“Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges”; A Book Review by Diana McCullough

Amy Cuddy splashed onto the popular culture scene in 2012 when she was featured as a TED Talk lecturer. A Harvard Business School professor and psychologist, Cuddy advocates changing the way we use our bodies, which in turn changes the way we are thinking, feeling, and acting. With Harvard colleagues, Cuddy designed a series of experiments to answer this question: If nonverbal expressions of power are hardwired, and our emotions are as much a result as they are a cause of our physical expressions, then what would happen if we adopt expansive postures even when we are feeling powerless?

Results from their first experiment suggested that, indeed, the body shapes the mind. Changes to a subsequent experiment measured not only the subjects’ self-reported feelings and willingness to take risks, but also measured hormonal changes. Subjects employing a Power Pose (feet apart, hands on hips, head up, eye gaze out) had increased testosterone (the assertiveness hormone), while cortisol (the stress hormone) decreased. Decades ago Frederick Matthias Alexander pre-figured Cuddy’s present day research in his 1941 book, The Universal Constant in Living: “not many…are aware how intimately the individual’s use of self modifies the functioning and reaction of his whole being.” (p.6)

The meeting ground for The Alexander Technique and Cuddy’s work is the mind/body connection. Cuddy calls this “synergy of body with mind” and Alexander, “optimal use of the Self.” To encourage synergy or optimal use, The Alexander Technique begins with the principle and practice of inhibition, which AT teachers refer to as ‘stopping’ or ‘pausing.’ This stop/pause gives the space needed to make a new choice and allows the body/mind’s inherent wisdom to emerge. Cuddy writes about stopping as well and in this quote sounds much like Mr. Alexander on one of his verbal rambles:

Doing nothing was doing something….Doing nothing reminded me that I do have some power…not only was doing nothing doing something, doing nothing was also much better than doing something, at least the kind of something I’d been doing.” (p. 251)

In Alexander Technique practice, we are taught to give ourselves directions after inhibiting habit. Cuddy writes of “nudging” or “the ultimate tiny tweak” which she describes as a subtle, often imperceptible movement. She states that “nudges” are choices, the very thing that Alexander Technique students are encouraged to make after they have inhibited their habit.

Cuddy advocates “being present with good posture” using these prompts: “Sit up or stand up straight. Keep your shoulders back and your chest open. Keep your chin up! Pull your shoulders back, unfurl, and power up.” Alexander Technique lessons could greatly enhance and improve the benefits of Cuddy’s Power Pose and in fact, AT colleague Imogen Ragone has created a two-minute audio combining AT Directions and Cuddy’s Power Pose instructions. This audio recording is available free of charge by subscribing to Imogen’s newsletter, BodyIntelligence News.

Cuddy, Amy. Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges. New York, NY: Little, Brown, and Co., 2015. Hardback, 344 pp., $28.00. ISBN 978-0-316-25657-5. Littlebrown.com

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