Researchers have found that subjects who participated in a single yoga session had better speed and accuracy scores on working memory and inhibitory control tests than after they tried an aerobic exercise session of the same length.
These tests are indicating a person’s ability to maintain focus, as well as absorb and remember new information, and aerobic exercises had previously been shown to boost scores in those areas.
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 lead author Neha Gothe in a press release, Gothe is a professor of kinesiology, health and sport studies at WayneStateUniversity in Detroit.
Thought the practice involves an active attention or mindfulness component its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored, she said.
In this study, 30 female undergraduate students were instructed to do a 20-minute session of Hatha yoga, which involved seated, standing and supine positions. The exercises involved relaxing different muscle groups, regulated breathing and isometric contractions, meaning the joint angle or the muscle length does not change during the process. Meditation and deep breathing were also involved.
The subjects were also instructed to complete a 20-minute aerobic exercise where they walked or jogged on a treadmill. The incline and speed was adjusted until the person maintained a 60 to 70 percent maximum heart rate which had previously been shown to stimulate cognitive abilities in other studies-throughout the session.
But no significant improvements on working memory and inhibitory control scores were found after the aerobic exercise session.
On the other hand, right after the yoga session people improved their reaction times and accuracy on the tests.
Gothe said that that following yoga practice, it appears that 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.
She further explained that 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.
She thinks these processes translate beyond yoga practice when people try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.
Gothe hypothesized that improving one`s self-awareness through yoga`s meditation exercise, as well as reducing anxiety and stress through the session may have boosted performance.
The study was published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.