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Yoga improves your cognitive function, Canadian study finds

Practicing yoga and meditation will improve your cognitive function help put you in a good mood and make you think more clearly.

That’s the take-away from a new study by researchers at the University of Waterloo who found that 25 minutes per day of either Hatha yoga (the most commonly practiced type of yoga) or mindfulness meditation had participants performing better on cognitive functioning tests as well as on self-reported mood and energy level questionnaires.

A number of recent studies have been touting the health benefits of yoga and meditation. Research has shown that the two ancient practices are helpful in dealing with a range of issues from back pain, depression and stress resilience to improving balance and endurance in older stroke victims.

Now, researchers from Waterloo’s School of Public Health Systems and Department of Kinesiology put 31 healthy adult females (aged 18 to 48) to the test, randomly dividing them into groups who completed three sessions of either yoga, meditation or quiet reading (a control group) for 25 minutes a day. Researchers selected participants with a moderate amount of experience in yoga in order to exclude issues stemming from being either a beginner or an advanced practitioner.

The researchers chose Hatha yoga as the mode of practice, as it’s known to be not only frequently practiced in Western societies but also involves a balanced combination of mindful physical postures, breathing exercises and meditation. The meditation sessions, on the other hand, included guided mindfulness, quiet observation and body awareness elements.

Testing involved a mood profiling questionnaire as well as the commonly used Stroop task, which measures inhibitory control and executive functioning, meaning, a person’s ability to self-regulate their thoughts, emotions and behaviours.

Yoga and cognitive function: “Significantly improved”

The results showed that participants doing yoga and meditation had “significantly improved” executive functioning as well as immediate improvements in mood. Both groups performed better on both mood, energy levels and executive functioning than the control group, with the Hatha yoga practice showing a marginal advantage at improving mood in comparison to mindfulness meditation.

“There are a number of theories about why physical exercises like yoga improve energy levels and cognitive test performance,” says Kimberley Luu of the School of Public Health and lead author of the study, in a press release. “These include the release of endorphins, increased blood flow to the brain, and reduced focus on ruminative thoughts. Though ultimately, it is still an open question.”

Since meditation was a component in both the yoga and mindfulness sessions, the study’s authors suggest that future research could focus on the results associated with different “doses” of mindful meditation as well as investigating the potential neural mechanisms involved in both Hatha yoga and meditation.

“Although the meditative aspect might be even more important than the physical posing for improving executive functions, there are additional benefits to Hatha yoga including improvements in flexibility and strength,” said Peter Hall, also of the School of Public Health and co-author of the study. “These benefits may make Hatha yoga superior to meditation alone, in terms of overall health benefits.”

The results are published in the academic journal Mindfulness.



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About The Author /

Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.
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