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WISDOM WITHIN - July 2015 - Kansas City

Elbows on the Table & Other Body Language

By Suzette Scholtes


Learning about body language provides much insight. When working as a young consultant to a business firm, the CEO often placed his hands in a “steeple” gesture. It interprets as confidence, but also may be a sign of arrogance. I suggested he drop this gesture.


Dear friends of mine came to dinner and I was amazed that both of them parked their left arm on the table with the right elbow on the table, shoveling in the food. “Did your parents not teach us to keep our elbows off the table?” I asked. They gave me hate stares.


Pamela Holland, a business coach, writes the best answer for this behavior is that it violates a hygiene taboo. “Don’t do it for the same reason you do not place your purse on the table. The table stays hygienic. The more of the arm on the table the less hygienic it is.”


Some claim that the no-elbows rule developed in medieval times, when diners pressed so close together that one’s elbows might end up in their neighbour’s dinner. Nowadays we have more room, but, especially at occasions where people don’t know each other well, putting elbows on the table can still make other diners feel uncomfortable. It is fine to rest your forearms on the table’s edge. Leaning forward demonstrates you’re interested in what the other person is saying

Other sure-tell body language:

  1. Rubbing palms of the hands together is a sign of positive expectation.

  2. Clenched hands may show frustration or anxiety. The height of the hands may show the level of the frustration.

  3. Crossing arms in front of your chest may imply defensiveness (plus it creates poor posture).

  4. Supporting your head with your hand may be a sign of boredom.

  5. If the hand rests on the chin it means he/she is paying close attention.

  6. The “thinker” gesture of the thumb & index finger on the chin is someone making a decision.

  7. Rubbing your hand behind your neck reveals one is feeling intimidated, angry, or threatened.

  8. Experts say those who fiddle with their hair, jewelry or buttons are hiding their opinions.

  9.  If someone makes little or no eye contact, or you see rapid eye movements, this may imply the person is dishonest.

  10.  If a person breathes hard, or color changes in the face or neck, this may imply lying.

Good yoga teachers learn to read the body. Such posture as shoulders rounded forward may imply the person is anxious or depressed. I sequence easy back bends and chest openers when I see this.


The Yoga Journal notes (from a philosophy called The Yoga Sutra) that standing tall cultivates the seeds of good posture. As we stand tall it conveys the essence of Sutra 46 sthira sukham asanam, or “find comfort in our bodies as well as a sense of sense of stability and grounding.”


Miss Manners is still published around the country. I think she would agree to keep elbows off the table, and that standing tall and fidget free is not bad advice either.


Suzette Scholtes’ non-fiction writing won the prestigious “Writers Digest” award. Her passions are writing and yoga and she feels one needs a sense of humor for both. She founded The Yoga School of Therapeutics where she manages one of the regions prestige teacher training programs. 10400 W. 103rd Street,

Overland Park. 




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