In recent years, a growing number of research studies have been conducted to investigate the effect of certain activities or practices, such as yoga, that have a long tradition in other cultures and, more recently, have become popular in Western societies.
Yoga is an ancient Hindu discipline where the body, mind and spirit are strengthened and become serene through the practice of asanas (postures), breathing and meditation. It includes both cognitive (mental) and physical components.
Recent reviews of scientific literature suggest that this activity can help promote psychological well-being, increasing mindfulness, spiritual well-being and improving mood, as well as reducing stress, anxiety and depression, and maintaining or improving some cognitive function.
In addition, yoga has proved promising as adjunctive therapy, or monotherapy, in the treatment of psychiatric illnesses such as depression. A recent study has shown that a 12-week treatment of yoga and breath control 2/3 times a week, in a group of patients between 18 and 64 years old with a diagnosis of major depression, reduces depressive symptomatology.
One of the possible explanations of these effects is based on the voluntary control of the breathing that this discipline promotes. This could positively influence some autonomic functions such as heart rate variability and cardiac vagal tone and, consequently, help modulate emotions and reduce stress.
Yoga and cognition
In the last decade, some studies have also focused on studying the effects of activity such as yoga on cognition. These studies have found evidence suggesting a possible modest effect of yoga on improving/maintaining some cognitive function, especially related to attention span and processing speed.
The reasons for and mediators of this relationship between yoga and cognition have not yet been systematically studied, but it has been hypothesized that changes related to stress reduction and mood enhancement could be among the mechanisms leading to a possible improvement of these specific cognitive functions.