Hatha yoga, the most popular style of yoga in Western society, aims to cultivate mind-body awareness and higher states of consciousness. It involves mindful physical posturing, breathing exercises, and mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation is the practice of non-judgemental observation of present thoughts, emotions, and body sensations with openness and acceptance.
According to the authors, hatha yoga has the potential to improve a variety of cognitive functions including attention, memory, and executive function (EF). EFs are a set of cognitive abilities that allow for self-regulation of thought, emotions, and behaviors. EFs includes inhibition, initiation, working memory, self-control, planning/organization, emotional control, and mental flexibility.
Studies also show that hatha yoga has the potential to improve mood outcomes. The authors explain that hatha yoga is a beneficial treatment for various mood disorders including psychological distress, anxiety, and depression.
The authors emphasize that current literature on yoga is robust and lacks investigation of acute practice. Furthermore, they suggest that cognitive and mood benefits may be separable. Accordingly, they designed an experiment to compare the acute effects of mindfully practiced hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation on its own on cognitive and mood outcomes.
Findings revealed that 25 min of hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation significantly improved EF task performance and total mood. Although hatha yoga presented a greater overall effect, improvements did not differ significantly from each other. Yoga's advantage was driven by complex physical postures that help increase attentional processes. According to the authors, the improved effects emerged following a 10 minute delay. These results were consistent with findings of other studies on acute exercise, in which effects emerged during the 11 to 20 minute post-exercise period. The authors suggest the meditation-induced sedative effects of yoga and mindfulness meditation may need time to subside before cognitive benefits are identifiable.
This study gave some interesting insight into the benefits of yoga and mindfulness mediation on cognitive performance and mood. Although the results did not differ significantly, it was interesting to see that yoga had a stronger effect than meditation by itself, attributed to complex physical postures driving attentional processes. Furthermore, while the authors reveal that yoga and mindfulness meditation improved EF task performance, they fail to elaborate if specific EFs(inhibition, initiation, working memory, self-control, planning/organization, emotional control, mental flexibility) were improved more than others. It would be interesting to conduct further research focusing more narrowly on these attributes. Overall, both hatha yoga and mindfulness mediation appear to be valuable exercises for employers across all sectors to improve morale, productivity, cohesion, organization, and planning within their organizations.