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Yoga for the Brain

Yoga fanatics will probably not be surprised at the results of a new study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign that found that just twenty minutes of yoga stimulates brain function, but those of us who are not yet yoga devotees might be motivated to give it a try. Researchers studied the working memory and inhibitory control of thirty people.  These are two measurements of our brain function that are known to be linked to our ability to focus and to remember and to use things we have just learned.

Some of the subjects performed yoga poses (a single session including seated, standing, and supine postures ending in meditation and deep breathing) for twenty minutes prior to taking brain function tests, while other subjects walked or jogged on a treadmill before being tested. Those who had participated in the yoga section performed faster and more accurately on the tests than the other subjects performing a different exercise.

Yoga’s principals have always been to create mindfulness and cognitive awareness through regulated breathing, quiet meditation, and controlled physical movements with an awareness of the body, but modern Western science has yet to make a full exploration of its potential health benefits, according to Neha Gothe, the head researcher. Aerobic exercise is good for the body too, of course, but it does not involve the calming and focusing elements of yoga that translate into an improved day-to-day mental performance. Yoga helps keep distracting thoughts away, while most other physical activity does not actively involve brain participation.

Other studies seem to corroborate these findings.  Research at the University of Pennsylvania tracked nearly sixty men and women for about six months to discover that twice-weekly yoga sessions can reduce high blood pressure. Frontiers in Psychiatry published a study earlier this year showing how the practice of  yoga can help alleviate depression and lessen sleep problems.

Read the entire article here: Doing yoga for 20 minutes improves focus and brain function: study