Body Language: Expressing the Unsaid

Either consciously or subconsciously our bodies express so much, often what we do not speak. It shows feelings, thoughts, personality traits, moods, and habits. Sometimes the way we hold our bodies reflects how we see ourselves or displays the subtleties of how we self-comfort. When we begin to notice the physical presence of ourselves and others, we begin to understand another language. 

In some cultures and communities, smiling is an integral part of communication. For those who have been to big cities like New York or London, smiling is received differently. When appropriate, smiling is a beautiful way to let others know they are being acknowledged or welcomed. There is a social psychology term I can’t seem to remember or find, but it is the word for the situation where something strange or awkward is happening and you make eye contact with someone else in the room. In that moment there is an understanding and agreement between the two of you about the strangeness or hilarity in the situation. Another example of the term is when you’re in a store and find a baby staring at you. Between you and the baby might be smiles or exaggerated facial expressions that feel like a private conversation since the caregiver isn’t aware. Smiling connects us to others and shows support. It casts light to brighten the day and invites humor into daily life. 

Seeds of Happiness

Have you ever noticed how you habitually sit or how certain situations and people influence the way your body is positioned? I’ve recently become more aware of my body language because an increasing amount of people in a number of situations have asked me if I’m cold. A little confused, I answer “no” then realize that I’m sitting or standing in a very closed position. Usually, I’m most comfortable sitting in a ball, or I’ll at least keep one arm across the midsection of my body. To those who aren’t used to seeing me sit this way, it looks like I’m always cold and uncomfortable. Most of the time this is my most natural position, no further analysis there! I feel comfortable when I hold myself tight, and usually when I sit tight it means I’m relaxed enough in the situation and among the people present. Although other times, I take on similar positions, that with further analysis indicate I’m intentionally or unintentionally activating boundaries. Having my arm across me is a both a form of protection and shows that I don’t like to take up too much space.

Our posture can relay all sorts of information. If we’re hunched or slouched, it could mean there is some self-consciousness, a need to be energized maybe with more water/nutrition/sleep, or that we need more foundational support. Some believe that if the space between your eyebrows is scrunched, you’re concentrating too hard and your third eye is closed. On dates or while flirting some people make note of which way the other person’s legs are crossed in order to determine if the person is interested in them. Some people will shift in their seats a lot which could be difficulty paying attention or discomfort in the conversation. Sometimes what might look like a nervous habit is actually helpful for the person to focus on what they are saying. So, while body language communicates numerous messages, it can be tricky to know exactly what it means in other people. It’s important to remember that while some of us may feel we are good at reading others’ body language, verbal confirmation is still necessary before drawing conclusions and making judgements. 

Awareness and adjustments of our bodies can do wonders for mindset and presence. There are a couple of TEDTalks that come to mind when I think of changing body postures to change the mind. Some people swear by standing in the superhero position to boost their confidence for the day. By making subtle adjustments like unclenching your jaw, dropping your shoulders, or raising your head, you break yourself from a thought pattern. If you’re all tense and droopy, your thoughts probably aren’t very encouraging! So, shift your body to shift your thoughts to shift your overall state of being. This works sort of like creating an affirmation or mantra. Your awareness is seeing a mind-body connection, how there is a symbiotic relationship. Also, this is important for how you would like to present yourself to the world. The angry baby below may not realize he is stamping his foot and clenching his fists, but others can recognize these as expressions of anger. In the same way, I might not realize my arms are crossed, but other people might see this as an expression that I don’t want to engage or be there. I don’t necessarily want to broadcast my inner conflicts to just anyone around me, so if I don’t want to say it, I try not to show it in my body either. This special attention I give to my body expressions also helps me to understand what I need and feel more authentic. You can also learn to be more intentional with your body cues. 

Angry Baby in Vigeland Park, Oslo, Norway

Additionally, when we notice how our bodies feel in the presence of others, it can say a lot about them. I recently read an article about a form of somatic therapy where the therapist might for example, feel the need to move their arm. The therapist will ask the client if they can move their own arm and maybe invite the client to join. When the therapist is deeply in-tune to their own body, they recognize more of what is behind the words of the clients. This often leads to “breakthroughs” that typical talk-therapy might not reach. I bring this up because when in the presence of others, we can notice some sensations in our bodies that might be coming directly from the other person. We don’t have to point them out necessarily, but it is a good signal of some potential boundaries needed or a way to more deeply understand and empathize.

Posing in photos is an important aspect for social media presence. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to photo poses, but I have an idea of what looks good(even if I don’t execute it quite right). People choose particular angles and tall stances for a look of confidence, pensive or candid looking shots for a more natural and relaxed feel, or test out a yoga pose on the mountain they’d just climbed for something proud and individual. Because people tend to share only the photos that are personally flattering and that express the image they want to convey, we see lots of bold, confident people out there. That’s fantastic! However, we don’t know how many times it took them to get it right, how long it took them to hit “share,” and how often they “refresh” the page to check for new likes. Photo-posing can be deceiving, and for those who are not naturally camera-dominating, it can be overwhelming. I find that some of my favorite pictures of myself are not always the ones that are my most flattering. I like the ones that express a very true position. I’m sitting pretty stiffly on the rock below, but I always sit like that! It’s not stiff in the sense that I carefully posed for it or felt uncomfortable, but it shows that I typically look a bit off while sitting. Could I have done things differently, looked somewhere else, hands more gently resting? Yes! Would it have looked better? Probably! There was very little thought about the photo, but it was a really great day. My point is that generally we look good when we feel good.

Ilkley, England

What does your body express? Go stand a little taller and let your body do some of the talking!

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