Reflecting on Amy Cuddy & the Power of Presence

Last week, I went to a lecture at the 92nd St Y Lecture Series starring Amy Cuddy, interviewed by her BFF Susan Cain. It was an awesome dynamic: Susan Cain, a self-proclaimed introvert who has made explaining introversion to the world her life’s work, interviewing a woman whose life work is making people – including introverts – exude a powerful presence wherever they go and in whatever they do. That and, as I mentioned, these two mainstream academics, are actually very good friends. Their whole interaction was like watching two friends enjoy one another at a ski lodge lounge (where they talked of vacationing together the previous week). As a result, the 92nd St Y lecture hall felt more intimate than ever, and it made for some seriously juicy conversation from my favorite TED speaker.

I became attracted to Amy Cuddy because of the above TED Talk. As a yoga teacher (I think about “posing” in powerful ways in terms of the asana practice quite frequently) and as a third grade teacher that specializes in social-emotional learning, the idea of power posing really resonated as a technique that is useful, tangible, and accessible. My roommate, a Ph. D candidade in neuropsychology introduced me to her TED Talk and it transformed how I showed up for my first big public speaking event of the year: a meet the faculty night at the school I work at (I know, on a different scale than most, but parents are nerve-wracking!). Then, I realized I could use it with children: having my third graders power pose before a test or an oral presentation of their poetry. The effects made and still make my heart swell.

In terms of the yoga practice, I learned, when I listened to Cuddy’s talk, that I can incorporate it into my yoga teaching by making the concept of expansiveness a core part of the practice. Expansiveness means to almost hold the world in your hands, to take up space intentionally, and to believe that there is enough space out there – physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually – for everyone to take up a lot of it.

Here were my key takeaways from the talk:

  • Just as we frame talk of mindfulness as a mind-body connection, Cuddy frames talk about presence in terms of a body-mind connection. A body-mind connection is the idea that how we physically carry ourselves can change or reinforce how we mentally and emotionally feel. 
  • We store trauma in the body. Similarly, we can recover from trauma through the body. This experience feels abundantly true for me and I am forever grateful for all the work that is currently being done around trauma across disciplines. Hearing Amy Cuddy speak about her own car accident trauma and to see her powerful recovery from it was unbelievably inspiring.
  • She talked about a study on yoga for war veterans. This study showed that yoga, in small, daily practices had the potential to dramatically decrease PTSD responses. The two key words in there are “small” and “daily.”
  • There is a serious gendering of how we carry ourselves in the world (i.e. man-spread). Ladies, let’s start taking up some more space!
  • Speaking of which, Cuddy actually specializes in studying the -isms. She did not identify as a scholar on feminism or anti-racism. Instead, she identified as a scholar on sexism and racism. There’s something socially prodding about studying from a psychological standpoint that which is known as deeply problematic in the world.
  • Lastly, there difference between presence and charisma. Presence, she said, is for you to feel like you’ve done your best while charisma is the feeling that other people saw you in a certain – charismatic – way.

MLK Quotes to Fuel Your Practice

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Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day! I’ve had the joy of celebrating this amazing, service-filled life for about a week now as I worked with fellow elementary school teachers to plan lessons and learn about what has been effective in social justice education. Then, today, I attended a yoga class where MLK’s legacy was ever-present as well. It was so cool to see the malleability of this great man whose footprint is left on classrooms, yoga studios, NYC graffiti, and peoples’ hearts.

Here are some of his humbling, gorgeous words to fuel your practice for days to come, grouped by category of yoga philosophy!

Dharma: Purpose

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

A riot is the language of the unheard.

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.

Guru: From Darkness to Light / Teacher

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.

Ahimsa: Nonviolence

Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

We who in engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Nonviolence is a powerful and just weapon. which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.

Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit.

Isvara Pranidhanadva: Devotion

You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.