Going through the motions

Amy J C Cuddy PhDThe expression “going through the motions” connotes doing something without enthusiasm or sincerity, but that might be okay. Sometimes just going through the motions can get you where you need to go.
For his project, “Touching Strangers”, photographer Richard Renaldi has been creating intimate portraits of strangers for the last six years. I saw his fascinating story on the CBS News show 60 Minutes.
Renaldi poses two or more strangers in settings and postures usually reserved for lovers, close friends, or family. That alone is interesting, but it is not what got my attention.  What makes Renaldi’s work fascinating is the emotional component. In the CBS story, Renaldi explained that while he is responsible for positioning his subjects, the emotion generated in the portraits comes from the people in them, and, furthermore, appears to be genuine.
According to 60 Minutes’ Steve Hartman, “At first, Brian Sneeden, a poetry teacher, saw no rhyme or reason for posing with  95-year-old retried fashion designer Reiko Ehrman, but eventually he, too, felt a change.”  The teacher told Hartman, "I felt like I cared for her.” He added, "I felt like it (embracing each other in the photo) brought down a lot of barriers."
After looking at some of Renaldi’s portraits and watching a few of his photo sessions on TV, I will say that the emotion of some subjects does seem to be genuine.  And yet the portraits capture the awkwardness of two strangers embracing, which makes them no less fascinating or compelling. Nor does it negate Renaldi’s work. It stands to reason that different people from different backgrounds will not all react in the same way. It would be odd if they did. What is both fascinating and surprising is that simply embracing another person can, for some, be the beginning of a bond.
But that would not surprise Dr. Amy Cuddy, Associate Professor of Psychology  at Harvard.  At a TED talk she explained how “power posing,” or standing in a posture of confidence even when we don’t feel confident, can actually change our body and perhaps our chance for success.
Cuddy’s research focuses on the judgments of the individual and group.  She also studies power and dominance. She contends that the body influences not only how other people see us, but how we see ourselves.
After a series of experiments using power poses – poses that mimic the body language of powerful, confident people — she and her colleague concluded that adopting the body language of more powerful and confident people could help less confident people perform better in high-stress situations, such as exams or job interviews.
What struck me watching Cuddy’s “power poses” is how similar many of them are to the Warrior Sequence in yoga. The Warrior pose is not about aggression but strength, balance, and confidence.
Numerous studies show that the regular practice of yoga can improve balance, mood, and confidence.  The best yoga teachers constantly remind their students that yoga is not about getting a posture perfect or worrying about how it looks. Yoga, for a large part, is about getting on your mat, setting an intention, and going through the motions.
Maybe there is more to be gained than one might think from just through the motions.
* From the TED website: “TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, and Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. TED is a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading.”  It holds two annual conferences, where there are many “TED” talks.