The Secret Link Between Posture and Pain Relief

Want to eat less? Stick to your budget? Ease your back pain? Try a few of these secrets from the growing science of embodied cognition.

By Karen Ravn from Reader's Digest | December 2011

Perfect Your PostureDougal Waters/Getty Images
Posture isn’t just about how you look. It also has a powerful effect on how you feel — and on what you do. Want to eat less? Stick to your budget? Ease your back pain? Researchers in the growing field of “embodied cognition” suggest you assume these positions:

To lose weight, make a muscle.
You really do want to exercise and eat sensibly — but your resolve keeps going wobbly? Try clenching your hand, gritting your teeth, or standing on tiptoe. Flexing your muscles can make your willpower stronger, according to a study published last year.

“You’re telling yourself, ‘I am strong. I can resist this temptation,’ ” says coauthor Aparna Labroo, PhD, who studies decision making at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto. “The cumulative effect can be quite large over time.”

To hurt less, stand tall.
Your back is killing you, so you curl up into a ball. But a study published earlier this year found that an expansive posture — for instance, standing up straight, shoulders back, chest out — makes people less sensitive to pain. A dominant posture may help you breathe more deeply and can even affect hormone levels, says coauthor Scott Wiltermuth, PhD, at the USC Marshall School of Business. “But we think it’s mostly about changes inside the head. You feel more powerful, and that increases your tolerance for pain.”

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