14 | BEWEEGREDEN | mei 2016
We may shrink and collapse our posture to
protect ourselves from danger when we feel
threatened because in prehistoric times this
reaction would protect us from predators as
we were still prey (Ogden, Minton, & Pain,
2006). In modern times we may still give the
same reaction when we worry or respond to
demands from our boss (Andrews, Wadiwalla,
Juster, Lord, Lupien, & Pruessner, 2007). Under
cognitive (social evaluative) threat compared
to the threat of being physically harmed we
may blank out and have difﬁculty thinking and
planning for future events (Fraizer & Mitra,
2007). When the body reacts defensively,
the whole body-mind focuses on immediate
survival. Rational and abstract thinking is
reduced as we attempt to escape (Ernst-
Vintila, Delouvée, & Roland-Lévy, 2011).
Emotions and thoughts affect our posture and
energy levels; conversely, posture and energy
affect our emotions and thoughts (Peper &
Lin, 2012). For example, Peper and Lin (2012)
have shown that when we are skipping our
energy increases signiﬁcantly versus walking
in a slouching posture for two minutes, which
diminishes energy levels. Furthermore, if you
have reported feeling chronically depressed
over the last two years, you experience a
signiﬁcant drop in subjective energy when
walking in a slouching posture for two minutes.
Posture also affects recall of positive or negative
memories; Wilson and Peper (2004) observed
that if you sit in a collapsed position, it is easier
to recall hopeless, helpless and powerless
memories compared to positive empowering
memories. In contrast, when participants sat in
an erect, upright posture it was easier to recall
positive empowering memories compared to
hopeless, helpless and powerless memories.
Body posture can project non-verbally how we feel (Coulson, 2004; Pitterman & Nowicki, 2004).
For example, when standing erect we occupy more space and tend to project power and authority to
others and to ourselves (Huang, Galinsky, Gruenfeld, & Guillory, 2010). When we feel happy, we walk
erect with a bounce in our step. We may jump with joy when we achieve our goals or collapse when
we receive bad news. More and more in contemporary life we sit collapsed for many hours with our
spine in ﬂexion. We crane our heads forward to read text messages, a tablet, a computer screen, or to
watch TV (Straker et al, 2008; Asunda, Odell, Luce, & Dennerlein, 2010). Our bodies collapse when we
think hopeless, helpless, powerless thoughts, or when we are exhausted. We tend to slouch and feel
“down” when depressed (Canales, Cordás, Fiquer, Cavalcante, & Moreno, 2010).
Erik Peper, PhD, BCB a, Annette Booiman, MSCT, BCB b, I-Mei Lin, PhD,
BCB c, & Richard Harvey, PhD a
We thank Dr. Donald Moss for editing and improving the manuscript.
“I couldn’t believe it, I could not think of any
positive thoughts while looking down!”
Increase strength and mood
1 The present article is reprinted with the permission of
the Biofeedback magazine
a Institute for Holistic Health Studies, San Francisco State
University, San Francisco, CA
b Biofeedback in Beweging, Wormer, The Netherlands
c Kaohsiung Medical University, Taiwan
Figure 1. Experimenter pressing down on the arm while
the subject resists the downward pressure
BEWEEGREDEN | mei 2016 | 15
These ﬁndings were conﬁrmed in an elegant
study on positive and negative words recall
while participants walked on a treadmill in
two different postures for which they received
feedback (Michalak, Rohde, & Troje, 2014).
In a slouched (depressed) posture, participants
recalled signiﬁcantly more negative words than
when they walked in an upright, erect body
posture as if they were happy.
Hormone levels also change in a collapsed
posture (Carney, Cuddy, & Yap, 2010). For
example, two minutes of standing in a
collapsed position signiﬁcantly decreased
testosterone and increased cortisol as compared
to a ‘power posture,’ which signiﬁcant
increased testosterone and decreased cortisol
while standing. As Cuddy pointed out in a
Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED)
talk, “By changing posture, you not only
present yourself differently to the world around
you, you actually change your hormones”
(Cuddy, 2012). As Booiman and Peper (2010)
reported, when an individual presents a more
erect posture to the world, the world around
him or her may respond in a more positive
way. For example, when a shy and slouched
person attempts to sit beside you at a party,
the ﬁrst thought of many people is, “Oh no,
not the whole evening.” While if that person
had an open and more erect posture and
asked to join your table, your ﬁrst thought
and response could be, ”Yes of course, please
sit down”. These subtle thoughts and non-
verbal communications affects people’s social
experiences (Booiman & Peper, 2010).
Subtle changes in posture affect our
psychophysiology, which is a phenomena well
known in sports as “psyching out” (Vealey, 2009).
When people are intimidated or somehow know
they cannot win, they often give up and slightly
collapse. When people are taught awareness
and change of posture in randomized controlled
trials with the educational Alexander technique,
the therapeutic Mensendieck Method, or other
somatic approaches, numerous
dysfunctions can be improved such as back and
balance (Little et al., 2008; Dennis, 1999; Jones,
1976; Haugstad et al., 2006; Haugstad et al.,
2008). The objectives of this study were: 1) to
explore how changes in body posture while
standing affect strength, as perceived by both
the experimenter and subject, and 2) to apply
this somatic feedback experience to encourage
awareness and facilitate changes in beliefs.
Participants: 33 physical therapists (5 males,
25 females, 3 not speciﬁed), average age 46.2
(SD = 12.4).
Procedure: In this study, all participants paired
up as ‘testers’ or ‘subjects’ and took turns
testing each other while standing either in an
erect or collapsed/slouched posture. Each pair
proceeded through a manual muscle testing
(MMT) procedure (Mendell, & Florence, 1990;
Schmitt, & Cuthbert, 2008) by raising each arm
and attempting to resist the steady downward
pressure applied by the tester to a forearm
near the wrists. The testers determined which
outstretched arm was stronger, then all of the
testing proceeded with the strongest arm. The
subjects stood either in an erect posture or
collapsed posture while they raised their arm
and attempted to resist the downward pressure
applied to their forearm near the wrists. The
order of collapsed or erect posture was counter-
balanced. The speciﬁc instructions were:
Stand behind your partner and ask her/him to
lift her/his right arm straight out as shown in
Figure 1. For each test, apply the same gentle
pressure downward on the right (or dominant)
forearm near the wrist while your partner
attempts to resist the downward pressure.
Apply enough pressure downward so that the
right arm begins to go down. Then relax and
repeat the same manual muscle test exercise
with the left (or non-dominant) arm. Then relax.
Thereafter use the arm that felt the strongest
and resisted the downward pressure the most.
Continue with the following sequence.
Half the subjects started with the slouched
position, followed by the erect/tall position
and the other half started with the erect
position followed by the slouched position.
The testers stood behind their partners so
there was no overt visible feedback of what
could be observed from the face of the
subjects by the testers. The subjects lifted
their strongest arm straight out and the tester
applied a gentle pressure downward at the
forearm so that the arm began to go down
while the subject attempted to resist the
downward pressure. After this manual muscle
test procedure, the subjects were asked to
relax and let their arm hang beside their body.
The subject then stood in the second position
(either slouched or erect/tall) and again
lifted the same arm straight out. The tester
applied the same manual muscle test pressure
downward so that arm began to go down
while the subjects attempted to resist the
downward pressure. Again, after the test, the
subjects were asked to relax and let their arm
hang beside their body.
Both subjects and testers recorded their
subjective experience, rating the effort they
perceived on the scale from -3 (weaker) to 0
(no change) to +3 (stronger), while resisting
the downward pressure of the arm down.
These perceptions of strength were rated while
standing erect as well as in a slouched posture.
An Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) showed that
subjects subjectively felt stronger and were
more able to resist the downward pressure
when they stood in an erect/tall posture as
compared to a collapsed posture F(1, 58) =
85.9, p < .001). 98% of the subjects felt that
their arm was stronger when standing erect.
ANOVA also showed the ‘testers’ felt that the
subjects were much stronger in their ability to
resist the downward pressure in the erect/tall
versus collapsed position F(1, 59) = 74.6,
p < .001), as shown in Figure 2. The subjective
rating of the subjects and the testers pressing
down on the arm were not signiﬁcantly
different as measured with t-test (erect p =
0.46; collapse p = 0.50).
Figure 2. The perceived strength to resist the down pres-
sure on the arm in either the erect or collapsed position
as observed by the subjects and the testers.
“Don’t slouch! How many times do I have
to tell you to sit up straight?”
16 | BEWEEGREDEN | mei 2016
There was a negative correlation between
perceived strength and severity of reported
depression (r = -.4).
The subjective experience of strength is
a metaphor of how posture affects our
thoughts, emotions, hormones and immune
system. When slouching the subjects
experienced less strength to resist the
downward pressure and feels weaker. In
this state it is much more challenging to
project authority, to think creatively, and
to solve problem successfully. Obviously,
the loss of strength relates to the change
in the shoulder/body biomechanics and
affects muscle activation recorded from the
trapezius, medial and anterior deltoid when
the person resists the downward applied
pressure. The SEMG of the upper trapezius,
medical and anterior deltoid muscles is
signiﬁcantly higher when erect as compared
to slouched position (Peper et al, 2015).
In the slouched position, the subjects felt more
hopeless, helpless, and powerless. Memories
are embedded and conditioned with our body
posture and body postures covertly evokes the
associated memories, thoughts, and emotions
as well as shifts our energy level.
In a therapeutic/educational setting with
sceptical clients, this exercise can be repeated
numerous times and the outcome will be
the same, no matter which arm, which order
of position or how often it is repeated. The
clients can use the change in body posture
(e.g. collapsed to erect posture) to learn
to identify internal and external cues that
trigger the change in posture, and substitute
alternative behavior (Peper, Lin, et al., in press).
For example, students at San Francisco State
University have often reported that they blank
out on exams or class presentations while in a
collapsed posture. When they become aware
of their collapsed posture, and then shift to
standing erect, in an assertive power posture
while breathing slowly and diaphragmatically,
they report feeling calmer and can think again.
Similarly, clients who are experiencing worry,
sadness, and discomfort may be able to shift
their posture and look upward with their eyes.
In this new posture they often ﬁnd it is easier
to think of positive options.
The power of posture on memory recall can
also be experienced in the following exercise
(Wilson & Peper, 2004; Gorter & Peper, 2011).
Posture Affects Memory Recall
Sit comfortably on a chair and then collapse
downward so that your back is rounded like
the letter C. Let your head tilt forward and
Sitting in an upright position
(photo by Jana Asenbrennerova). Reprinted by
permission from Gorter and Peper (2011).
Sitting in a collapsed position
(photo by Jana Asenbrennerova). Reprinted by
permission from Gorter and Peper (2011).
You can lighten your mood and give
yourself the opportunity to be empowered
and hopeful when you shift your posture
Increase strength and mood
BEWEEGREDEN | mei 2016 | 17
look at the ﬂoor between your thighs as
shown in Figure 3.
While in this position, recall hopeless, helpless,
powerless, and depressive memories one after
the other for thirty seconds.
Then, let go of those thoughts and images
and, without changing your position and
still looking downward, recall empowering,
positive, and happy memories one after the
other for thirty seconds.
Shift position and sit up erect, with your
spine slightly arched with a functional curve
and your head held tall while looking slightly
upward as shown in Figure 4.
While sitting in this position, recall as many
hopeless, helpless, powerless, or depressive
memories one after the other for thirty seconds.
Then, let go of those thoughts and images.
Without changing position and while still
looking upward, recall as many empowering,
positive, and happy memories one after the
other for thirty seconds.
Ask yourself: In which position was it easier
to evoke negative memories and in which
position was it easier to evoke empowering,
positive, and happy memories?
Overwhelmingly participants report that in
the downward position it was easier to recall
negative and hopeless memories. By contrast
in the upright position they report it was easier
to recall positive and empowering memories. In
many cases, participant reported that when they
looked down, they could not evoke any positive
and empowering memories. It is not surprising
that when people feel optimistic about the
future, they say, “Things are looking up.”
Mind and body affect each other. The increase
in depression and fatigue may be in part be
caused by sitting or standing in a collapsed
posture at work, at home and/or walking in
a slouched pattern. When an individual shifts
from a collapsed, slouching body posture to
an erect posture or switches from walking in a
slouching position to skipping with one’s head
held high, a sense of subjective energy may
signiﬁcantly increase (Peper & Lin, 2012; Peper,
You can lighten your mood and give yourself
the opportunity to be empowered and
hopeful when you shift your posture. When
feeling down, it is okay to acknowledge
the feeling and say, “At this moment, I am
feeling overwhelmed, and I’m not sure what
to do.” When your energy is low, again
acknowledge this to yourself: “At this moment
I feel exhausted,” or “At this moment, I feel
tired,” or whatever phrase ﬁts the feeling.
As you acknowledge it, be sure to state “at
this moment.” The phrase “at this moment”
is correct and accurate. It implies what is
occurring without a self-suggestion that the
feeling will continue, which helps to avoid the
idea that this was, is, and will always be. The
reality is that whatever we are experiencing
is always limited to this moment, as no one
knows what will occur in the future. This
leaves the future open to change and new
Remind yourself that you can shift your mood
by changing your posture as well as with
movement (Martinsen, 2008; Carek, Laibstain,
& Carek, 2011). For example, when you are
outside, focus on the clouds moving across the
sky, the ﬂight of birds, or leaves on the trees.
In your home, you can focus on some inspiring
art on the wall, or photos of family members
you love and who love you. To increase access
to positive feelings, hang the positive pictures
slightly higher on the wall so that you have to
look up. You can also put pictures above your
desk or as a screen saver on your laptop or
smartphone to remind and to evoke positive
memories. In addition, when using your car,
adjust the inside rear view mirror so that you
sit more erect to see. Observe that at the end
of the day you tend to readjust the mirror
when you are tired. Instead of adjusting the
mirror, adjust your posture by arching your back
slightly while breathing out and stretch your
neck to look upward with a smile. Or, before
driving away, walk a little bit farther by putting
your car at the end of the parking lot instead of
as close as possible to the front door.
An essential part of the holistic approach to
health and wellness involves incorporating
awareness of body posture, movement and
providing some form of somatic feedback as
part of the therapeutic and patient education
process. Without teaching that a collapsed
body posture may impact the healing process,
only one half of the mind-body equation that
underlies health and illness will be impacted.
The body affects the mind/emotions just as the
mind/emotions affect the body; shifting posture
will shift mood. The somatic feedback approach
is another strategy for clients for whom
cognitive therapy approaches are challenging.
Using the concepts derived from these studies,
apply them to yourself and clients.
Each time you collapse or have negative
thoughts, change your position to a more
erect position. It only takes two minutes of
posture change to initiate changes in your
hormones, energy levels, strength and moods.
These two minute changes done often may
change your life. Think about—and change--
your posture while standing in line, sitting at
the computer waiting for the microwave to
heat the food, or the printer warm up, etc.
Finally, instruct yourself to get up and move
about frequently to prevent low energy and
depression. Stretch and walk around, stand
straight and feel the weight on both feet while
you imagine you are like a tree -- rooted in the
earth while reaching upward to the light.
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After having done these two practices, I realized how powerful my body effects my mood
and energy level. Now each time I am aware that I collapse, I change my posture while
breathing exhaling, and often stand up and stretch. To my surprise, I have so much more
energy and my negative depressive mood has lifted.
I never realized that changing my posture in a more straight position makes my exercises so
much easier. Now I can repeat them many more times with less effort.
--21 year old male student
Correspondence should be addressed to:
Annette Booiman, Biofeedback in beweging,
Roerdompstraat 35, 1531 XE Wormer,
tel 075-6426265, email@example.com,
The clients can use the change in body posture to learn
to identify internal and external cues that trigger the change
in posture, and substitute alternative behavior