Sunday, December 6, 2009

....the sweet, simple gift of open arms....


I've always been interested in body language.  Our minds trust non-verbal communication more than what is communicated with words.  The content of what we communicate with language is less important or impactful to our consciousness than the signals we transmit with our body positions.  Those signals are usually unconscious and are much better indicators of what one is really thinking/feeling than the words we speak.  People can rationalize, intellectualize, evade, etc. etc., but the body does not lie about what is going on within.  Often our body will signal how we really feel, in spite of the words we may be articulating.  Look at how much we know about what is going on with the man in the above images, just based on what he is doing with his arms and hands.


Years ago I read research that spoke not only of what the signals of non-verbals tell us, but also the effect body language has on the physiology and well-being of the person viewing it.  When someone we are actively engaged with smiles, our physiological systems relax.  Conversely, if someone crosses their arms and denies us eye contact, we will probably find ourself feeling more tense than before they exhibited those bodily behaviours.  There are certain body poses that simply put all who see it at ease.


Religious statues (such as the one below of Jesus Christ) with an open arm stance, convey welcome and acceptance.  Apparently, when we view a statue, image, photograph or person with that extended arm position our heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, and we generally enjoy a heightened state of relaxation and well-being.




Whereas the photo below, while demonstrating the joy of the person jumping and extending their arms is less relaxing because the body language is about him and a sense of joy he is feeling, while the Christ stance above is about welcoming and accepting you.  Do you see the difference?  While we may feel good or enjoy the enthusiasm being expressed by the young man, it does not necessarily produce a physiological state of relaxation in us, the viewer.





Contrast that with the photo below of a woman with arms extending to greet, embrace and welcome someone.  See if you can notice any slight physical changes within yourself, as you look at the image of her.  (Just looking at the images of this open-arm stance is supposed to produce a state of relaxation - even if the gesture is not meant for us directly.)  According to the research I read, and unfortunately cannot find at the moment, her position, which indicates welcome and acceptance, should subtlely produce a feel-good state in anyone who sees the gesture.





Below is a statue I have in my office for the reasons mentionned above.  Without saying a word (statues usually don't!) it conveys to anyone who enters that they are accepted.  Your conscious mind may not pick it up, but your unconscious will register the cues.





And look at the couple below.  What a warm-hearted greeting and the extended, open arms tell the other of the delight they are feeling.  I have a friend who always extends her arms when you arrive at her home, and I always feel warm, desired, accepted, relaxed and at home when I see her. 


This is a gift we can give our loved ones over the holidays - and, of course, any time of year.  So simple.  Costs nothing.  What a gift - when someone registers unconsciously that they are wanted and welcomed.  Of course, we will add whatever words go with the occasion, knowing we have also conveyed our loving acceptance on a profound non-verbal level with our open arms.








24 comments:

  1. we can comunicate so much without never saying a word...and yes, it made me smile to see the open arms...

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  2. This was beautiful, Bonnie. I really enjoy the surprises I find on your blog! I had to laugh about the arms crossed and lack of eye contact - my dear man does this out of shyness and it can come across as being distant. To gently encourage him to alter his 'presentation', I'm going to suggest he read this post.

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  3. Brian: Yes, look at a new parent communicating with their newborn. It is simply beautiful to watch the facial expressions - apart from the verbal cooing.

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  4. Deborah: What an important point. Some people do not realize what their non-verbals are communicating. They can learn and adjust. But we too, instead of making an assumption, can be curious and say something like: I notice you're foot is tapping as I tell you this. Does it make you angry? Then the person has the opportunity to clarify if that is not the case.

    Of course, we are not going to walk up to strangers, or our superiors inquiring into the meaning of their body stance - but we can do the generous thing with our loved ones and check to see if we are interpreting their signals correctly. Clearly you know how to interpret your loved one's signals - while strangers could make an erroneous assumption. But usually the body signals are pretty clear and trustworthy.

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  5. hi bonnie - i held my mother today for an extended period of time. she thanked me . . . i felt awkward in her thanks - i needed to be held also. so i too offered thanks!!!! arms open - well yes . . . it's a welcoming, loving, embracing gesture. body language is something i work on with my grade sixes to help them read" people better. this is a really good and timely post bonnie. steven

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  6. Very good post, Bonnie. The young athlete is celebrating himself, concentrating on himself with head thrown back away from others, asking to be admired, whereas all the other attitudes focus on the person opposite, away from self.

    I think, as you say, these attitudes may be unconscious but we can all do something to appear welcoming and embracing. Perhaps making sure that the action does not become an act.

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  7. Fabulous, interesting post, Bonnie. I love your pictures. Blessings!

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  8. Steven: Anniversaries of a loved one's death such as you are experiencing today are difficult. They can be eased by simple loving gestures such as you describe above.

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  9. Friko: Well that's a good point - 'that the action not become an act'. Somehow I believe that the body would reveal it was just an act - that somehow a lack of sincerity would be caught by the eye. But yes, please don't adopt this as some pose - you have to feel it. But if you are feeling joy at someone's arrival, you now know that demonstrating it with open arms has a powerful effect.

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  10. Hi Bonnie

    I feel your open arms ...

    Happy days

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  11. I fully intend to extend my arms for hugs from now on! Not that I don't do that now... but now I know how good it is!

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  12. I love the language of the body! The DH & I often watch a series called Lie To Me on Hulu (never take the time to watch the TV when it's on). It deals with how our bodies and expressions show our true feelings...just as the open arms here. I love it! Here's a big open arm hello to you!

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  13. Good post. As steven does with his sixth graders, I do with my kindergartners...teach body language cues. Once you're aware of body language it can really help open up communication. I enjoyed your discussion of non-verbal communication on this post.

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  14. We certainly are wired to read those signals, whether we are conscious of it or not. I always feel for people who can't be vulnerable enough to hold out their arms. Those same people are not good huggers either. Interesting stuff Bonnie. :c)

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  15. Interesting and very true Bonnie.

    One of the sad things about our societies recent focus on disease and H1N1 in particular is the way it has turned warm and open human contact into a form of threat.

    We need to be careful not to be too clinical with each other or we'll soon be "out of touch".

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  16. Fabulous post and images. Just looking at the pictures made me feel relaxed and welcome in the world.

    As a bodyworker I am always tickled at the way my clients show me what's going on with them. I always ask, "How is your body today." Their hands so often go to an area of tension, like they will reach up and start squeezing their shoulder. When I say, "Is you left shoulder hurting?" sometimes they are amazed. "How did you know that??" They have no idea they just showed me.

    You know it isn't just body position, but smell, movement of the breath in and out, and other very subtle energy cues that help us understand each other. I think about this all the time. Thanks for this cool post.

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  17. I remember once when we had a speaker at our Rotary meeting who explained body language and some of the language was so different that it changed my mind about how others see us.

    I appreciate the post. It is a great reminder.

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  18. This is very interesting, and I think I could feel differently depending on the picture. Sometimes, I think our subconscious, intuitive selves are smarter than our conscious thoughts.

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  19. I love this post! I love arriving somewhere to the warmth of a friend with opens arms, so life-affirming!

    You always have yours open to us, in that very way!
    Thank you friend~love the Buddha statue!
    Calli

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  20. it all makes great sense to me, and i shall practise this gesture over the holidays! i could certainly feel the effect from the photos and your lovely statue. Great great inspirational blog - thank you

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  21. Hugs are always welcome here! =D If we consciously think too much about our body language, it will not look spontaneous and will not be convincing. But to be good at anything, we need to practice. So, in some cases an awkwardly extended arm movement may be a sign someone is trying to be more sincere. This was a very insightful blog, Bonnie.

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  22. Linda: I totally agree. Learn about it and then if it arises spontaneously that is what you want. Some forced extending of the arms would look insincere, silly and perplex the ones you want to welcome. We have to know that if it is forced or insincere that too will be read in the movements.

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  23. Thanks everyone for your kind comments and insights. All were read and appreciated. Time is short for me these days - so fewer responses.
    I do welcome every expression and open my heart and arms to you all!

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