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The Effects of a Yogic Breath Meditation Intervention on Attention Control and other Domains of Self-Control


This study examined the effects of a 4-week yogic breath meditation intervention on physiological (blood glucose and cardiovascular) and psychological measures of self-control, particularly attention control via performance on the Stroop cognitive task. We recruited healthy participants from the University of California, Los Angeles campus. The final sample (N = 67) consisted of graduate (n = 1) and undergraduate (n = 66) students. Participants were randomized to an intervention or control group and assessed before and after the 4-week class series. There were no intervention effects on Stroop task performance, heart rate and blood pressure (all ps > .10). Participants in the control group exhibited a sharper decline in blood glucose in response to the Stroop task compared to participants in the intervention group at post-intervention (p = .07). In addition, participants in the control group exhibited lower positive affect levels than participants in the intervention group at post-intervention (p = .04) and a decline in acceptance based coping from pre- to post-intervention (p = .05). However, the difference in positive affect was mainly driven by feelings of pride (p = .06). Participants in the intervention group exhibited higher levels of spiritual coping (p = .01), emotional expression (p = .08) and acting with awareness (p = .03) than participants in the control group at post-intervention. There were no group differences in other domains of self-control such as health behaviors. While the intervention was not associated with an improvement in the primary outcome, attention control, the results suggest that breath-based meditation might buffer the depleting effects of self-control, as measured by declines in blood glucose levels. Breathing-based meditation might further help to prevent a decline in adaptive coping behaviors and acting with awareness. The study was novel in that, to my knowledge, it was the first meditation intervention study that used different types of breathing techniques as the active intervention ingredient. Studying factors that determine when and how breathing-based meditations affect self-control efforts is an intriguing topic for future research studies.

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