A few years ago I watched a wonderful TED talk by Amy Cuddy, a researcher a Harvard University who studies body language, called “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” Throughout her half hour presentation, Cuddy reveals that by changing our body language, we can change not only others’ perceptions of us, but also our perception of ourselves — and even our own body chemistry.
But how? Cuddy’s research suggests that by practicing “power poses,” or poses that allow us to expand, open and literally take up more space, our thoughts, feelings and even hormone levels transform, allowing us to feel more powerful, in control and relaxed in any situation.
It occurred to me that there are also certain yoga postures that allow us to open, expand and stand tall, steady and strong. With this in mind, I developed a four-pose series to practice the morning before any high-pressure event, like an interview, new social situation, exam or public-speaking engagement — and I have to say, it’s been serving me well ever since!
Here are the four poses you need to know:
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
A great starting posture for any yoga practice, Tadasana teaches us how we should always stand: tall, strong and confident—yet relaxed.
To do this pose:
- Stand at the top of your mat with your feet about hip distance apart and parallel to each other, with your toes pointing forward.
- Engage your calves and thigh muscles, feeling your knees slightly lift as you do. Engage your core, and check that your pelvis is in a neutral position and not tilting backward or forward.
- Lift your chest slightly, move your shoulder blades down your back, and allow your shoulders to widen.
- Keep your arms and fingers slightly engaged with your palms facing forward, and allow them to hang down alongside your torso.
- Lengthen your neck and hold your head centered directly over your pelvis, with your chin parallel to the floor.
- Stay here for 10 deep breaths, feeling confidence and power flow from the soles of your feet to the top of your head.
Warrior II (Virabhadrasana II)
Yoga’s “warrior” poses do exactly what they sound like they should: develop strength, confidence and fierceness.
To do this pose:
- From Tadasana, step your right foot back so that your feet are about three to five feet apart. Your heels are in line with each other.
- Turn your right foot out so that it is pointing toward the long end of your mat (about 90 degrees). Your left foot should be facing the front of the mat, swivelling it slightly to the right (about 10 degrees).
- Raise your arms so that they are straight and pointing out to either side of you, check that your hands are in line with your shoulders and your shoulders are relaxed.
- Turn your head toward the left, and place your gaze on the tip of your left middle finger.
- Take a deep inhalation, and as you exhale, bend your left knee and glide your body toward the left until your left knee is directly over your ankle.
- Take 10 deep breaths here, and notice how balanced, strong and focused your body and mind feel. Then switch sides.
Goddess Pose (Utkata Konasana)
This pose is pretty much the definition of open, strong and expansive — because what’s more powerful than a goddess?
To do this pose:
- From Warrior II, straighten your bent leg, release your arms, and turn your feet so that they are facing the long end of the mat and parallel to each other again.
- Step your feet about four feet apart and then turn your feet out so that both sets of toes are pointing toward the corners of your mat.
- Bend your knees until they are directly over your toes, and then lower your hips until your thighs are parallel to the floor, or as far as you comfortably can.
- Inhale and then raise your arms up over your head with your palms facing forward. As you exhale, bend and lower your elbows so that they are at the same height as your shoulders, and forming a 90-degree angle.
- Check that your shoulders are down and away from your ears, your head is centered over your pelvis (and not jutting forward) and then gaze at a point in front of you.
- Take 10 deep breaths in this posture, focusing on the combination of expansiveness and steadiness this posture requires, and then return to Tadasana.
Tree Pose (Vrksasana)
Finish your session with this balancing posture that cultivates concentration and reminds us to have the strength to continue trying — even if we fail or fall.
To do this pose:
- From Tadasana, press your toes, heels and the balls of your feet firmly into your mat, as if rooting down, until you feel balanced and grounded in this posture.
- When you’re ready, bend your right leg, and bring the sole of your right foot to your left inner thigh. Engage your left quad and press your left foot into the floor firmly.
- Gaze at a spot a few feet in front of you, and once you find balance, inhale and bring your arms over your head.
- You can bring your palms together over your head, keep your hands directly over your shoulders with your palms facing toward each other, or my favorite: Extend your arms up and away at about a 45-degree angle from your shoulders, making your chest and arms as expansive and open as possible.
- Stay in this posture for 10 breaths, noticing the balance, strength and focus you’re capable of.
Some of these postures require quite a bit of strength, balance and flexibility, so if you find this sequence difficult or lose your balance while attempting it, don’t worry! Doing the poses “perfectly” is not necessary; the point of this practice is to teach your body to feel confident, open and strong, so that your mind can learn through example.
Teresa is a freelance writer and yoga teacher currently living in Sri Lanka. She loves to write about policies, ideas, and practices that promote a healthy planet and create healthy people.