Mental Muscle: 4 Body Postures for a Better Brain

The body can influence the brain by the feedback it sends up the nervous system. (Image credit: ollyy | Shutterstock)

The brain largely controls the body, but the body can also influence the brain, by the feedback it sends up the nervous system. In fact, the body and mind work together to create our perceptions of the world.

Researchers have looked at how the brain interprets the signals coming into it from the rest of the body. Here are some of the ways you can use your body to improve your mind.

Smiling can bring feelings of calm and happiness

Smiling for no reason may trick the brain and make people feel less stressed, and happier, studies have suggested. In one experiment, participants were asked to hold chopsticks in their mouths, a pose that activated their facial muscles as if they were smiling. The researchers found that these participants did better at stress-inducing tasks than did their counterparts who performed the tests with a straight face.

In a similar experiment, published in 1988, participants who were forced to smile by holding a pen in their mouths rated cartoons as funnier, compared with others who weren't forced to smile.

Open your arms to feel powerful

Taking certain poses can create a feeling of power. Research suggests that holding a posture that opens up the body and expands personal space may even alter hormone levels, making a person feel more powerful and more willing to take risks.

In one study, participants were asked to take either low- or high-power poses for few minutes, and were then given $2 to keep or gamble. The results showed the high-power posers were more likely to risk their money for the chance to double it.

The researchers said although postures associated with power may seem somehow manly to some, they appear to make women feel powerful as well.

Nap to be smarter

Taking a nap may do more than give your exhausted brain a break. Studies have shown that, similar to the effects of a good night's sleep, naps during the day serve to boost memory, learning and mental performance.

Take the Zen pose to calm down

It may seem that meditation has to do with only the mind, but some researchers suggest that, in fact, putting the body into a meditative posture and breathing deeply, regulates and clears the mind, according to a 2008 study published in the journal PLOS ONE.

It is possible that placing one's focus on the brain mechanisms that control posture and breathing has a calming effect on the mind, the researchers said.

 Email Bahar Gholipour. Follow us @LiveScience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

Bahar Gholipour
Staff Writer
Bahar Gholipour is a staff reporter for Live Science covering neuroscience, odd medical cases and all things health. She holds a Master of Science degree in neuroscience from the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) in Paris, and has done graduate-level work in science journalism at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. She has worked as a research assistant at the Laboratoire de Neurosciences Cognitives at ENS.