FOUR SERIES OF PHYSICAL EXERCISES
The point of departure for the cultivation of poise, like that of
everything else in fact, must be a well-ordered system of hygiene, far
removed from excess, and insisting only upon the points we have already
Without wishing to fall into the well-known error of so many modern
teachers, who assign an exaggerated importance to breathing exercises,
we must, nevertheless, admit the great role that respiration plays in
We are now speaking, understand, of methodical breathing, we might
almost term it "reasoned" breathing.
Every one, of course, breathes without being aware of it from the moment
of his birth to the hour of his death, but very few people are aware how
to increase the power and to enlarge the capacity of their lungs.
Nevertheless, upon these conditions it is that activity depends, as well
as the health and the energy that enables us to consecrate ourselves to
the pursuit of a definite aim.
Without having to lay claim to a vast knowledge of medicine one can
discover that all repeated exercise tends to strengthen the organ that
Thus, well-directed and carefully practised breathing gives the heart a
stronger beat and facilitates the action of the lungs.
From these arises a general feeling of physical well-being, which tends
to the preservation of good health and stores up the energy we need to
carry out our resolves.
It is, then, advisable to devote several minutes every day to breathing
exercises, not merely automatic, but purposeful and under thorough
To accomplish this there are two methods.
The first, very easy of comprehension, is to lie down on one's back and
to breathe deeply with the mouth closed and the nostrils dilated.
As much air as can be held must be taken into the lungs, then the mouth
must be opened and the air must be allowed to escape gradually.
During this operation one should pay particular attention to expanding
the walls of the chest, while flattening the stomach.
About twenty deep respirations are required to accomplish the desired
Little by little the lungs will dilate and one will unconsciously
increase the length of the inspiration and the slowness with which the
air is expelled.
The second method consists in standing erect, with the head thrown
slightly back. The lungs should then be filled with air and one should
count mentally up to five or even ten before exhaling the air that has
been breathed in.
It is advisable that when exhaling one should utter a continuous hum,
which must be absolutely free from trembling when one has practised it
People who have practised this exercise have often stated that this
method of breathing has been of great help to them when much fatigued as
well as a first-class stimulus in moments when all their physical powers
were to be called into play.
A well-known college professor has assured us that every day, before
giving his lectures, he makes use of this exercise. He claims that he
has thus gained a freedom of breathing the good effects of which are
manifest in the facility with which he is able to give his lecture and
in his general feeling of ease. Rendered quite free from any suspicion
of nervousness, he feels that he is completely master of himself and in
a fit state of moral and physical health to employ the poise that is
essential to the man who has to instruct and to convince others.
Deep breathing has the further advantage of developing the lungs, of
strengthening them, and at the same time of making their ordinary
functioning more regular.
The man who practises this exercise will have much less propensity to
get out of breath. This will be a great assistance to those timid people
who are disconcerted by trifles and who, at the least little occurrence,
become so much affected by emotion that they experience a sensible
acceleration of the action of the heart.
Palpitation can not take place without causing us physical discomfort,
and this condition is a serious stumbling-block in the way of the
acquisition of poise, for, in view of the great stress the man of
timidity lays upon the opinion of others, he will be apprehensive of
giving them any inkling of his distress, and yet his difficulty in
breathing will be bound to reveal it.
The exercise of which we have been speaking should be performed with
care twice a day.
For those whose leisure hours are few it can be accomplished without
losing any of the time which is already preempted by other things.
It is merely a question of remembering it as soon as one wakes in the
morning and of never forgetting it before one falls asleep at night.
The few minutes between the moment that one wakes and the time one gets
out of bed can be most profitably employed in this way.
The same thing is true at night.
If the occupations of the day and of the evening leave us no time to
devote to this exercise, we can always go through it in the moments
between retiring to bed and falling asleep.
It will thus be seen that there is really no valid excuse for not
undertaking this practise, whose effects will certainly be most
SECOND SERIES--TRAINING OF THE EYE
But our physical efforts must not stop here.
It is more than necessary that we should make others feel the effects of
the mastery that we are slowly acquiring over ourselves.
The eye is an invaluable assistant to the man who is studying to acquire
It is not necessary here, in connection with the magnetic properties of
the eye, to enter into a digression too extensive for the scope of this
book, but we can not neglect this one more-than-important factor
We are speaking now not only of the power in the gaze of others but of
that of our own eyes in relation to our associates.
We must do our best, in fine, to develop the power of our gaze, while
studying to fortify ourselves against the influence brought to bear upon
us in this direction by others.
One frequently notices, especially in the case of people who are timid,
a propensity to lose their powers of resistance with those who are able
to fix them with a steady stare.
One has often seen people who lack will-power emerging completely upset
from the grueling of an interview in which they have admitted everything
that they had most fervently resolved never to disclose.
A superior force has dominated them to such an extent that they have
found it impossible to conduct the discussion in the way they had
planned to do it.
The man who is in earnest about acquiring poise must, then, be on his
guard against betraying himself under the magnetism of some one else's
At the same time he must cultivate his own powers of the eye, so that
he, too, can possess that ability against which, in others, he must be
careful to protect himself, and can utilize it for his own ends.
The first principle is to avoid looking directly into the pupils of
This is the only way in which a beginner can avoid being affected by the
magnetism of the gaze.
By this word magnetism we have in mind nothing verging in the least upon
We have reference only to the well-known physical discomfort experienced
by those who have not yet become masters of poise when meeting a steady
Its effect is so strong that, in the majority of cases, the timid are
quite unable to endure it. They stammer, lose their presence of mind,
and finally reveal everything they are asked to tell, if only to escape
from the tyranny of the gaze which seems to go right through them and to
dictate the words that they must utter.
One must be careful, then, not to allow oneself to become swayed by the
gaze of another. But since it would seem ridiculous to keep one's eyes
constantly lowered, and is impolite to allow them to wander from the
face of the person with whom one is speaking, one can escape the
magnetic effect of his pupils by looking steadily at the bridge of his
nose directly between his eyes.
When first practising this one must be careful not to look too fixedly,
for the eye has not yet acquired the necessary muscular power, and one
will quickly find oneself fascinated instead of dominating.
But this method is an absolute safeguard, if one does not stare too
It must not be forgotten that this spot is known as the "magnetic
In the case of those who have made no study of the power of the eye, and
particularly of those who are lacking in poise, this method of looking
steadily at the bridge of the other's nose, while not having any marked
effect upon him, will save them from becoming the tools of his will.
Certain easy exercises will be found most useful in arriving at the
possession of the first notions of this art, so indispensable in the
ordinary applications of poise.
One good way is to look steadily, for several seconds at first and later
on for several minutes at a time, at some object so small that the eye
can remain fixt upon it without discomfort.
For the latter reason it is better to choose something dark. A brilliant
object will much more readily cause fatigue and dizziness.
We have said for several seconds to begin with. It will be found a
matter of sufficient difficulty to keep one's gaze fixt for much longer
than this, when one is unaccustomed to this sort of exercise.
One should endeavor to keep the two eyes open without winking. One
should not open them too wide nor yet close them. The head should be
kept steady and the pupils motionless.
If this attempt causes the least wandering of the gaze or the slightest
winking of the eyes, it must be begun over again.
It is for this reason that at the start it will be found difficult to
keep it up for more than a few seconds.
After resting awhile one should repeat the exercise afresh, until the
time comes when one can concentrate one's gaze in this way for at least
four or five minutes of perfect fixity.
In order to keep count of the time that is passing, as well as to keep
control of one's will-power, it is advisable to count aloud in such a
way that approximately one second elapses between the naming of every
When once fixity of gaze has been acquired, one can essay various other
exercises, such as concentrating the eyes on an object and turning the
head slowly to one side and the other without removing one's gaze from
this point for a moment.
It is not until one is very certain that the muscles of the eye have
been thoroughly trained that one should undertake the mirror test.
To do this, one must take up a position in front of a glass and fix
one's gaze upon one's own pupils for a time. Then one must transfer it
to the bridge of the nose, between the two eyes, and must strive to keep
it there immovably.
At first this exercise will not be found as easy as one might suppose.
The magnetic power of the pupils is great and one will experience some
slight difficulty in breaking away from it.
For this reason it is a good plan to count out loud slowly up to a
predetermined number, at which point the gaze should be at once
transferred to the bridge of the nose.
These exercises of the eye will be found particularly beneficial for
people who are desirous of acquiring poise, as aside from the advantages
we have specified, they have the effect of strengthening the will-power,
which will be found to have materially gained by this means.
When the desired result appears to have been accomplished and one feels
oneself strong enough to meet or to avoid another person's eye, while at
the same time one is conscious that one can dominate with one's own, it
will be well to experiment upon the people with whom one is closely
One can thus become accustomed, little by little, to control one's gaze,
to force an estimate of its influence, and to neutralize the effect of
that of other people.
THIRD SERIES--THE MOTIONS, THE CARRIAGE
Another highly important point in the conquest of poise is the struggle
against awkwardness, which is at once the parent and the offspring of
Let us make ourselves clear.
Many people only lack poise because they fear ridicule of their obvious
embarrassment and of the awkward hesitation of their movements.
Others fall into this embarrassment as the result of exhibitions of
clumsiness in which they cover themselves with ridicule. The terror of
renewing their moments of torture drives them into a reserve, from which
they only emerge with a constraint so evident that it is reflected in
their gestures, the evidences of a deplorable awkwardness.
It is exceedingly simple to find a remedy for these unpleasant
conditions. One must make up one's mind to combat their exhibitions of
weakness by determining to acquire ease of movement.
We have all noticed that awkwardness occurs only in public.
The most embarrassed person in the world carries himself, when alone, in
a fashion quite foreign to that which is the regret of his friends.
It may happen, however, that awkwardness too long allowed to become a
habit will have a disastrous effect upon our daily actions, and that the
person who is lacking in poise will end by keeping up, even in private,
the awkward gestures and uncouth movements that cause him eternal shame
at his own expense.
In such a case a cure will be a little more difficult to effect, but it
can be arrived at, without a shadow of doubt, if our advice is
faithfully followed out.
It is an obvious truth that the repetition of any act diminishes the
emotion it gave rise to in us at the first performance.
Physical exercises are then in order, to achieve for us suppleness of
movement and to extend its scope.
Every morning, after our breathing exercises (which can be performed in
bed between the moment of waking and that of getting up, according to
our advice to those whose time is limited) it is absolutely necessary to
devote five minutes to bodily exercises, the object of which is the
acquirement of an easy carriage from the frequent repetition of certain
For instance, one should endeavor to expand the chest as far as
possible, while throwing back the head and extending the arms, not by
jerky movements but by a wide and rhythmical sweep, which should be
every day made a little more extended.
While doing this one should hollow the back so that it becomes a perfect
Then one should walk up and down the room, endeavoring to keep one's
steps of even length and one's body erect.
One should never allow these daily exercises to go unperformed on the
pretext of lack of time.
Five minutes of deep breathing and five minutes to practise the other
movements advised will be sufficient, if one performs these tasks every
day with regularity and conscientiousness.
The speaking exercises, to which we shall now refer can be carried out
while we are dressing.
Choose a phrase, a short one to start with, and longer as you progress,
and repeat it in front of the glass while observing yourself carefully,
to be sure that your face shows no sign of embarrassment and that you do
not stammer or hesitate in any way.
If the words do not come out clearly, you must make an immediate stop
and go doggedly back to the beginning of your phrase, until you are able
to enunciate it with mechanical accuracy and without a single sign of
You must study to avoid all the jerky and abrupt movements which
disfigure the address of the timid and deprive them of all the assurance
that they should possess, for the reason that they can not help paying
attention to their own lack of composure.
Finally, from the moment of rising, as well as when brushing his hair,
tying his necktie, or putting on his clothes, the man who desires to
acquire poise will watch himself narrowly, with a view to making his
movements more supple and to invest them with grace.
Once in the street, he will not forget to carry his head erect, without
exaggerating the pose, and will always walk with a firm step without
looking directly ahead of him.
If this attitude is a difficult one for him when commencing, he can, at
the start, assign a certain time for observing this position, and
gradually increase its length, until he feels no further inconvenience.
The feeling of obvious awkwardness is a large factor in the lack of
It is then a matter of great importance to modify one's outward
carriage, while at the same time applying oneself to the conquest of
one's soul, so as to achieve the object not only of actually becoming a
man who must be reckoned with, but of impressing every one with what one
is, and what one is worth.
FOURTH SERIES--SPEAKING EXERCISES
Is it really necessary to point out what a weight readiness of speech
has in bringing about the success of any undertaking?
The man who can make a clever and forceful speech will always convince
his hearers, whatever may be the cause he pleads.
Do we not see criminals acquitted every day solely because of the
eloquence of their lawyers?
Have we not often been witnesses to the defeat of entirely honest people
who, from lack of ability to put up a good argument, allow themselves to
be convicted of negligence or of carelessness, if of nothing worse?
Eloquence, or at least a certain facility of speech, is one of the gifts
of the man of poise.
One reason for this is that his mind is always fixt upon the object he
wishes to attain by his arguments, which eliminates all wandering of the
But there is another reason, a purely physical one. The emotions
experienced by the timid are quite unknown to him and he is not the
victim of any of the physical inhibitions which, in affecting the
clearness of their powers of speech, tend to reduce them to confusion.
Stammering, stuttering, and all the other ordinary disabilities of the
speaker, can almost without exception be attributed to timidity and to
the nervousness of which it is the cause.
We shall see in the next chapter how these defects can be cured.
In this, which is devoted specially to physical exercises, we will give
the mechanical means for overcoming these grave defects.
Just as soon as the difficulties of utterance have been overcome, and
one is no longer in terror of falling into a laughable blunder, and thus
has no further reason to fear, when undertaking to speak, that one will
be made fun of because the object of disconcerting mockery, one's ideas
will cease to be dammed up by this haunting dread and can take shape in
one's brain just as fast as one expresses them.
Clearness of conception will be reflected in that of what we say, and
poise will soon manifest itself in the manner of the man who no longer
feels himself to be the object of ill-natured laughter.
One should set oneself then every morning to the performance of
exercises consisting of opening the mouth as wide as one possibly can
and then shutting it, to open it once more to its fullest extent, and so
on until one becomes fatigued.
This exercise is designed to cover the well-known difficulty of those
who speak infrequently and which is familiarly known as "heavy jaw."
One should next endeavor to pronounce every consonant with the utmost
If certain consonants, as _s_, for example, or _ch_, are not enunciated
clearly, one should keep at it until one pronounces them satisfactorily.
Now one should construct short sentences containing as many difficult
consonants as possible.
Next we should apply ourselves to declaiming longer sentences.
It will be of help to have these sentences constitute an affirmation of
will-power and of poise.
For example: "I can express myself with the greatest possible facility,
because timidity and embarrassment are complete strangers to me."
Or again: "I am a master of the art of clothing my thoughts in elegant
and illuminating phrases, because stammering, stuttering, and all the
other misfortunes that oppress the timid, are to me unknown quantities."
We can not insist too strongly upon the cumulative effect of words which
are constantly repeated. It is a good thing to impress oneself with
forceful ideas that make for courage and for achievement.
Distrust of self being the principal defect of the timid, the man who
would acquire poise must bend every effort to banishing it from his
The repetition of these sentences, by building up conviction, will
undoubtedly end by creating a confidence in oneself that will at first
be hesitating, but will gradually acquire force. This is a great step in
advance on the road toward poise.
We are discussing, it should be understood, only such cases of
difficulty in speaking as are directly traceable to an inherent
If the inability to speak clearly comes from a physical malformation it
should at once be brought to the attention of a specialist.
It is well recognized that, in the majority of cases, those defects are
the consequences of timidity, when they are not its direct cause.
In combating them, then, with every means at his disposal, the man who
desires to acquire poise will prove the logicality of his mind. It is a
well-known axiom that effects are produced by causes, and _vice versa_.
Thus, in the case we are considering, timidity either causes the
difficulty in speaking or is caused by it. In the first condition as
well as in the second, the disappearance of the one trouble depends upon
the eradication of the other.