Development of sham yoga poses to assess the benefits of yoga in future randomized controlled trial studies

Ramya Ramamoorthi, Daniel Gahreman, Timothy Skinner, Simon Moss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Although research has demonstrated the benefits of yoga to people who have been diagnosed with diabetes or at risk of diabetes, studies have not confirmed these effects can be ascribed to the specific features of the traditional postures, called asanas. Instead, the effects of asanas could be ascribed to the increase in cardiovascular activity and expenditure of energy or to the expectation of health benefits. Therefore, to establish whether asanas are beneficial, researchers need to design a control condition in which participants complete activities, called sham poses, that are equivalent to traditional asanas in physical activity and expectation of benefits. 

Objectives: The aim of this research was to design an appropriate suite of sham poses and to demonstrate these poses and traditional asanas are equivalent in energy expenditure, cardiovascular response, and expectations of health benefits. 

Methods: Twenty healthy men at medium to high risk of developing diabetes volunteered to partake in the current study. These men completed two sessions that comprised traditional asanas and two sessions that comprised sham poses—poses that utilize the same muscle groups as the asanas and were assigned fictitious Sanskrit labels. Before and after each session, heart rate, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, triglycerides levels, and oxygen saturation were measured to gauge the intensity of exercise. After each session, using a standard measure, participants also indicated the degree to which they expected the poses to improve health. 

Results: The degree to which the sessions affected the physiological measures (for example, pre-exercise, the heart rate for yoga and sham was 71.06 ± 4.79 and 73.88 ± 6.05, respectively, and post-exercise, the heart rate was 70.19 ± 6.16 and 73 ± 7.55, respectively) and the expectations of health improvements did not differ between the traditional asanas and the sham poses. Likewise, the degree to which each session influenced these physiological measures was negligible in both conditions. 

Conclusions: This study developed a series of poses that elicit similar physiological and psychological effect as traditional yoga asanas. These poses can be used in an active control group in future randomized trial studies that are designed to assess the benefits of asanas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number130
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


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