A single, 20-minute session of Hatha yoga has been shown to improve participants' brainpower — boosting speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and other measures of brain function associated with focus, learning, and retention of information.
Researchers with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found yoga participants performed significantly better immediately after the session than after moderate-to-vigorous aerobic exercise for the same amount of time.
"Yoga is an ancient Indian science and way of life that includes not only physical movements and postures but also regulated breathing and meditation," said Neha Gothe, a professor of kinesiology, health, and sport studies at Wayne State University who led the study while a graduate student at the University of Illinois. "The practice involves an active attentional or mindfulness component but its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored."
For the study, the participants engaged in a 20-minute progression of yoga postures that included contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups, regulated breathing, and meditative exercises. Participants also completed an aerobic exercise session where they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes.
The results showed participants had more improvement in their reaction times and accuracy on cognitive tasks after yoga practice than after the aerobic exercise session.
"It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold, and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout," Gothe said.
"The breathing and meditative exercises aim at calming the mind and body and keeping distracting thoughts away while you focus on your body, posture or breath. Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities."
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