|Year : 2021 | Volume
| Issue : 2 | Page : 141-144
A literature review on behavioral attributes of yoga postures and cognition
Ankit Gupta1, Ram Kumar Gupta2
1 National Resource Centre for Value Education in Engineering, IIT, Delhi, India
2 School of Liberal Arts and Management, DIT University, Dehradun, India and Founder, Pathya Holistic Healing, India
|Date of Submission||16-Jun-2021|
|Date of Decision||18-Oct-2021|
|Date of Acceptance||21-Oct-2021|
|Date of Web Publication||22-Dec-2021|
Ram Kumar Gupta
DIT University, Dehradun, Uttarakhand
Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None
Background: Hatha Yoga is the science of training one's mind and body through the practice of shatkarma, asana, pranayama, mudra, and samadhi. The objective of this literature review is to provide a theoretical rationale to identify (a) the specific attribute of the yoga poses which have been used in yoga protocol of various studies but not explicitly explored and (b) the minimum time required to hold a posture to bring the corresponding change in the performance among aforesaid cognitive function(s).
Materials and Methods: Keywords such as yoga and cognition, yoga and working memory, yoga posture and cognition, and yoga and attention have been used to retrieve 24 empirical studies from Google Scholar. Those studies which have included only the yoga poses (asanas) as part of the yoga intervention in improving the cognitive functions were included in the review.
Results: Traditions of Yoga such as Hatha and Iyengar Yoga emphasizes on postural alignment and accuracy, these asanas improve a variety of psychological, physiological, and cognitive functions. One study showed an improvement in cognitive functions and in another study, yoga practitioners showed improved reaction time.
Conclusion: Due to inadequate empirical studies on yoga posture and cognition, it is not recommended to definitively conclude about the role of said attributes in improving cognitive performance. Future studies should involve longitudinal and randomized designs, large sample size, and homogeneous sample in terms of age-, gender-, and disease-specific population. The details of the studies are described in the manuscript.
Keywords: Cognition, Hatha Yoga, memory, research, yoga
|How to cite this article:|
Gupta A, Gupta RK. A literature review on behavioral attributes of yoga postures and cognition. Yoga Mimamsa 2021;53:141-4
| Introduction|| |
Hatha Yoga is defined as the science of training one's mind and body through the practice of shatkarma, asana, pranayama, mudra, and samadhi (Digambaraji & Kokaje, 1998). The purpose of Hatha Yoga is to attain the state of Raja Yoga (Vasu, 1914). Although different traditions have described distinct components of Hatha Yoga (Digambaraji & Kokaje, 1998; Digambarji & Gharote, 1978), the traditions have described shatkarma as the starting and foundation element in body and mind training followed by the practice of asana, as defined in the Patanjali Yoga Sutra (2/48), are the physical postures performed with steadiness and comfort (Taimini, 1999). Steadiness, as described in the yoga sutra, is the ability to immobilize the physical position attained by a sadhaka (practitioner) with relaxation, i.e., without tensing the body muscles (Taimini, 1999). These postures, when practised over a while, are supposed to improve a variety of psychological, physiological, and cognitive functions (Saraswati, 2002). While Swami Kuvalayananda has described 15 asanas and Sage Gheranda described 32, the asana was classified into forward, backward, inverted, and balancing categories based on one's spine position (Saraswati, 2002).
Although Swami Satyananda has described massaging of abdominal organs, lower and upper limbs, and spinal nerves as the general benefits of asana of each category, the specific benefits bestowed by the balancing category of asana upon the practitioners, in relation to cognition, are improvement in mental concentration, attention, and emotional balance (Saraswati, 2002). For this reason, balancing asana has been included in the yoga modules evaluated for the corresponding changes in cognitive functions such as inhibitory response, mental flexibility, processing speed, attention, and working memory, in addition to other categories of asana (Manjunath & Telles, 2001; Galantino, Greene, Daniels, Dooley, Muscatello, & O'Donnell, 2012; Brunner, Abramovitch, & Etherton, 2017). Majority of the studies have used yoga postures in association with pranayama and (or) meditation as part of their yoga intervention (Brunner, et al., 2017; Subramanya & Telles, 2009; Chaya, Nagendra, Selvam, Kurpad, & Srinivasan, 2012; Telles, Singh, Bhardwaj, Kumar, & Balkrishna, 2013; Gothe, Keswani, & McAuley, 2016). Such studies have observed merely the pre–post effects of the yoga intervention. Further, the asana component of the yoga intervention has not been described in detail in terms of the practice patterns of the “yoga group participants” (minimum duration, a posture to be held to bring corresponding change in cognitive performance has not been explicitly explored). Although the attributes of pranayama in terms of breath cycles such as high-frequency yoga breathing performed with two cycles per frequency (Telles, Raghuraj, Arankalle, & Naveen, 2008; Telles, Gupta, Singh, & Balkrishna, 2016), breath ratio of 1:4:2 in alternate nostril yoga breathing (Saraswati, 2002; Telles, Verma, Sharma, Gupta, & Balkrishna, 2017), and that of meditation in terms of focused attention and open monitoring type (Ainsworth, Eddershaw, Meron, Baldwin, & Garner, 2013; Lippelt, Hommel, & Colzato, 2014) have been documented succinctly in cognitive enhancement literature where either of the two components of yoga (pranayama and meditation) have been used as sole intervention (Manjunath & Telles, 2001; Subramanya & Telles, 2009; Chaya, et al., 2012; Telles, et al., 2013; Gothe, et al., 2016).
There is no such study to our knowledge describing which attributes of asana (yoga poses) have contributed to the corresponding changes in cognitive performance while practising them for a period of varied duration in one session (one session implies 1 day) such as 60 min (Brunner, et al., 2017), 22 min and 30 s (Subramanya & Telles, 2009), 20 min (Gothe, Hillman, & McAuley, 2012), 60 min (Gothe, Kramer, & McAuley, 2014), and 45 min (Telles, et al., 2013). This is where this literature review has been proposed with objectives to provide a theoretical rationale to identify (a) the specific attribute of the yoga poses which have been used in yoga protocol of various studies but not explicitly explored and (b) the minimum time required to hold a posture to bring the corresponding change in the performance among aforesaid cognitive function(s).
| Materials and Methods|| |
Keywords such as yoga and cognition, yoga and working memory, yoga posture and cognition, and yoga and attention have been used to retrieve 24 empirical studies from Google Scholar. Those studies which have included only the yoga poses (asanas) as part of the yoga intervention in improving the cognitive functions were included in the review. Moreover, (a) 18 studies assessing the intervention effects of yoga poses (asana) in association with pranayama and (or) meditation, (b) 1 study published before the year 2000, (c) 1 review article, and (d) 1 study assessing the walking as intervention have been excluded from the review. Three studies met the inclusion criteria, hence, included in the review.
| Results|| |
Velikonj et al. assessed the clinical efficacy of movement-based Hatha Yoga practices (asana) in improving the multiple sclerosis (MS) symptoms, namely fatigue (physical, cognitive, and psychosocial), mood (depression), spasticity among 20 relapsing-remitting, and progressive MS patients in 26–50 years' age group (Velikonja, Čurić, Ožura, & Jazbec, 2010). Half of the participants were randomized into Hatha Yoga and sports climbing group, who practised the interventions once a week for continuously 10 weeks. While both the groups did not show significant changes in executive functions, the yoga group alone showed significant improvement in selective attention.
Another study (Gothe, Pontifex, Hillman, & McAuley, 2013) compared acute bout of yoga postures with an aerobic session of 20 min on cognitive performance of word memory recall and recognition among 30 healthy, college-based female students with a mean age of 20.07 years and standard deviation (SD) as 1.95 years. The study also assessed the role of anxiety in improving the cognitive performance. Each participant completed three different sessions, baseline assessment, yoga protocol, and aerobic session, on 3 different days. The participants were asked to hold the yoga postures up to 30 s while attending to their breathing and muscle movements during the postures. Yoga condition showed significant improvements in the form of increased accuracy and shorter reaction times on inhibitory and working memory task, superiorly to aerobic and baseline conditions.
Lin et al., (2015) conducted a twelve week long randomized clinical trial to assess the clinical efficacy of yoga therapy consisting of yoga postures, and aerobic exercise consisting of walking and cycling in improving neurocognitive functions of memory and attention among early psychosis women (n=140) in the age group of 16-60 years (mean± S.D., 24.6± 7.6 years). Participants were randomized into three conditions: (a) yoga group (n = 48), (b) aerobic session (n = 46), and (c) waitlist control group (n = 46). Each session was conducted for 60 min a day, 3 days a week. While both intervention groups showed significant improvement in working memory, it was the yoga group alone which showed significant improvement in verbal acquisition and selective attention scores.
| Discussion|| |
The purpose of this review was to elucidate the specific trait(s) of yoga asanas which were assumed to bring corresponding changes in cognitive performance among yoga practitioners. Saraswati (2002) in his classical text on asana, pranayama, mudra, and bandha emphasized the significance of holding a pose from 15 to 180 s in one session. This leads to mental and emotional balance resulting in reduced stress, anxiety, in general, and improved cognition, in particular. Such observations have been supported by the empirical studies included in the review (Velikonja, et al., 2010; Gothe, et al., 2013; Lin, et al., 2015).
Subsequently, the review yielded two important features of yoga asanas, stability, i.e., ability of a practitioner to immobilize his/her body with relaxation (Taimini, 1999), and time duration to hold a posture (Saraswati, 2002). Gothe et al. (2013) used the time duration of 30s as the period of holding yoga postures which included the ability to immobilize their bodies with relaxation as well. The protocol thus administered brought about significant changes in working memory and inhibitory task among undergraduate females. Similarly, in the study on MS (Velikonja, et al., 2010), only the selective attention has been found to be improved after the 10-weeks long intervention. The protocol involved holding the postures for an extended duration of time though detailed information about the yoga protocol was not provided by the authors in the study. In the third study (Lin et al., 2015), the participants practised yoga postures for 60 min a day, 3 days a week, and for successive 12 weeks resulting in improved attention, verbal acquisition, working memory, and superior to the aerobic and baseline condition.
The importance of diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing in stability was measured as postural stability in terms of center of pressure (COP). COP length was found to be 66.4 in abdominal breathing and 80.8 in thoracic breathing (Kocjan et al., 2018). Greater COP length indicates more postural sway, and hence, less stability and diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing has been shown to improve sustained attention, cortisol levels, and anxiety (Ma, et al., 2017). The protocols reviewed here consisted of yoga postures synchronized with slow and deep abdominal breathing both while assuming and leaving out of the pose as well as holding the pose. This could be the plausible mechanism by which the yoga postures may bring out the cognitive changes in the participants. This requires further empirical research.
| Conclusion|| |
Although there seems to be an emerging evidence that postural stability and time duration to hold a posture could be possible traits of a yoga posture in bringing the corresponding changes in cognitive performance, due to inadequate empirical studies on yoga posture and cognition, it is not recommended to definitively conclude about the role of said attributes in improving cognitive performance. Future studies should involve longitudinal and randomized designs, large sample size, homogeneous sample in terms of age-, gender-, and disease-specific population, and take into account the role of other confounding variables such as dietary habits, quality of sleep, mood, anxiety, and ayurvedic constitution of the practitioners which tend to affect the postural performance.
Financial support and sponsorship
Conflicts of interest
There are no conflicts of interest.
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