Examining the Acute Effects of Hatha Yoga and Mindfulness
Meditation on Executive Function and Mood
&Peter A. Hall
Published online: 26 December 2016
#Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016
Abstract The objective of this study was to compare the
acute effects of hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation on
executive function and mood. Using a within-subjects exper-
imental design, 31 moderately experienced hatha yoga practi-
tioners (mean age 27.71 ± 8.32) completed three
counterbalanced sessions: hatha yoga (conscious movement
and meditation), meditation (mindfulness of breath, emotions,
thoughts, and body sensations), and a reading control task.
Executive function was assessed using the Stroop task at base-
line and at two follow-up points (5 and 10 min post-session).
Self-reported mood was measured using the Profile of Mood
States (POMS) at baseline and immediately following each
session. Findings indicated that hatha yoga (p= .002) and
meditation (p= .044) both resulted in significantly improved
Stroop performance, though the two conditions did not differ
significantly from each other (p= .728). The cognitive bene-
fits in both cases were evident at the 10-min post-session delay
but not at the 5-min post-session delay. With respect to mood
outcomes, hatha yoga (p<.001)andmeditation(p=.050)
both resulted in significantly improved POMS total mood
scores. Hatha yoga and meditation did not differ significantly
from each other in regard to POMS total mood (p=.079),
though hatha yoga showed significantly greater benefits on
the vigor-activity subscale (p=.006).Overall,findingssug-
gest that acute bouts of hatha yoga and mindfulness medita-
tion benefit executive function and mood to a similar degree.
Keywords Yog a .Mindfulness meditation .Exercise .
Cognition .Executive function .Mood
Yoga is an ancient Indian practice which traditionally aims to
cultivate mind-body awareness and higher states of conscious-
ness (Bryant 2009). Hatha yoga is the most common style of
yoga practiced in Western societies, and involves mindful
physical posturing, breathing exercises, and meditation
(Muktibodhananda 2012). A survey of a nationally represen-
tative sample estimated that approximately 21 million US cit-
izens practiced hatha yoga in 2012 (Cramer et al. 2016); this
represents a tripling of the number of hatha yoga practitioners
in a 15-year span (1998–2012; Saper et al. 2004). These sta-
tistics suggest that hatha yoga is becoming an increasingly
popular modality of exercise in North America.
Meditation is another common complementary practice
in Western societies (Clarke et al. 2015), and can be defined
as mental training which engages attentional and emotion-
regulation abilities through (self- or other-) guided focus on
specific objects, intentions, or internal and external envi-
ronments (Raffone and Srinivasan 2010;Tangetal.
2015). Mindfulness meditation specifically has been oper-
ationalized as the practice of non-judgemental observation
of present moment thoughts, emotions, and body sensations
with openness and acceptance (Bishop et al. 2004).
Mindfulness meditation can be practiced on its own or as
integrated with physical posturing, as is the case with hatha
yoga (Shelov et al. 2009).
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
(doi:10.1007/s12671-016-0661-2) contains supplementary material,
which is available to authorized users.
School of Public Health and Health Systems, University of Waterloo,
Waterloo, Ontario, Canada
Department of Kinesiology, University of Waterloo, BMH 1013, 200
University Avenue West, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 3G1, Canada
Mindfulness (2017) 8:873–880