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What your body language articulates

Sarah Steimer

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Build a foundation that supports both your physical and executive functions.

The past year has left many of us hunched over our computers, backs curved like cooked shrimp. But body language — even over video calls — speaks volumes. Rachel Cossar, founder of Choreography for Business LLC, explains how we can structure our posture in a way that exudes confidence without dimming anyone else’s presence.

And while it’s easy to think top-down, we recommend reviewing this guide the same way you should build awareness in the body: Start at the bottom. We’re already hyperaware of what is happening in our heads and minds, so Cossar recommends we start by bringing our attention to our feet.

FEET

“Feet can help us, No. 1, stay grounded,” Cossar said. “Then, No. 2, build a posture that’s actually sustainable. If you build something from the top down, if the foundation isn’t there, the whole thing comes crumbling down, and it becomes very difficult to maintain an open and upright posture.”

Whether standing or sitting, have your feet planted firmly on the ground, about hip-width apart. If the feet are too narrow, it can put tension on the hips. But if the stance is too wide, it can come off as aggressive. Then actively press your feet into the ground, which Cossar said allows you to connect with a reassuring, grounded energy. “It’s almost like a battery-powered posture.”

We’re physical beings, we take nonverbal cues from people constantly. Seeing those indicators of being able to hold yourself upright, being able to be aligned from a physical perspective is an indication of power and strength.

KNEES

“If we’re in a sympathetic nervous system space triggered by some kind of threat, perceived threat or discomfort, many of us lock our knees immediately,” Cossar said. Locking your knees blocks your circulation and puts you into a stress-response state of mind, so aim to keep your knees soft.

PELVIS

“I always tell clients that you want to pretend like your pelvis is a bowl full of water,” Cossar said. “You don’t want the contents of that bowl to spill out through the front or the back.”

The tilt of the pelvis can affect the rest of the core. For example, tucking the pelvis — which would spill water from the back of the pelvic bowl — can cause the shoulders to round forward and give us a closed posture.

ABDOMEN

Cossar recommends engaging the abdominal muscles — not sucking the stomach in or trying to make the belly disappear, but instead activating the core to support the back.

STERNUM

Picture a light shining onto your audience from your sternum: If you have a large audience, your posture should reflect that with the sternum slightly elevated — as though that sternum light could illuminate the whole crowd. But if you’re only talking to one or two people, you shouldn’t shine quite so bright: Direct your body language in a way that the hypothetical light beam would be about parallel with the ground.

SHOULDERS

“There’s this pressure to arbitrarily pin your shoulders back,” Cossar said. “That’s actually very hard to maintain. It can also cause a lot of stress and tension in the back of the neck, which is something we’re trying to actively avoid.”

She prefers to cue people to lift their shoulders toward their ears, then lower the shoulders in an expansive, outward horizontal line. Pinching the shoulders back, on the other hand, can make you appear smaller.

HEAD

In an effort to appear taller, many people tilt their chin upward — but this can cause tension in the back of the neck. Instead, feel for lifting through the crown of the skull as though a string were attached from the top of your head to the ceiling. “Think about when you go to the doctor’s office,” Cossar said. “When measuring your height, they always get you to reach up with the uppermost part of your head.” 

 

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