The effect of movement-focused and breath-focused yoga practice on stress parameters and sustained attention: A randomized controlled pilot study

Conscious Cogn. 2018 Oct;65:109-125. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2018.07.012. Epub 2018 Aug 9.


Yoga-based practices (YBP) typically involve a combination of movement sequences, conscious regulation of the breath, and techniques to engage attention. However, little is known about whether effects of YBP result from the synergistic combination of these components, or whether a subset may yield similar effects. In this study we compared the effect of a movement-focused practice and a breath-focused practice on stress parameters (perceived stress and salivary cortisol) and sustained attention (response inhibition) in yoga naïve university students. While participants of both programs showed a reduction in perceived stress and salivary cortisol, only the breath-focused group showed improvements in sustained attention. In addition, improvement in sustained attention was correlated with reduction in perceived stress but not with reduction in salivary cortisol. We discuss these findings in the context of a theoretical framework outlining bottom-up neurophysiological and top-down neurocognitive mechanisms hypothesized to be engaged by YBP.

Keywords: Attention; Breath; Cortisol; Movement; Response inhibition; Stress; Vigilance; Yoga.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / metabolism
  • Male
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Pilot Projects
  • Respiration*
  • Saliva
  • Stress, Psychological / metabolism
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*
  • Stress, Psychological / therapy
  • Yoga*
  • Young Adult


  • Hydrocortisone