Performing yoga poses for just two minutes can increase self-esteem, according to a study led by Goldsmiths, University of London.
The research compared average subjective energy and self-esteem ratings between two groups of people: 41 who performed four standing yoga poses and 41 who performed four so-called ‘power poses’. Participants who performed yoga poses reported feeling more energetic, in power and in control and more positive about themselves in comparison to participants who performed ‘power poses’.
The study, to be published in Frontiers in Psychology, suggests the reported positive effects of body postures are unrelated to these postures being seen as ‘confident’ or ‘dominant’. It also demonstrates for the first time that people can experience increased feelings of energy and self-esteem after momentarily performing yoga postures.
Dr Agnieszka Golec de Zavala, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Goldsmiths and lead author, said: “We wanted to test the idea that body postures affect our psychological states but in a different way than that proposed by previous studies on so-called ‘power poses’.”
‘Power poses’ – for instance the ‘superman’ stance standing with your hands on your hips and your shoulders back – are nonverbal signals of dominance. Previous studies proposed that these make people feel more confident because they appear more dominant. But such effects have been difficult to replicate.
Dr Golec de Zavala said: “We thought the erected and expansive body postures may affect us positively because of their feedback on the parasympathetic nervous system – the part that regulates things like digestion and sexual arousal and slows the heart rate. Yoga poses were a perfect choice to test this.
“Our research shows that yoga poses that are not perceived as dominant can increase people’s self-esteem more than ‘power poses’. Although previous research has shown regular practice of yoga increases feelings of energy and self-esteem our study showed that simply holding yoga poses for just a few minutes boosted these feelings.”
The 82 study participants were Goldsmiths undergraduate students (64 females and 18 males) from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. They were not told the true purpose of the study and proficiency in yoga was not selected for.
Dr Golec de Zavala said: “As a yoga teacher as well as a psychological scientist I think these results are intriguing. More research is needed to understand how long the reported positive effects last for, what is their underlying physiological mechanism, and how they might inform interventions such as the use of yoga in schools or prisons or, potentially, to help people with mental health problems.”
- A report of the research, ‘Yoga poses increase subjective energy and state self-esteem in comparison to ‘power poses’’, is to be published in a forthcoming issue of Frontiers in Psychology.
- Participants were asked to perform either two ‘standing yoga poses with open front of the body (tadasana, or mountain pose or urdhva hastasana) or with closed front of the body (Garudjasana right or Garudjasana left) or high ‘power poses’ (‘superman’ or ‘hands on table’) or low ‘power poses’ (hugging arms or sat with shoulders forward and hands together). Each pose was held for one minute.
- The reported self-esteem and energy of participants was then assessed by asking them to rate how they felt against a series of statements such as “I feel confident about my abilities” and “I feel that others respect and admire me” and “I feel powerful”.