According to a new study a 20 minute Hatha Yoga session can improve focus and a person’s ability take in, retain, and use new information.
“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, who led the study while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Gothe now is a professor of kinesiology, health and sport studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. “The practice involves an active attentional or mindfulfulness component but its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored.”
Participants also completed an aerobic exercise session where they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes. When the results were compared to their performance after yoga, researchers found yoga was more beneficial. According to this study, the intensity of an exercise does not yield improved cognitive functioning.
“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.”
Many factors could explain the results. When we are calmer, we appear to have more mental resources than when we are stressed.
“Enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises is just one of the possible mechanisms. Besides, meditation and breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests,” Goethe said.