I was watching this TED talk the other day, about how you body language shapes who you are. It really got me thinking.
There are so many anecdotes and testimonials from hoopers about how hula hooping makes them feel confident, free, alive, likethe best version of themselves, and how hooping has increased their confidence, self esteem, body positivity, and self acceptance - me included. I have been thinking about how hula hooping changes posture, body movements and how we carry ourselves, and how this could affect ourselves outside of hooping life.
You can use the way that hooping makes you feel to help you in non hooping situations (unfortunately there are some!) when you need a boost. When you feel scared, angry, nervous, insecure, depressed - you will find your body language, facial expressions and posture all change to reflect these feelings. You may find you hunch your shoulders, your head lowers, you physically make yourself smaller, your breathing becomes shallower and more rapid (there is a calming, relaxing breathing pattern to try below). Not only do these changes reflect these negative feelings, they reinforce them.
If you notice your default body position as you are standing or walking, you may find - especially before you started hooping - that your shoulders are hunched, you may have resting bitch face, your back is slouching, you're head is slightly down. If you then assume hooping position, you straighten up, you head is up, shoulders back, you have a dynamic stance, a smile maybe, and you are engaged and focused. Do you feel any different? Do you feel more positive?
Some of the main points in my beginners hula hooping classes are:
- Head up - don't look down
- Don't hunch or bend over while waist hooping
- Keep your spine tall and back straight
- Keep you head up and don't look down (once is never enough, I say it a LOT!)
- Don't forget to smile!
All of these are elements of body language that are associated with confidence. Next time you are feeling in need of a confidence boost - try making these changes and see how it feels. Changing your physiology can trick your brain into feeling a different way - the relationship between thought and body language is a two way street. The mind and body subconsciously strive for cohesion in thought and deed. By making your body adopt the markers of positivity, it can jump start a more positive mindset.
When you put your body into a confident, dynamic posture for hooping and especially when you lost the concentration face and get the smile on, your brain takes note and you feel confident and dynamic. This is a really powerful tool.
So how can you use your physiology to change your mindset? Try a few exercises that will help to train your brain into working with you and not against you. Use these in any situation where you feel the negative mindset start to take over. If you go through this often enough, it will become automatic behaviour when faced with a stressful situation!
- Stop, think, become aware of how you are holding your body, your facial expression, the muscles that you are clenching, how shallowly you might be breathing.
- Relax every muscle from head to toe. Stand up really, properly straight, with your head up, shoulders back, chest out, legs straight and feel hip or shoulder width apart. If you are sitting - you can stay sitting, but follow the instructions sitting down.
- Think back to a time when you felt confident/happy/proud of yourself. What were you doing? How do you remember it? Do you picture it with bright colours, stereo sound, how does it make you feel? Put yourself back in that moment. Was it hooping? A lot of mine are! Think about how you are holding yourself as you are remembering this. Now keep hold of those feelings and keep your body in that strong, confident posture as you return to the present. Do you feel any different? Keep the confident, happy, proud version of you right there and don't them go, you got this!
- Notice your breathing pattern. Under stress and duress your breathing pattern can change, you may find you breathe with shallow breaths and more rapidly. This is your body entering 'fight or flight' mode, and this increases the feeling of panic or anxiety. Take control of this - try following the 456 breathing pattern below even if it feels unnatural and impossible at first, it can help.
Start by fully exhaling. Breathe deeply - a deep breath in through the nose for the count of four, hold for five, breathe out fully through the mouth for a count of six. Repeat and repeat more. A lot of the feelings and reactions associated with anxiety and panic attacks are exacerbated by the shallow breathing pattern we use when under stress or in fight or flight mode. You can reduce these feelings by forcing yourself to exhale fully after every deep breath. This enables your body to take in adequate oxygen but more importantly allows your lungs to exhale all the carbon dioxide produced, allowing for a full intake of oxygen on the next breath.
You don't need to be a hula hooper to use physiology to improve your mental health but it is a great way of incorporating these powerful physiological changes into your everyday life.