into assuming he was a much younger man. 

My husband has a beautifully erect posture as well. It was one of the first things I noticed about him when I first met him almost 19 (!) years ago. He has never lost it, which makes him look a lot younger than his 66 years. 

But appearing younger isn't the only benefit of walking tall. It also makes you look confident, self-assured and in control. You're probably sitting down right now, reading this article, and if you're like me, you're bent over. (I'm slouched over with my shoulders around my ears as I'm typing these words right now.) Let's try something together: straighten your back, pull your shoulders back and down, and lift your head. How do you feel? Taller, more powerful and more positive? Me, too!

When we have a bad day, or a bad season in life where we feel overwhelmed, insecure, and full of doubt, our pain and baggage will physically and mentally make us small. We crawl into ourselves by rolling up in a ball on the bed, or by drooping, or by pulling our head between our shoulders in a subconscious attempt to retreat into ourselves like a turtle into her shell.

The advice to put our "chin up" is actually less annoying and more useful than it may appear. 
By simply pulling ourselves up and standing a little bit taller we not only appear more confident, we will start feeling it! Our body-mind connection is so strong that the mere act of our bodies pretending to feel good will have our minds follow suit.

But what to do when your mind and body are both feeling weak? You seek help. My husband and I are both big believers in letting experts help us in areas where we don't have the expertise. We get our teeth checked twice a year at the dentist, have a mechanic take care of all our automotive needs (neither of us is into cars, apart from driving them), I saw a therapist last year when my mental health needed help, and Rich went to an acupuncturist to help him with some chronic pain. 

If you physically have difficulties standing up straight because of problems with your feet, you may need to visit a pedorthist. They can help you re-balance your feet to distribute the weight more evenly. Our cars need regular tune-ups, why shouldn't we? 

Walking tall is not something that has come naturally to me. I was a very shy kid and an awkward teenager, and my first instinct was to hide. If I couldn't hide behind my mother or an object, I retreated into myself. Being an avid reader also doesn't help in the posture department, since slouching and reading go together like peanut butter and jam.
But the good news is, you can learn. You can program your body to unlearn bad habits and learn how to straighten up and face the world with your head held high and your spine straight.
Not only will you feel so much better about yourself, you will also exude confidence and have other people respect you more. 
This girl has never had a problem walking tall! She may be short in legs, but she's not short in attitude

What if you're not there yet? Fake it till you make it. 
I've never been a fan of the phrase "fake it till you make it", but it's the wording and not the message that I have an issue with (I'm not a fan of faking anything). The message of acting like you already have what you want is actually very powerful.
In German we say "head up, chest out and belly in", and that sums it up in a nutshell. Start with the posture, and the rest will follow.
If you act more confident, you will feel more confident. And other people will perceive you as more confident, which is an important asset to have. 
On the flip side, if you look scared and insecure, you will be treated accordingly. You won't be considered for promotions or leadership roles as much as your more confident peers, and can even been regarded as less competent, no matter how good you are at our work.  

Our body language is an important tool of communication. Much of our body language is passive and happens without us being aware  of it, and yet it tells the world what sort of person we are. If you can learn to control this, you can change how people see you - and the world opens up to you with endless possibilities.

Practice, and it will come - this is one of the sayings of my yoga teacher Kino MacGregor and a beautiful philosophy to live by. Every time you catch yourself pulling your shoulders up or slouching, remind yourself to put your head up, chest out and belly in. Your body will start to remember and do it automatically, and you will feel stronger, happier and more self-possessed. 

One day you may even be mistaken for someone 20 or 30 years younger! Such is the power of walking tall.   


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