Natural Health News — Good news if you are feeling a little fuzzy headed; a single, 20-minute session of Hatha yoga can help improve the ability to maintain focus and take in, retain and use new information.
In the small study in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 30 college age women engaged in a 20-minute progression of seated, standing and supine yoga postures that included isometric contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups and regulated breathing. The session concluded with a meditative posture and deep breathing.
They also completed an aerobic exercise session where they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes. Each subject worked out at a suitable speed and incline of the treadmill, with the goal of maintaining 60 to 70 percent of her maximum heart rate throughout the exercise session.
According to lead researcher Neha Gothe, professor of kinesiology, health and sport studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, the research team were surprised to see that participants showed more improvement in their reaction times and accuracy on cognitive tasks after yoga practice than after the aerobic exercise session, which showed no significant improvements on the working memory and inhibitory control scores.
“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.”
“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, Gothe said. “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,” she said.
Yoga is an ancient Indian science and way of life that includes not only physical movements and postures but also regulated breathing and meditation. The practice involves an active attentional or mindfulness component but its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored.
Commenting on the study Illinois kinesiology and community health professor Edward McAuley, who directs the Exercise Psychology Laboratory where the study was conducted noted: “We see similar promising findings among older adults as well. Yoga research is in its nascent stages and with its increasing popularity across the globe, researchers need to adopt rigorous systematic approaches to examine not only its cognitive but also physical health benefits across the lifespan.”
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