Yoga, Meditation Boost Mood and Brain Function Study Finds
The number of yoga practitioners has tripled during the past 15-years. Similarly, an increasing number of Americans are taking up regular mindfulness meditation practice. Research published in the journal Mindfulness shows that both yoga and meditation can boost mood, and increase cognitive performance.
Yoga and Meditation Study
Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Canada recruited a predominantly Caucasian, college educated sample of adult women between the ages of 18 and 48 years (mean 27.71 sd= 8.32) to participate in the study. To be included, women were required to have between 4 months to 5 years of hatha yoga experience.
Each participant completed a series of questionnaires about physical activity and their yoga and meditation experience. They were then asked to complete 3, 25-minute, counterbalanced sessions of hatha yoga, meditation, and a control task of reading one or more “yoga culture” magazines. Yoga sessions included mindfulness meditation, followed by postures and concluding with savasana (corpse pose), and were taught by a certified yoga instructor. During each class, participants were repeatedly reminded to focus on breath and bodily sensations, and balance effort with ease.
Guided meditation practice was taught in the supine position. During these meditation sessions women were asked to become non-judgmental observers of their experience, and were led through a present-focused awareness exercise where they were asked to pay attention to their thoughts and emotions with openness and acceptance. This was followed by a body scan during which they were asked to note feelings and bodily sensations.
Cognitive function was assessed using the Stroop interference task – a standardized measure of executive function and inhibitory control. Mood was evaluated using a short form of the adult version of the Profile of Mood States (POMS).
Yoga and Meditation Boost Mood and Cognitive Function
Results of the study showed that, for a sample of healthy, experienced female yoga practitioners, 25 minutes of either hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation significantly improved executive function. Interestingly, this effect was not detected 5-minutes following both yoga and meditation practice, but was found after a 10-post session delay. Improvements in cognitive function did not differ significantly between yoga and meditation, but there was a slight trend toward greater positive change following hatha yoga.
Similarly, both yoga and meditation yielded similar improvements in mood, with yoga demonstrating slightly greater mood enhancement benefits than meditation. Neither cognitive performance nor mood were impacted by reading “yoga culture” magazines.
Results of this study are consistent with prior research with diverse samples of participants that associate yoga and meditation with greater positive mood and enhanced executive function. Regarding their inability to detect reliable changes in cognitive performance 5 minutes following yoga and meditation, researchers suggest that there may be yoga- or meditation-induced sedative effects immediately following practice that may render cognitive benefits indiscernible in the short term.
Because this study was constrained to a sample of predominantly Caucasian, well-educated women in early to middle adulthood, more research will be needed to determine whether enhancement of mood and cognitive function is experienced among diverse groups of participants.
Luu, K & Hall PA (2016). Examining the acute effects of hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation on executive function and mood. Mindfulness. DOI 10.1007/s12671-016-0661-2
B Grace Bullock, PhD, E-RYT 500 is a psychologist, research scientist, educator, yoga and mindfulness expert and author of Mindful Relationships: Seven Skills for Success – Integrating the Science of Mind, Body and Brain. Her mission is to reduce stress, increase health and well-being and improve the quality of relationships. She offers classes, workshops, writing and research that combine the wisdom of applied neuroscience, psychophysiology, psychology and contemplative science and practice. Her goal is to empower individuals, groups, leaders and organizations to reduce chronic stress and increase awareness, attention, compassion, mindfulness and effective communication to strengthen relationships, release dysfunctional patterns and unlock new and healthy ways of being. Dr. Bullock is also the Founding Director and Principal Consultant of the International Science & Education Alliance, an organization devoted to exceptional research, program evaluation, assessment design, strategic planning and capacity building to support equity, programmatic diversity and scientific integrity, and promote effective leadership, decision-making and social change. Bullock is a Certified Viniyoga Therapist and Faculty at the Integrated Health Yoga Therapy (IHYT) Training program. She is the former Senior Research Scientist at the Mind & Life Institute and former Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Yoga Therapy. For more information see www.bgracebullock.com.