20 minutes of yoga stimulates brain function
Some turn to yoga for its meditative and stress-relieving benefits, others for its stretching and muscle-building qualities. But if researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign are right, only 20 minutes of yoga is also enough to sharpen our ability to focus and retain information immediately afterwards.
In a study of 30 female undergraduate students at the university, researchers had participants follow a 20-minute progression of Hatha yoga, which progresses from seated, standing and supine postures that involve both contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups, and regulated breathing. Participants also completed an aerobic exercise program where they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes.
At the end of each exercise session, participants were evaluated with tests of memory and inhibitory control, which measure brain function associated with the ability to maintain focus, take in, retain and use new information. While the aerobic exercise brought no improvements in brain functionality, mental performance significantly increased after the yoga, as participants saw gains in both speed and accuracy measures on the tests.
The researchers believe that yoga focuses on breathing and meditating exercises, aimed at calming the mind and body and keep distractions out, while developing an increased self-awareness. These processes appear to translate beyond the yoga session to when you perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.