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Many people understand there is a mind-body connection. Research findings suggest that there is a body-mind connection. This connection reveals a more visceral, primitive association between the body and the mind that can create a change in our mood. For example, the very way we physically hold our bodies can influence how we feel.

Our posture, gestures and facial expressions affect our mood. Changing our behavior by the simple act of sitting up straight can increase our sense of confidence. Power positions, such as sitting or standing in an expansive manner can help us to feel more in control and more self-assured. When standing with arms and elbows away from the body, a person feels stronger because there is an increase in testosterone and a decrease in cortisol level. We can even increase our will power by tensing muscles. Conversely, folding our arms, crossing our legs and sitting in a slouched position has the opposite effect.

To illustrate this connection would be when we feel unhappy. At these times, we don't seem to even have the energy to get off the couch or out of bed. It has been shown that how we lean, to the left or to the right, can affect our perception of size when looking at an object. If we stand in a balanced position we feel more level headed. If we smile, we tend to feel happier because our cortisol level, the stress hormone that triggers fight or flight reactions, goes down. And by smiling, we can actually lower our heart rate and blood pressure. Life is funnier when you smile.

Using relaxation techniques such as deep breathing can also calm our heart rate, ease tension and help us focus. When we take a deep breath, we deliver more oxygenated blood to our brains, which can positively affect thought processes and may increase motivation. By doing this, you can activate better cognitions that can assist in developing solutions to problems that were otherwise unavailable. By sitting, standing and breathing in a more intensive manner, we can make the act of reasoning a more purposeful physical and mental activity.

If power positions help us feel more in control of our behavior, then we are more motivated to change negative, self-defeating behaviors. When you feel your stomach flip or your breathing quicken, your body is telling you to stop and think about what is going on inside of you and what you are doing. Often these symptoms are a prelude to just being aware of our surroundings. We should listen to the messages our bodies tell us.

Changing body position, gesture and facial expression can also influence how well we deal with conflict. Your body will speak more loudly when you stand erect, when you look directly into the eyes of your opposition and when you speak in a mature, self-assured manner. In this way, you are informing your opponent that you are confident and secure in your belief. Your nonverbal behavior will convey the message that you are in control.

Consider the following:

1. Expansive standing positions can make a difference in decision making, feeling grounded and self-confidence and the impression you make on others.

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2. Smiling improves your mood. Life is much more fun when you smile because the happier you are, the more quality of life you experience.

3. Tensing your muscles helps to increase your willpower.

4. Deep breathing directs oxygenated blood to your brain which helps you have clearer and more accurate cognitions.

5. An erect posture helps us feel more in control and can more effectively quench verbal combat.

Dr. Lynda M. Gantt, Ph.D., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Santa Maria.