Do you remember your parents telling you to stand tall? Teachers telling you to sit up straight at your desk? I certainly do, and falling short of having a 1m ruler strapped to my back like previous generations had been threatened, the “standing tall” thing was most definitely a thing. As I’ve got older (and wiser apparently) it’s become to mean more to me than just standing tall, shoulders back and “boobies out” – quote from my mum.
For a large part of my week I’m a yoga teacher so I live with a consciousness of my breath and how it feels to breathe and encouraging others to do the same. I know that if I stand tall my breath is stronger and deeper and therefore my entire body benefits from this. If I’m slouching then I’m generally tired, lethargic and irritable. When we slouch a whole lot of things happen to us physically. From reducing our lung capacity, to our organs, joints, muscles and connective tissues all not working to their full capability.
I found myself listening to sometimes controversial Canadian professor Jordon Patterson recently in an interview where he discusses this very point and how it impacts on us emotionally and mentally, how when we stand tall we somehow expose ourselves to the world, so we tend to slouch to protect ourselves in what can be a scary place at times.
I challenge you to think about the people you know who are in leadership or powerful positions, perhaps even actors who play strong roles. Think about how they stand and the type of energy they exude. Keeping in mind not all leaders exude qualities of positivity with their power – some use this against others for their own gain. Some of the greatest bullies in history remind us that height and stature matter. For example Hitler – always stood upon a step when he spoke to make himself appear taller to those he addressed.
Think of someone who appears to you to be depressed or suffer from a suppressing mental illness, or low self-esteem, or is dealing with grief and other deep sadness. You might notice that they seem to slump so as to appear smaller and not want to be recognised or be drawn into anyone’s attention caught deep within their own pain. Perhaps they hide behind dark make-up or a fringe? (generalisations of course). The same can be said for someone who feels they are too tall in their community – they too can feel that they need in fact lower themself physically so that they don’t stand out.
What is this fear that we have as human beings of standing out? Perhaps it comes from the fear that someone will tear us down, make fun of us or not really see us for who we are – perhaps just human vulnerability.
Over the years I have experienced the power of the breath that comes from having reasonably good posture. It’s weird that people have often commented on my stature and yet I have always been a little embarrassed by it.
When we stand tall we enable ourselves to breath deeply which has some very positive affects on our life. It can calm our nervous system, help us sleep better, make us less reactive, increases our energy levels and in turn lifts our mood.
Is it any surprise then that the huge increase in depression and mental health issues co-incide with our increased usage of screens and more sedentary desk jobs, which all promote a slumping of our physical stature and a tightening of muscles across our chest. A posture that sees a closing down over our heart centre – the very space that we need to open up so that we can look outward and beyond, and be able to see and connect with others. Can you see the irony in this as much as I can?
This world where we have never been more connected via the world-wide-web – yet have never been more disconnected with our school or community and sadly even those living under the same roof.
A dear cousin reminded me recently of a generalised observation comparing country people to those who live in bigger centres. He commented that people in the city spend most of their lives looking down; at screens, at footpaths so they don’t trip or run into someone, at the car that is just metres in front of them, the traffic lights, the person in front of them, in the coffee line and all the while surrounded by the hovering high rise buildings and densely built up and populated suburbs that can often lack green space. While country people tend to spend their lives looking up and outward; at the view, at the large expanse of long road ahead of them, at the beauty of the landscape and constantly surrounded by these big blue skies that envelope them and all that nature offers in abundance and in many different forms. With that can come an open mindedness and acceptance of change and the fragility of life that is quite obvious when I think about the people that I have come into contact having lived in both environments.
When we stand tall and breathe deeply, calmness, clarity and equanimity can become our default. At the most stressful times in my life it is the combination of breath and faith that has seen me find my stable force within and has helped me make some very quick decisions, yet seemingly the right ones in that moment. I know that my breath was the power at force in those times so that the adrenaline that was telling me to panic, was kept at baye while I my body absorbed the breath and told it to stay calm and think clearly.
So look at yourself in the mirror, or in the window as you walk by - hold your head high, stand tall, take a big breath and know that you are energising and calming yourself from deep within your soul and it is a new way of moving forward in the world.
Blessings to you,