Issue 34

RESEARCH: Kirtan Kriya Effects Cognitive Function, Memory and Stress

In three separate studies published this year and in one that is on-going, Kirtan Kriya, as taught by the Kundalini master Yogi Bhajan, was shown to increase short term memory, cognitive function and to reduce stress. In separate studies at the University of Pennsylania, and one continuing at the University of California (UCLA), researchers measured cerebral blood flow in the brain (rCBF) using single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) to determine which areas are more active and which are less during the practice. One study compared long-term meditators to non-meditators. Another study compared those practicing the meditation with those who listened to a Mozart violin concerto. A third study compared the more active meditation to a relaxation exercise.

Kirtan Kriya is a 12-minute active meditation that include mudra (hand gesture), mantra (out loud, whispered and repeated silently), and visual imagery,

In the on-going study at UCLA, those practicing 12-minutes of Kirtan Kriya meditation are being compared with those using a 25-minute relaxation tape. Preliminary results from the 39 caregivers who have already completed the study (23 practiced Kirtan Kriya, 16 listened to a relaxation audio tape) indicate:

Both groups demonstrated improvement in depression and anxiety, resilience and perceived burden.

The meditation group improved significantly more compared to the relaxation group on measures of perceived support, physical suffering, energy, emotional and well-being, as well as in cognitive tests of memory and executive function.

A subgroup of the meditation group also showed marked improvement in the reduction of inflammation This groundbreaking work also reveals that Kirtan Kriya increases telomerase, an exquisite marker of health and longevity, in only 12 minutes a day.

In a study at the University of Pennsylvania, published in 2010 in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease that compared Kirtan Kriya meditation to listening to Mozart, findings show:

CBF was increased in the Kirtan Kriya group in the frontal lobe regions and the right superior parietal lobe

In contrast, a non-significant increase in cerebral blood flow was seen in the music group in the amygdala and precuneus areas of the brain

The Kirtan Kriya group had statistically significant improvements in a neuropsychological test which measures cognition by asking subjects to name as many animals as they can in one minute

Improvements were also seen in the Kirtan Kriya group in three other cognitive tests that measured general memory, attention and cognition

There were no statistically significant improvements in cognition in the music group

Participants found the meditation to be enjoyable and beneficial and perceived their cognitive function to be improved

In the study published in the Journal of Nuclear Medicine in 2010, researchers found an activation of rCBF on the posterior cingulate, which is associated with memory. This corroborates other studies that show cognitive improvement in memory after the practice.

For Links to these findings online:

Meditation Effects on Cognitive Function and Cerebral Blood Flow In Subjects with Memory Loss: A Preliminary Study

Cerebral blood flow changes during chanting meditation

Cerebral blood flow differences between long-term meditators and non-meditators

Meditation Use to Reduce Stress Response and Improve Cognitive Functioning in Older Family Dementia Caregivers Methods

For more information on Kirtan Kriya and the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation which has partially underwritten these studies, please visit


In a randomized controlled trial conducted at the University of Bergen in Norway, seventy-six self-referred patients were randomized to MBSR or a waiting-list control condition. Treatment completers improved significantly on all outcome measures compared to controls. The percentage of participants reaching recovered status was highest for symptom measures of depression and anxiety, and lower for worry and trait anxiety. The eight-week program includes mindfulness meditation, body scan and yoga. Participants meet each week and also practice on their own at home.

This study is soon to be published in Behav Res Ther. You can read the abstract here


About the Author

Amy Weintraub

Amy Weintraub E-RYT 500, MFA, YACEP, C-IAYT, founded the LifeForce Yoga® Healing Institute, which trains yoga and health professionals internationally, and is the author of Yoga for Depression and Yoga Skills for Therapists. The LifeForce Yoga protocol is used by health care providers worldwide. She is involved in ongoing research on the effects of yoga on mood.

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign up for our Research Newsletter


What People Say

“This workshop has changed so much — my self-image and my life. My own heart’s desire is 100% clear. I gained tools to help myself and others to live life fully.” — Marcia Siegel, Yoga teacher, therapist, Carlsbad, CA.
“I came hoping to learn to move past some of the obstacles blocking my creativity. Over the course of this weekend, I feel I’ve gained a certain measure of faith in myself and in my ability to change. I also had some realizations that I believe will be very helpful to me. I feel encouraged. Both the content and presentation of this program were so well-thought out that I can’t think of any way to improve it.” — Andrea Gollin, writer & editor, Miami, FL
“This program changed my life in a significant way. It helped me connect with the spirit which is something you can’t get from psychotherapy and medication.” – G. W., artist, Pittsburgh, PA
“Words do not do justice to all that I learned. This workshop changed my life!” — Jen Nolan, Teacher, Cortland, NY
I absolutely love this stuff! I have been using it with my clients and I am just finding it to be so incredibly helpful. There seriously something for everything. Although I am not as skilled as I hope to be someday, even at my level of training I’m finding that I am beginning to figure out what to do. It just blows my mind! - Christine Brudnicki, MS, LPC
“I gained perspective of who I am in the world and this will change my life significantly.” — Mary Ford, artist, Southport, CT
“I began a fantasy during the meditation exercise... almost as if I’d been there. It’s now an on-going work of fiction.” — Serian Strauss, Tanzania
“I have been reminded that I am not on this path alone, that others are sharing the journey that sometimes seems so difficult. I have also been reminded of the importance of daily practice and I will do that. The whole program has been an incredible experience for me. Thank you!” — Lorraine Plauth, retired teacher, Voorheesville, NY
“I utilize the LFY techniques in both a class room setting and one-on-one environment. The skills have infused my teachings with compassion, mindfulness, and awareness.” — Kat Larsen, CYT, LFYP
“I have gained a softer heart, more receptive mind, and tools to enrich both personal and professional aspects of my life.” – Regina Trailweaver, LICSW, clinical social worker, Hancock, VT.
“Yoga Skills for Therapists is the ideal resource for those who want to bring yoga practices into psychotherapy or healthcare. Weintraub, a leader in the field of yoga therapy, offers evidence-based, easy-to-introduce strategies for managing anxiety, improving mood, and relieving suffering. Helpful clinical insights and case examples emphasize safety, trust, and skillful adaptation to the individual, making it easy to apply the wisdom of yoga effectively in the therapeutic context.” — Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author, Yoga for Pain Relief, Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Yoga Therapy
“My life is already changed! I will use the tools I learned in my own practice and in my work. I feel safe and seen.” — Susan Andrea Weiner, MA, teacher/expressive arts facilitator, El Cerrito, CA.
“This workshop helped me rededicate my energies and begin to work through some of the blocks I’ve felt creatively.” — Steve Mark, college professor, New Haven, CT
“My patients can now have the same effects as many medications without having to actually take medication!” — Deborah Lubetkin, PSY.D, LFYP, West Caldwell, NJ
“My personal practice will change, as well as my yoga classes. I have a better understanding of yoga!” — Andrea Gattuso, RYT, Yoga Teacher, Hackettstown, N.J.
“I have found the LFYP training to be incredibly useful in giving people specific tools to use in maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance, and further opening their intuitive abilities.” — Nancy Windheart, RYT-200, LFYP, Reiki Master, Animal communication teacher, Prescott, AZ
“I have gained an incredible opening and clearing of old obstructions. I hope to return to my life and fill this opening with things I love to do and that give me joy!” — Lisa Shine, administrative assistant, Ballston Lake, NY
“A client who returned said, "When I came before, you helped me understand and get where I wanted to go. Now you show me yoga practices I use to help myself understand and get where I want to go.” — Sherry Rubin, LCSW, BCD, LFYP, Downingtown, PA
“I gained tools for working with my own depression and with my clients’ depressions.” — Robert Sgona, LCSW, RYT, psychotherapist, Yoga teacher, Camden, ME.
“Giving my clients a strategy and permission to quiet their minds and rebalance the sympathetic nervous system has been very beneficial to them and in our work together.” — Sue Dilsworth, PhD, RYT 200, LFYP, Allendale, MI
“I integrate strategies like mantra tones and pranayama, but above all I invite myself and those I teach to cultivate svadhyaya, to practice self-observation without judgment.” — Barbara Sherman, RYT 200, LFYP, Tucson, AZ
“I have found the pranayama (breathing practices) especially easy to introduce in a clinical setting. Some people have benefited quickly in unexpected and transformative ways.” — Liz Brenner, LICSW, LFYP, Watertown, MA
“I feel profoundly transformed, both physically and emotionally. The connection between mind, body and spirit was clearly evident to me, but revealed to me through this workshop as an integrally vital link to overall health.” — Nadine Richardson, program manager at rehab agency, Monroe, CT
“I learned lots of ways to reduce the anxiety and depression of my patients and myself.” – Aviva Sinvany-Nubel, PhD, APN, CNSC, RN, psychotherapist, Bridgewater, N.J.
Scroll to Top