Wolfram Blog
Kristin McCoy

Explore Yoga with Wolfram|Alpha

June 20, 2016 — Kristin McCoy, Wolfram|Alpha Scientific Content

Each person enters a yoga class with their own unique goals. Some hope to stretch their legs, while others might want to strengthen their core, improve their balance, perform an advanced pose, or simply destress. As a yoga teacher, my goal is to balance my classes to accommodate everyone’s needs and deliver information that will be potent and relevant for as many students as possible. However, there is so much information to explore in the field of yoga that it would be impossible to deliver it all in an hour-long class. Now it is possible for yoga enthusiasts and budding students alike to explore yoga using Wolfram|Alpha.

Camel Pose Extended Leg Stretch

You can now use Wolfram|Alpha to discover information about 216 yoga poses. If you want to learn about a pose, you can search by either its English or Sanskrit name and find basic instructions, along with an illustration. You can also look at the muscles that the pose stretches and strengthens, get ideas for ways to vary the pose, or learn about preparatory poses that you can use to build up toward more difficult poses. If you are recovering from an injury or ailment, you can check a list of precautions and contraindications to discover if the pose might be aggravating for your condition. You can also learn about commonly practiced sequences of yoga poses, such as the Sun Salutation.

Suppose you are a new yoga student and recently took a class where the instructor taught the Downward-Facing Dog Pose. You can take another look at the pose with Wolfram|Alpha and learn more about it. As is true with any physical activity, practicing yoga poses can be strenuous and carries certain risks, so it is important to pay attention to your body’s signals and seek the guidance of a qualified teacher:

Information on the Downward Facing Dog Pose in Wolfram|Alpha
Continuing with the new-yoga-student scenario, you may have learned the Downward-Facing Dog Pose as part of the Sun Salutation sequence. You can use Wolfram|Alpha to jog your memory on the order of the poses in the sequence or how to coordinate the poses with your breathing:

The Sun Salutation Pose in Wolfram|Alpha
Wolfram|Alpha can help you find yoga poses to meet your particular goals. Many beginners start yoga hoping to gain more flexibility in their legs and gain strength in their core. Wolfram|Alpha can help you identify the poses that will help you accomplish those goals, and lists them according to experience:
Wolfram|Alpha can tell you which poses stretch legs
You can also ask Wolfram|Alpha about strengthening, such as what yoga poses strengthen your core
A common question I get as a yoga teacher is about how to work up to more advanced postures. Maybe you’ve been sitting on your mat before class and stared in amazement as the person across from you floated up into a handstand. I’ve been there too! Wolfram|Alpha can give you ideas about simpler poses that you could do to work toward a bigger goal by searching for preparatory poses:

Poses that help you work up to doing a handstand
Certain styles of yoga use codified sequences, which you can explore using Wolfram|Alpha. You will find the Primary Series and Second Series of Ashtanga Yoga, Bikram Yoga’s Twenty-Six Postures, Sivananda Yoga’s Twelve Basic Postures, and the Spiritual Warrior sequence of Jivamukti Yoga:
Poses in the Ashtanga Second Series (as seen when you click "Show details")
Pose sequence for the Ashtanga Second Part 1 (as seen when you click "Show details")
You can explore even more complex queries with the Wolfram Language, which can be accessed easily in the Wolfram Open Cloud. For example, you might wonder about the number of muscles that are listed for the “stretched muscles” property and ask, “What pose stretches the most muscles?” This is not necessarily a question I would have been able to answer from experiential knowledge, so it is interesting to me to see what the data has to say:

What pose stretches the most muscles?

Seeing the answer, it makes sense that it would be Revolved Side Angle Pose. Revolved Side Angle Pose is an asymmetrical posture that incorporates opposites in the lower limbs, trunk, and upper limbs. As someone who practices this pose daily and watches several students grapple with it each day, I can attest to its complexity:

Revolved Side Angle Pose

For me, the beauty of yoga is that no one ever completes it. When I started, there were poses that seemed miraculous and that I couldn’t hope to accomplish. But with practice, some of those poses slowly became part of my daily practice, and inevitably, I became aware of a new set of seemingly miraculous poses. With each accomplishment, a new possibility always arises; therefore, yoga is a discipline for the endlessly curious. One of the important lessons of yoga is that with consistent practice and gradual progression, one can transcend perceived limitations. Yoga grounds this lesson in the body so that through practice there is a sense of potential. My hope is that you’ll find information in Wolfram|Alpha’s yoga data that is useful to you today, inspires you for what could be, sparks your curiosity about yoga, and encourages you to practice!

Leave a Comment


Daniel Scott Matthews

That is brilliant, a huge “thank you” to everyone involved in creating the resource!

Posted by Daniel Scott Matthews    June 20, 2016 at 8:15 pm
M. Soto

Absolutely great, I just love it!

Posted by M. Soto    June 23, 2016 at 2:49 pm
Phil Earnhardt

One jarring thing is the reductionist anatomy-naming system of our muscles — and the reductionist model that naming system implies. If one scrutinizes the geometry of the origins and insertions of the muscles (through their tendons), it’s clear that force transmission is designed to span across the end/beginning attachments to bones. Thomas Myers suggested a structural mapping of these long lines of tension; he called them “Anatomy Trains”. His text of the same name is quite popular in both medical communities and for manual and movement professionals. I was introduced to this title by my Pilates instructor after realizing (for myself) the vast depth and breadth of my ignorance on the topic. The generic name for them in biological research are “myofascial chains”; a review of current literature was published this year: “What Is Evidence-Basevid About Myofascial Chains: A Systematic Review” ( doi 10.1016/j.apmr.2015.07.023 ).

The second open question — or perhaps question that needs opening — is whether the human body obeys rigid body dynamics or energy (i.e., stored elastic energy) plays a key role in our posture, movement, and ability to do work. One paper discussing this is “The capacity of the human iliotibial band to store elastic energy during running” ( doi 10.1016/j.jbiomech.2015.06.017 ), with a Mathematics-grade functional illustration in the Harvard Gazette article “Understanding the IT Band” ( August 26, 2015 ).

Stored elastic energy exists at all scales in our bodies. Harvard biologist Donald Ingber covered cellular tensegrity in his Scientific American article “The Architecture of Life” (Scientific American 01/1998 ). Tension is mandatory for a tensegrity to exist; the microtubules (struts), intermediate filaments (tendons) and microfilaments (tendons) perform these roles through nested tensegrities in each of our cells. This is a difficult thing for humans to visualize — that Mathematica could help visualize. Currently, there are no demonstrations projects showing the stress/strain relationship of tensegrity (see my YouTube video “How a Tensegrity Behaves Under Stress”).

Posted by Phil Earnhardt    July 1, 2016 at 5:14 pm
Raza Rumi

Great info, Thank you

Posted by Raza Rumi    July 27, 2016 at 3:20 am
Yoga Studio

Whoa, I’ve just found this post! This is great, thank you for sharing!

Posted by Yoga Studio    December 7, 2016 at 8:08 am

Leave a comment


Or continue as a guest (your comment will be held for moderation):