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Are Yoga Postures Power Poses?

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Next time you’re feeling down, you may want to try a yogic raised-hands pose, also known as the upward salute that is part of the sun salutation. You may recall research conducted by Amy J.C. Cuddy, PhD, MA, associate professor at Harvard Business School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, that suggested “power poses” can increase people’s sense of competence and power. Now, research suggests that open, expansive yoga postures held for 2 minutes may
increase self-esteem.

University of London investigators recruited 82 male and female college students to test whether certain yoga poses would affect a person’s sense of energy and self-esteem more or less than Cuddy-style power poses. Each participant performed one of four sets of two poses:

  1. two open yoga postures: arms raised overhead (urdhva hastasana) and mountain pose (tadasana);
  2. two closed yoga postures: eagle pose (garudasana) with right arm in front of the body and then with left arm in front;
  3. two expansive, high-power poses: hands on hips (Superman) and hands on a table while leaning forward with an open chest; or
  4. two constrictive, low-power poses: hands crossed in front of the body, and sitting in a slouched position.

Self-esteem and a sense of energy and control were measured both before and after subjects held the poses.

Data analysis showed that participants’ energy levels were higher after all types of yoga poses than they were after the power poses. Investigators noted that increased feelings of energy also improved participants’ feelings of control and self-esteem. Study authors concluded, among other points, that yoga poses may positively affect psychological states and recommended that more research be conducted to determine the underlying mechanisms.

The study appeared in Frontiers in Psychology (2017; doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00752).

Shirley Eichenberger-Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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