How to Reduce Stress and Improve Memory in Just 15 Minutes

Co-author: Neha Nasar.

A hand in the pose of gyan mudra, one of the hand movements used in KK yoga

Credit: Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich/Pexels

We’re all looking for ways to de-stress these days. A study done by one of my students (Neha Nasar) for her honors thesis looked at a simple and highly effective method for reducing stress and improving cognitive function.

This method is a system of yoga and meditation called Kirtan Kriya yoga or KK yoga. KK yoga involves a series of “mudras,” or hand movements and chanting. It’s easy to learn and only takes about 12-15 minutes.

What is KK yoga?

KK yoga has been shown to improve memory, attention, overall cognitive function, sleep, and immune system function, in addition to reducing depression, stress, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. , in patients with Alzheimer’s disease (Newberg et al., 2010; Khalsa, 2015).

The mudras and chants that characterize KK yoga are believed to stimulate 84 acupressure points, causing increased cerebral blood flow to the prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex.

These regions of the brain are vitally important for executive, cognitive and emotional functions. Additionally, reduced blood flow to these areas of the brain is an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease, sometimes before the disease is diagnosed. KK yoga has also been shown to successfully improve memory in people with mild cognitive impairment and memory impairment, as well as those living in high-stress environments (Khalsa, 2015).

Neha designed a longitudinal study involving participants that were quite different from those in most studies of the effectiveness of KK yoga. In his study, healthy, non-cognitively impaired undergraduate students volunteered to practice KK yoga once a week for six weeks.

At the start of the six weeks and then at the end of the six weeks of yoga practice, participants took part in a KK yoga group session, learning and practicing hand movements and chanting. During these group sessions, we used an online visual version of the Digit Span Memory Test (DSMT) to assess the effects of yoga on working memory.

In the DSMT, participants see a random series of digits, one number at a time, and are asked to recall those digits first in the same order (for example, if the digit sequence was 1 5 7 8, the correct recall was 1 5 7 8) and then in reverse order (if the sequence was 1 5 7 8, the correct reverse recall was 8 7 5 1).

Digit sequence lengths increased by one digit with every five to ten digit trial. Digit presentation speed ranged from one digit every ~1.3 seconds (slow) to one digit every ~0.7 seconds (fast).

Studies have shown that “forward” recall trials assess working memory and attention and “backward” recall trials measure cognitive control and executive functioning. The long-term effects of KK practice were measured by comparing DSMT scores in the initial group practice with the final group session six weeks later.

We also collected saliva samples using the SalivaBio Oral Swab (SOS) method provided by Salimetrics.com. These samples were frozen after collection and shipped to Salimetrics® for cortisol ELISA assay. Cortisol swabs were obtained just before KK yoga practice and again 15 minutes after yoga ended. Comparisons of the short-term effects of KK yoga on cortisol levels were obtained by comparing samples before and after yoga. The long-term effects of KK yoga were measured by comparing week one levels with week six levels.

Over the six weeks following the study, we asked participants to participate in one online KK yoga session per week. The day before the yoga session, participants completed a mood survey, rating their level of stress, anxiety and depression.

The results

Overall, KK yoga effectively reduced cortisol levels, depression, anxiety, and perceived stress. At the start and end of the six-week training period, cortisol levels were significantly lower 15 minutes after KK practice than before yoga.

Cortisol levels after six weeks of yoga practice decreased, but the decrease was not statistically significant, possibly because the number of stressors in our participants also increased towards the end of the study at the end of the study. approaching final exams.

The practice of KK yoga significantly reduced depression and a slightly significant decrease in self-reported stress over the six weeks. Finally, the individual conditions (forward and backward recall) on the DSMT were differentially affected by KK yoga.

Participants’ performance on the DSMT from the start to the end of six weeks improved the most in the fast-forward and fast-rewind conditions, indicating that KK yoga influenced working memory, attention, and functioning. cognitive of the participants.

Thus, an easy-to-learn and quick combination of yoga and meditation appears to have significant benefits in improving mood and memory in a population of healthy, non-cognitively impaired students. It would be a simple addition to the daily routines of busy students, demonstrate tremendous psychological benefits, and could also serve as a therapeutic tool for coping with stress.

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