As a new yoga teacher, I attended a five-day retreat with yoga teaching legend Judith Lasater. The expertise in the room was overwhelming. I spent the first several days in complete “I’m not worthy” mode, which I embodied in my posture.
I was making myself increasingly small – head down, eyes on the floor, shoulders hunched. Then Judith introduced us to the “Pavarotti Mudra”.
How to Embody Pavarotti’s Posture
For non-yogi’s, a mudra is a gesture or shape we take to embody an energy or intention. Pavarotti was one of the greatest opera singers of our time and an almost larger-than-life human.
Judith described seeing him at Candlestick Park. He took the stage to thunderous applause and stood there – feet wide, arms spread in the air, chest broad, head back – soaking in the adoration.
Check out a photo here of “Pavarotti’s Posture!”
It’s entirely possible he was feeling unworthy as he took the stage. But he struck this pose and absorbed the love from the crowd.
Then she asked us to strike the same pose and say “I am worthy of your love” and “I belong here.” She invited us to intentionally take up as much space as we could, telling us we deserved to.
In so doing, I began to believe it. Such is the power of the pose.
Can a Posture Really Give You Confidence?
Several years ago, a TED talk spread like wildfire among those of us who teach movement. In it, social psychologist Amy Cuddy describes her research showing changes in blood chemistry brought about by conscious changes to posture. She called these “power poses.”
Sadly, a kerfuffle ensued when her results concerning changes to biochemistry were not replicable. Yet the behavioral results remain unquestioned.
Adopting an expansive (or powerful) posture increases feelings of power as well as boosting happiness, mood, and other related emotion variables.
Such a simple sounding solution to our insecurities – stand up straight and take up space when we walk in the room!
However, here’s where it gets difficult: through habit, most of us have adapted our muscles to be more comfortable in an “I’m not worthy” schlump than in a power pose.
How the “Upper Crossed” Position Might be Taking You Down
It becomes a lot of work to sustain a confident posture. Our modern lifestyles limit our movement to a small space in front of us – keyboard, steering wheel, phone, remote control.
We mold our bodies into a posture known as “Upper Crossed.” The pectoral muscles in our chest, the sternocleidomastoids of our neck, our upper trapezius and levator scapula adaptively shorten. Those shortened muscle fibers hold us in this shape we’re used to.
Meanwhile, our neck flexors and middle back muscles go “offline.” They’ve gotten so used to being held in a lengthened state that they are unable to support us standing upright.
Happily, power poses for confidence that I often teach as a Yoga Tune Up® instructor can make a big difference in reversing this slumped posture.
Do these simple exercises on a regular basis and notice how your posture (and feelings of power and confidence) improves.
Practices to Strengthen and Uplift
Step one: Loosen up the chest and upper back/neck muscles with Roll Model® Method Therapy balls.
Exercise #1: Roll out tight pecs and chest muscles
The beauty of this technique is you can use any of our therapy balls. Each will offer you a slightly different experience. If I’m feeling extra tender, I reach for the Coregeous® ball. But today I’m choosing the Therapy Ball PLUS self massage ball because it covers a good amount of territory while still giving some of the surgical precision we want for our pin, spin and mobilize technique.
Finding the right spot for the therapy ball:
Place your left hand on the right side of your upper chest with your middle finger touching the top of your shoulder and your thumb reaching to the notch of your sternum (sort of like “I pledge allegiance, but over to the side). Your hand is now covering much of your pectoralis major.
Start with the ball anywhere in this area and lean into a wall. Then, proceed with the following steps.
- Spend a few moments just breathing and receiving the sensation.
- Then slowly start to move side to side, letting the ball roam from the sternum over to the arm. You can even go arm to arm, allowing the ball to traverse the bony sternum.
- After several passes, pause with the therapy ball in a meaty portion of the muscle on your right chest (this is the pin). Your body may have already highlighted a sticky place for you.
- Stay leaning into the ball as you bring your left hand up to twist the ball into the skin, gathering up the layers of skin, fascia and muscle in a little vortex (the spin).
- Holding on to the twist, take your right palm to the wall by your side and slide the hand up the wall as high as you can (the mobilize). As if you are waving “ahoy” to a friend across the water.
- After several waves, twist the ball in the opposite direction and wave again.
Now bring the ball up so it snuggles into the bottom edge of your clavicle (the collarbone). Roll it along the clavicle until it is nestled inside the head of your humerus (top of your arm bone). This is about where your pectoralis minor attaches – a muscle that actively pulls your shoulders forward into the schlump.
- Either shrug your shoulder up and down or bend and straighten your knees to move the ball vertically along these tissues.
- Then take your right hand down by your side, reach it back, and bend your elbow to bring the back of your hand somewhere on your back.
- Take several deep breaths as you lean into the ball.
- Next, move your arm in and out of this “half nelson” position while leaning into the ball.
Repeat all of these moves on the other side. Then take a moment to stand quietly with your arms at your side and take a full breath. Notice if you feel more open and expansive in your chest with your shoulders naturally settled down and back.
Exercise #2: Massage Upper Traps and Levator Scapula
Stay with the same ball, or switch to the Original Yoga Tune Up® size, and turn your back to the wall.
- Hold the ball in your left hand and reach it across your body to place it about where a bra strap goes, or the strap of a shoulder bag, – you’ll know the place. It’s where a friend might say “wow, you look tense” and rub your shoulders.
- Lean into the ball and once again pause and breathe to allow the sensation.
- Proceed to roll the ball across the upper shoulder area between the base of the neck and the bony outcropping of the shoulder.
- Feel free to play a little, swimming the arm around. You’ll find lots of sweet little gnarly bits crying for their turn with the ball.
Back to business. Bring the ball about midway between the base of the neck and the widest part of your right shoulder. Far enough down that you can lean solidly into it.
- Shrug your shoulder up and down and feel for the medial border of the scapula connecting with the ball. This is our next ball placement: the insertion of the levator scapula.
- Pin the ball against the upper inner point of your shoulder blade, leaning as much weight into it as you are comfortable with.
- Let your right arm be heavy as you drop your left ear towards your left shoulder.
- Hold for a breath, then maintaining the sideways tilt of your head, move your chin toward your left shoulder. Slowly travel between these two movements several times. Then return your head upright.
Remove the ball, pause and observe how your right shoulder feels compared to your left. Then repeat on your left.
Exercise #3: Strengthen upper back and posterior neck muscles
Once that your pectoral and upper back muscles have eased up some tension, strengthen your upper back and neck to support a more upright posture.
With the front of your chest and your shoulder-shrugging muscles massaged and relaxed, it is time to strengthen some of the muscles whose work is to maintain your confident posture.
Salabasana (Locust) with a strap or resistance band is an excellent and accessible choice.
- Lie face down on your yoga mat or floor.
- Hold your strap or resistance band about shoulder distance apart behind your back, wrapping your hands around it as necessary. Palms facing up.
- Bring your forehead to the mat and your legs together. Press your pubic bone into the floor as you squeeze your glutes, reaching your tailbone toward your heels.
- Gently pull the hands apart, tautening the strap. Feel the back of your shoulders and upper back starting to work.
- Pull the front of the shoulders away from the ground so your arms are parallel to the ground.
- Using your back, lift your chest and forehead away from the mat at the same pace keeping your chin a bit tucked and the crown of your head reaching forward. You are making a straight line from the crown to the hands. If you feel some work deep in your throat that’s fantastic! You are activating your deep neck flexors which will help you hold your head high.
- This may be enough work. You can hold for a few breaths, release and repeat 3 to 5 times.
- Or you can continue to lift your hands higher, lift your legs and turn your gaze forward. See if you can maintain the pose and breathe several conscious, deep breaths.
For a playful extra challenge, try the face down Pavarotti Mudra–lift up into Salabhasana but now reach your arms forward and wide and allow your legs to widen.
Observe Any Changes to Posture and Confidence
Whichever option you’ve chosen, finish your practice by standing in Pavarotti Mudra.
Then stand at ease and take a little walk. Do you feel more open and approachable? Is it easier to hold your head level and let your arms swing by your sides? Do you feel a bit more powerful? Try this sequence 2 or 3 times a week and let us know in the comments if people respond to you differently.
Next time you find yourself in a situation where you are feeling small, you’ll have the tools to project yourself with confidence. You may discover that it is warranted and you are worth it.
Shop this post: For upper back and chest massage, get Original Yoga Tune UP Therapy Ball Pair or Therapy Ball PLUS Pair in Tote. If you need a strap for the Locust exercise, try out our Double Loop Stretch Strap.
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