Power posing

I first came across the theory of power posing last month. It was an article about boosting children’s confidence and self-worth in a school environment. Just imagine, instead of a guest speaker waxing lyrical at a school assembly, the children will instead hold power poses to boost their self-esteem. But what is the theory behind the pose? What is it supposed to enhance?

Have you tried the Superhero pose?

Amy Cuddy, a social psychologist at Harvard, believes that certain physical postures can change body chemistry and thinking. The quintessential Superhero pose – SuperMan, WonderWoman – demonstrate how we can hold our bodies in a way that not only makes us “feel” powerful and confident, but we begin to act and become more self-confident people. So, we are taken on a journey which starts by faking a certain feeling and behaviour but ends in our believing that we actually embody that feeling or behaviour, (that is the theory).

“Standing like a Superhero for as little as two minutes changes our testosterone and cortisol levels, increases our appetite for risk, causes us to perform better in job interviews, and generally configures our brains to cope well in stressful situations.” (Amy Cundy, Ted Talk)

I suppose that a great deal of our everyday body language does provide evidence to the world of who we are ‘underneath!’ If we close our hands and arms, feel our points of vulnerability, gravitate our heads to the floor, we may well present to the world as anxious, lost, frightened, dis-interested. If we hold our heads high, breathe deeply through our chest, eyeball the subject of conversation, we may appear engaged, enlivened, or even comfortable in our own skin.

What might a theological perspective be on this subject. What might a theological pose look like? I have seen many Christians use body language as part of their prayer and worship experience. Reaching out to God through our bodies is an ancient form of adoration. But how might theology address Cuddy’s theory? I think that the debate might start by defining ‘power’ which is a dangerous word according to scriptural revelation. Human power is nearly always attempted to be gained at the detriment of an awareness of God. There are many examples of this throughout the story of God and his people. What is deeply healthy and theologically sound about Cuddy’s assertion is that it is wrong for people to feel lost, broken, shamed, behaving like a second or third class citizen. Too often, we see people in the street, in church, in our own homes perhaps, struggling to simply be.

The gospels – four short biographies describing Jesus’ life – speak about a man who gave up everything so that people could walk tall and believe in themselves as well as God, his Father. Jesus did not, to my knowledge, go about the Judaean countryside power-posing. He did, however, share the most wonderful wisdom to those who would believe: “love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.” That surely is the mandate for any superman or wonderwoman!

Learn more about Power Posing and the Christian response this Sunday at St Michael & All Angels, Summertown, 8am and 10am. No matter where you are on the journey of faith, you are always welcome at St Michael & All Angels! See what’s going on by clicking here which will transport you to our website.


Author: Gavin Knight

The Revd Gavin Knight has been the Vicar of St Michael & All Angels, Summertown in the Oxford Diocese since September 2011. After serving his title at St Alphege, Solihull, Gavin became parish priest of St Andrew's Fulham Fields in London. He moved to Wales in 2005 becoming Chaplain to Monmouth School. He is married to Jo, a clinical psychologist, and they have three sons.