Improve Cognition in Women with Early Psychosis with Yoga

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By John M. de Castro, Ph.D.


“There are basically two different ways in which yoga can help your memory. One is through asanas or postures, and the second way is through breathing exercises. All of these techniques have elements in common. They tend to drive oxygen and blood towards the brain hence making the mind a more tranquil place. Increased serenity will invigorate our mental functions and activities.” – Mira Saraf


Psychoses are mental health problems that cause people to perceive or interpret things differently from those around them. This might involve hallucinations; seeing and, in some cases, feeling, smelling or tasting things that aren’t there, or delusions; unshakable beliefs that, when examined rationally, are obviously untrue. The combination of hallucinations and delusional thinking can often severely disrupt perception, thinking, emotion, and behavior, making it difficult if not impossible to function in society without treatment. Psychoses appear to be highly heritable and involves changes in the brain.


The symptoms of psychoses usually do not appear until late adolescence or early adulthood. There are, however, usually early signs of the onset of psychoses which present as cognitive impairments. There are some indications that aerobic exercise can help lessen these early symptoms. Mindfulness training has also been shown to be beneficial with psychosis. So, it would make sense that yoga, which includes both physical exercise and mindfulness training may be effective. This notion was examined in today’s Research News article “Aerobic exercise and yoga improve neurocognitive function in women with early psychosis.” See:

or see summary below or view the full text of the study at:


Lin and colleagues recruited a large sample of women diagnosed with early stage psychoses and randomly assigned them to either a wait list control condition or to receive 12-weeks of either integrated yoga therapy training or aerobic exercise (walking and cycling). Training occurred for 60 minutes per day for 3 days per week. They were tested at baseline, at the completion of the 12-weeks of training and 18 months later for verbal acquisition, short-term (working) memory, cognitive interference, positive and negative symptoms of psychoses, physical and psychological health, body perception, drug adherence and fitness. They also underwent Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) brain scans.


They found that at the conclusion of training there were statistically significant improvements in verbal acquisition, working memory and attention for the yoga group and in verbal retention and working memory for the aerobic exercise group. Both groups had significant improvements in physical and psychological health (lower depression). Aerobic exercise, but not yoga, produced significant increases in the hippocampus gray matter volume in the brain. Importantly, these effects were still present and significant 18 months later, suggesting that the training has long-lasting effects.


The results suggest that both yoga and aerobic exercise have lasting beneficial effects for women in the early stages of psychoses, improving physical, psychological, and cognitive performances. There were small differences between the two exercise types, with yoga producing greater improvements in verbal learning and attention than aerobic exercise. These are interesting and exciting findings that suggest that the early physical, psychological, and cognitive symptoms of psychoses in women can be successfully improved with either aerobic exercise or yoga, with perhaps yoga being more effective for the verbal learning and attentional symptoms. This makes sense as yoga involves training in attention.


So, improve cognition in women with early psychosis with yoga.


“If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness.” – Helen Lavretsky
CMCS – Center for Mindfulness and Contemplative Studies


This and other Contemplative Studies posts are also available on Google+


Study Summary

Lin, J., Chan, S. K., Lee, E. H., Chang, W. C., Tse, M., Su, W. W., … Chen, E. Y. (2015). Aerobic exercise and yoga improve neurocognitive function in women with early psychosis. NPJ Schizophrenia, 1(0), 15047–.



Impairments of attention and memory are evident in early psychosis, and are associated with functional disability. In a group of stable, medicated women patients, we aimed to determine whether participating in aerobic exercise or yoga improved cognitive impairments and clinical symptoms. A total of 140 female patients were recruited, and 124 received the allocated intervention in a randomized controlled study of 12 weeks of yoga or aerobic exercise compared with a waitlist group. The primary outcomes were cognitive functions including memory and attention. Secondary outcome measures were the severity of psychotic and depressive symptoms, and hippocampal volume. Data from 124 patients were included in the final analysis based on the intention-to-treat principle. Both yoga and aerobic exercise groups demonstrated significant improvements in working memory (P<0.01) with moderate to large effect sizes compared with the waitlist control group. The yoga group showed additional benefits in verbal acquisition (P<0.01) and attention (P=0.01). Both types of exercise improved overall and depressive symptoms (all P⩽0.01) after 12 weeks. Small increases in hippocampal volume were observed in the aerobic exercise group compared with waitlist (P=0.01). Both types of exercise improved working memory in early psychosis patients, with yoga having a larger effect on verbal acquisition and attention than aerobic exercise. The application of yoga and aerobic exercise as adjunctive treatments for early psychosis merits serious consideration.


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