This Is Why Kriya Improves Your Mood and Memory, According to Science

The research behind the breath-and-body practice.

Feeling calm and grounded after a kriya session? There’s a scientific reason why: More and more studies point to how yoga, deep breathing and mindfulness practices can change our brains, but there might be something specific about kriya (a series of postures, breaths and sounds designed to help you achieve physical, mental and spiritual balance) that can improve memory and mood.

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In a 2016 New York Times article, writer Gretchen Reynolds referenced a study from the University of California, Los Angeles, and other institutions, looking at how Kundalini yoga compared to a proven brain training program at improving participants’ memories. The researchers split 29 middle-aged and older adults (who had mild cognitive impairment, often considered a precursor to dementia) into two groups: One group took the brain training program and the other practiced Kundalini and learned Kirtan Kriya — they did one hour of yoga per week and meditated according to the Kirtan Kriya guidelines for 15 minutes every day.

Researchers had the participants undergo brain scans and cognitive tests both before and after the 12-week study. They found that at the end of the study both groups showed improvements on cognitive tests and their brain scans “displayed more communication now between parts of their brains involved in memory and language skills,” Reynolds wrote.

However, the group that practiced kriya also showed improvements in their moods and outperformed the other group on a test measuring a specific type of memory linked to “balance, depth perception and the ability to recognize objects and navigate the world,” according to Reynolds. Additionally, the brain scans showed that kriya practitioners had more “communication between parts of the brain that control attention,” which may lead to increased focus. Why kriya specifically appeared to reap such significant brain benefits is still unclear, but Dr. Helen Lavretsky (a psychiatry professor at U.C.L.A. involved in the study) told Reynolds that it’s at least partly due to the stress-reduction benefits the practice yields.

This adds to existing research showing how yoga and meditation practices can improve mental and physical health. For example, deep breathing can help our bodies switch gears from “fight or flight” mode into a more calm and collected state and may make our bodies better equipped to deal with stress.

While there’s more research to be done, existing findings support the powerful effect yoga and meditation have on our brains and bodies, suggesting that a combination of the two — like kriya — may help you remain calm, sharp and focused.

Read more about the study here.