Over the last decade, yoga has become one of the most popular types of physical activity in the United States. There are an estimated 36 million people practicing yoga, up from just over 20 million in 2012. Thirty-four percent of Americans say they plan to practice yoga within the next year.
A Mind-Boosting Reason to Do Yoga
Yoga offers a lot of physical benefits: from increased flexibility to better muscle tone to enhanced joint mobility to weight reduction to injury-reduction. However, according to a new study, there’s also a mind-boosting reason to do yoga.
The research comes from the University of Waterloo, where Canadian researchers examined the effects of a 25-minute Hatha yoga session on 31 participants. In addition to the yoga sessions, the participants also read a book for 25 minutes and completed 25 minutes of mindfulness meditations. After these 25-minute activities, they were subjected to cognitive tests to measure executive brain function.
The reading did little to boost executive brain function, but both yoga and meditation increased the participants’ cognitive abilities. They scored better on all the tests than they did before their practice. Not only that, but they had more energy after the yoga and meditation than the reading group.
Interestingly enough, it’s not the movement of the yoga that provides this particular energy- and brain-boosting benefits. As the lead researcher said, “This finding suggests that there may be something special about meditation— as opposed to the physical posing— that carries a lot of the cognitive benefits of yoga.”
But what it is about yoga and meditation that enhances brain function and boosts energy levels? According to one expert, “Hatha yoga and mindfulness meditation both focus the brain’s conscious processing power on a limited number of targets like breathing and posing and also reduce processing of nonessential information. These two functions might have some positive carryover effect in the near- term following the session, such that people can focus more easily on what they choose to attend to in everyday life.”
Don’t think for one minute the physical effects of yoga aren’t equally important. The fact that you’re moving through the various yoga poses can improve cognitive performance and increase energy levels, thanks to “the release of endorphins, increased blood flow to the brain, and reduced focus on ruminative thoughts.”
Put the two together—physical movement and meditative practices—and you can see why yoga (Hatha yoga, in this case) can be such an effective tool for boosting brain function and cognitive performance.