Comparing the Acute Effects of Hatha Yoga and Meditation on Executive Function
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Background: Prior research demonstrates that acute and chronic bouts of Hatha yoga, a moving meditation, shows promise for improving executive function (EF) and mood outcomes in a variety of populations. However, more evidence is warranted to further elucidate these findings. Objective: To compare the acute effects of Hatha yoga and meditation on executive function and mood, gaining a clearer understanding of the physical and mental subcomponents. Methods: Using a within-subject experimental design, 31 moderately experienced Hatha yoga practitioners (Mage = 27.71, SD = 8.32) completed 3 counterbalanced sessions: Hatha yoga, meditation and a reading control task. Executive function (primary outcome) was assessed using the Stroop task at baseline and at 2 follow-up points (5 minutes post- and 10 minutes post-session). Self-reported mood (secondary outcome) was measured using the Profile of Mood States (POMS) before and immediately following each session. Results: Hatha yoga (p = .002) and meditation (p = .044) both resulted in significantly improved Stroop interference scores, though the 2 conditions did not differ significantly from each other (p = .73). The cognitive benefits in both cases were evident at the 10 minute post-session delay but not at the 5 minute post-session delay. With respect to mood outcomes, Hatha yoga (p < .001) and meditation (p = .050) also both resulted in significantly improved POMS total mood scores. Again, Hatha yoga and meditation did not differ significantly from each other, though there was a marginal advantage for Hatha yoga (p = .079). Conclusions: Hatha yoga and meditation both improved executive function and mood to a similar degree. The cognitive benefits of Hatha yoga and meditation may be discernible after a 10 minute delay, whereas the mood benefits may be apparent relatively immediately.