Got a big presentation coming up or maybe its a brainstorming session with the CEO and want your brain to be at its best. Do yoga. According to a study from the University of Illinois that appears in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health a single, 20 minute session of Hatha yoga significantly improves brain function. The study involved 30 young female undergraduate students who were given tests of working memory and inhibitory control, two measures of brain function associated with the ability to maintain focus and take in, retain and use new information. Participants performed significantly better immediately after the yoga practice than after moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise for the same amount of time.
Neha Gothe who led the study states “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 Yoga practice in the study involved 20 minutes of a combination of seated, standing and supine yoga poses as well as regulated breathing exercises. The subjects also participated in 20 minutes of walking or jogging on a treadmill keeping there heart rates at 60 to 70 percent of their maximum heart rate. “This range was chosen to replicate previous findings that have shown improved cognitive performance in response to this intensity,” the researchers reported.
The researchers were shocked that the study participants showed more improvement after doing yoga than after the bout of cardio, which showed almost no improvement in working memory or inhibitory test 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,” 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.”