The YogaBase Project

Anncharlott Berglar PhD MA

A Visualized Guide to the Science of Yoga 

What if there was a recipe to stay healthy? There actually is – and there is scientific proof. I am talking about yoga, an ancient discipline that has been used for thousands of years in order to keep mind and body healthy for spiritual development.
Design mentoring:
Niklaus Heeb
Jonas Lauströer
Fabienne Boldt Spinnler
Alessandro Holler

Cooperation partner:
Prof. Dr. med. Wilhelm Bloch
German Sport University Cologne (DSHS)
Institute of Cardiology and Sports Medicine
Dpt. Molecular and Cellular Sports Medicine

Yoga’s popularity is rising in our culture. But people who have the power of truly integrating its practice into our system and to shift its reputation from esoteric to medically relevant, are often still skeptical. In this project, I am visualizing effect cascades on the body that are induced by yoga poses by designing a referenced database-type platform for scientists, physicians, yoga teachers and potential patients in the broad public. This tool shall help scientists identify research gaps, physicians discover complementary treatment possibilities, yoga teachers design ailment-specific classes, and provide patients or anyone interested with information on how to improve life through the practice of targeted yoga poses.

What may a visual concept for the depiction and mediation of cause-and-effect cascades look like on different levels of detail? What may a colour concept and a sitemap structure for the platform look like? I addressed these questions through testing, prototyping and the evaluation of prototypes via a design workshop and an online survey with the target groups. As a result, I am showing key elements that represent the idea of what the finalised version of the platform shall look like in the future. I plan to continue this work within the existing collaboration between Zurich University of the Arts and the German Sport University Cologne, Germany. The effects of single yoga poses shall be investigated on a molecular level in the frame of a clinical study. These, and further already existing findings from yoga studies shall be integrated into the existing visualization framework. 

In the following I present the results of my research, which aim at answering the research questions asked above. A video clip introduces the functionalities of the YogaBase web platform. I also present insights into the making-of, which show several milestones on the way to reaching these results.


The colour concept

What happens in my body when I am in shoulder stand? Three levels of information, one color gradient. I made use of colour to distinguish between A. organ, B. cellular and C. molecular information layers.

The shoulder stand (Sarvangasana) is called the Queen of asanas, because of its many benefits. One of those is the stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system and thus the relaxation response (Konar et al., 2000; Satyananda, 1969).


The human heart.

Cardiac myocytes at the location of the sino-atrial node (SA-node, the cardiac pacemaker) and their innervation by the autonomic nervous system (ANS).

The muscarinic M2 receptor, sitting in the membrane of cardiac myocites at the SA-node, and the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is excreted from the parasympathetic nervous system that initiates the relaxation response.


A colour gradient that transitions from soft and light colours at the organ level over happy and vivid colours on the cellular level to darker and mysterious colours at the molecular level guides the viewer through the differnt zoom- and information layers.

The web concept

Setup of the YogaBase platform 

Here, I introduce the organisation of the sitemap as well as the three main page layouts of the platform:

On the landing page you can pick a pose according to your interests. On the pose page, the effects of this pose are summarised. You can find instructions of how to enter the pose as well as contra-indications. The effects page actually introduces you to the visualised effects of the pose.

Please slide to see!

The YogaBase platform introduced

In the following trailer, I present the YogaBase platform!


Organising scientific information and developing a story board

In order to gain an overview, I mapped out the information available from the literature in a network chart.

Story boards
The network chart helped identify cause-and-effect cascades that served as potential content for my story. I picked the effects of the shoulder stand on the heart and developed story boards.

Evaluation through a design workshop

In a design workshop I asked the participants to put themselves into the shoes of the target groups and to design the web platform using paper and scissors, colour cards, and drawings. Key outcomes for the further design of the platform were the ideas of using a colour gradient throughout the layers of information and using abstract colours for the depiction of the rather abstract molecular world. 


Developing colour palettes

Are there colour conventions for the depiction of cells? Little information exists. But I performed a small experiment in order to uncover potential tendencies regarding the colourization of cells and their components. I collected 100 images termed “animal cell” from Google Images and counted the colours that were used for the individual cell components. A drawing of a cell making use of the identified colours helped design colour palettes.

Developing visuals for poses, organs, cellular, and molecular components

This section shows part of the journey of how I arrived at the key visuals for each, pose, organ, cellular, and molecular information layer that are shown in the results section.

Motion Capture (MoCap) helped me put my anatomy model into yoga poses such as shown below.  This is a selection of images that eventually led to the key visual of the shoulder stand.

I adjusted the red and blue of the arteries and veins of my 3D model texture to match my colour palettes.

According to the above colour palettes, I tested how to best colourize the cardiac muscle cells and created a texture for my 3D cell model.

I obtained my molecuar 3D models from the Protein Data Bank, so apart from the colour, this is their true shape and look! I retouched the 3D renderings in order to give them a more interesting look.

︎ @acbimages

I gratefully acknowledge the help and support of the following persons:
Prof. Niklaus Heeb, Prof. Dr. med. Wilhelm Bloch, Jonas Lauströer, Fabienne Boldt Spinnler, Joe Rohrer, Alessandro Holler, Simon Tschachtli, Thomas Schärer, Dr. David Muehsam, Oliver Bruderer, Sandro Lochau, Yucan Lu, Marie Le Dantec, Isabel Huaman Diaz, Toni-Ann Owens, Luzie Ardelean, Hyeon Jin Seo,Kalyani Hauswirth-Jain, Ram Jain, Omkar Jain, Jannis-Raffael Berglar, Sam Peter Jackson, Arran Lewis, the whole Immersive Arts Space team, especially Stella Speziali, Patxi Aguirre, Tobias Baumann, all friends and family who supported me and helped make this work possible and last but not least: Thanks to everyone who has answered my survey!

Jain, R., & Hauswirth-Jain, K. (2017). Hatha Yoga for Teachers and Practitioners. The Netherlands: White Road Publications.
Konar, D., Latha, R., & Bhuvaneswaran, J. S. (2000). Cardiovascular responses to head-down-body-up postural exercise (Sarvangasana). Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 44(4), 392–400.

Satyananda, S. (1969). Asana Pranayama Mudra Bandha (2002 ed.). Munger, India: Yoga Publication Trust, Ganga Darshan, Munger, Bihar, India.

Srinivasan, T. M. (1990). Effect of yogasana practice on systolic time intervals. Ancient Science of Life, 9(3), 116–124. [pii]

The practice of yoga can have beneficial effects on the mind and body, heal and prevent disease. As a measure of prevention and well-being yoga practice can be used anytime. However, poses should always be performed within a balanced sequence and never without proper instructions or the guidance of a yoga teacher. Contra-indications should be considered. As a therapy, yoga practice should ideally be used in combination with conventional Western medicine. In case of persisting symptoms you need to seek medical advice.