Three meditations on arms akimbo
By Nancy B. Loughlin
Published in News Press on May 12, 2015
We all pose, and we have our favorites.
“Why do you always stand with your hands on your hips?” a friend once asked me.
It’s just what I do, I thought.
But as I recently stood in a circle with 15 other people, I noticed that I was the only one with arms akimbo, and I looked and felt silly.
According to Amy Cuddy, social psychologist with Harvard Business School, standing with your hands on your hips is an expression of personal power.
Cuddy began her viral lecture on power poses standing in front of a giant Wonder Woman image. YouTube it. In her satin tights, fighting for our rights, Wonder Woman epitomizes the power pose: legs in a wide stance while her hands rest on her hips. She’s unafraid to get in other people’s space. She is open and expansive.
Meanwhile, people who sit stooped over, cross their arms or legs or, in any way, shrink their bodies are communicating powerlessness, according to Cuddy.
She explained that people who exemplify the two key leadership qualities of confidence and low stress tend to have higher levels of testosterone along with lower levels of cortisol. Those hormonal levels can be manipulated by power poses, Cuddy’s research suggests. Cuddy said that simply stepping into a power pose such as stretching out or standing with your hands on your hips for as short a time as two minutes, testosterone levels rose and cortisol levels fell in experiment subjects.
I can work a room, and in the face of ugly conflict, I can stay cool. In my professional life, I have risen to leadership positions by either having the confidence to pursue those roles or by having my skills recognized by the powers that be.
But, perhaps it’s not entirely due to what I can do. Maybe years of standing with my hands on my hips has been jacking my body chemistry, enhancing my self-esteem and patina of empowerment.
The Third Chakra
Chakras are vortices of energy in the subtle body that record and process life experience. When unblocked, the energy flows from earth to sky and back, and the result is balance. Achieving this balance is one of many reasons I practice yoga.
The third chakra, manipura chakra, is in the gut. It’s the will fire pit, and when this chakra is unencumbered, it’s possible to act from a position of empowerment and self-esteem.
In terms of yoga postures, this chakra’s strength is enhanced not only with core work but with twists, side bends and Triangle Pose.
I’ve been standing with my hands on my hips for a long time, so my third chakra is open, very open. The problem is when this chakra is over-stoked, the imbalance is self-righteousness, stress, out-of-control ego and an inability to trust others.
There can be too much of a good thing.
The Anatomical Explanation
It’s tough to find a single photo of myself with my arms at my sides. My hands are on my hips or in my pockets. If not, my arms are folded, overhead, or stretched out, or I lean an elbow anywhere.
When I was in that circle of 15, we were practicing Mountain Pose. Our arms were at our sides.
We held this pose for about three minutes before the instructor started talking again. With relief, my hands instinctively moved to my hips.
I was the only one. Everyone else’s arms were still comfortably at their sides, and they looked open and receptive. I felt conspicuous, and, frankly, I looked impatient, confrontational and bossy. That’s not what I want to communicate, so I dropped my arms.
But I couldn’t do it. I grabbed my hips again. “Stop it!” I scolded myself and slapped my arms down only to have them snap back. I crossed my arms over my chest, and I craved pockets.
Why do I do this?
I forced my arms to the agony of my sides again and became a witness. My entire upper back throbbed and burned the longer the weight of my arms tugged on the cramps of my upper trapezius. I experimented and slid my hands to my hips, and the fire faded.
I reveled in my discovery. Sure, maybe I can be sassy, and I could work on some blockages.
But I’m a writer. For the last 15 years, I’ve been spending hours every day hunched over my computer, knotting up my back in my own peculiar way. I knew I could fix this with stretch breaks and a whole lot of myofascial release.
“You’re flashing your power center at me,” the yoga instructor laughed. I hadn’t realized that I was still sliding my hands up and down my body.
She had no idea.