If you can spare just 25 minutes a day to practice yoga or meditation, you can boost your brain's function and also your energy levels, says a new study from the University of Waterloo, which examined the benefits of Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation.
"Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation both focus the brain's conscious processing power on a limited number of targets like breathing and posing, and also reduce processing of nonessential information," said Peter Hall, associate professor in the School of Public Health & Health Systems.
"These two functions might have some positive carryover effect in the near-term following the session, such that people are able to focus more easily on what they choose to attend to in everyday life."
Study participants completed 25 minutes of Hatha yoga, 25 minutes of mindfulness meditation, and 25 minutes of quiet reading (a control task) in randomized order. They performed significantly better on executive function tasks following both yoga and meditation activities compared to the reading task.
"This finding suggests that there may be something special about meditation — as opposed to the physical posing — that carries a lot of the cognitive benefits of yoga," said the study's lead author Kimberley Luu.
Although both mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga were effective for improving energy levels, Hatha yoga, which is one of the most common styles of yoga practiced in the U.S., was significantly more powerful than meditation alone.
"There are a number of theories about why physical exercises like yoga improve energy levels and cognitive test performance," said Luu. "These include the release of endorphins, increased blood flow to the brain, and reduced focus on ruminative thoughts. Though ultimately, it is still an open question."
Other recent studies have also found that yoga and meditation have health benefits. A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's found that mindfulness, a form of therapy that uses techniques such as meditation and yoga to cope with negative emotions, can help aging memories. The study also found that mindfulness worked as well as prescription drugs to lift depression.
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