Yoga Boosts the Brain

Study: Yoga Boosts the Brain

(Striking a pose may actually make you smarter, new research suggests)

I live in a town where doing yoga is practically a requirement of residency. While there are classes targeted to every fitness level and interest – pregnant women, seniors, runners, climbers – it still seems that most are intense, power yoga workouts done in intentionally overheated rooms.

Since I prefer my yoga to be a bit more on the relaxing side, I was happy to hear about a new study that looked at the connection between brain function and a basic 20-minute series of yoga poses followed by some meditative relaxation.

Researchers at the University of Illinois recruited 30 female undergrads and had them go through both the 20-minute yoga series and, at a different time, a more vigorous 20-minute aerobic session of walking or jogging on a treadmill at 60 to 70 percent of their maximum heart rate. After each activity, the women were given tests that measured the speed and accuracy of their working memory and inhibitory control.

The researchers were surprised to find that participants performed significantly better at the mental tests after the yoga session than they did after the invigorating aerobic workout, even though exercising at that intensity has been shown in other studies to provide a cognitive boost. The tests of their brain function related to their ability to maintain focus and take in, retain and use new information. In other words, the stuff you need to manage everything from remembering where you left your keys to acing an important test.

The lead author of this study theorizes that yoga’s focus on mindfulness may be its secret weapon. “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,” said kinesiology professor Neha Gothe. “Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.”

If yoga can make me smarter – or at least give my mental skills a much-needed boost – plus I get to lie down and relax at the end of the session, it sounds like a win-win situation to me. Time to go dust off the yoga mat and run through a few poses before sitting down at the computer to do more work.

Reprinted: Sally Wadyka (June 6, 2013)
MSN Healthy Living