Yoga is better at boosting memory and concentration than vigorous exercise
- Experts found a single session of Hatha yoga improved cognitive skills
- The ancient practice was compared to running on a treadmill
- It is thought that breathing and meditative exercises help to calm the mind and body and keep unhelpful, distracting thoughts at bay
Just 20 minutes of yoga a day sharpens the mind, researchers say.
The ancient practice was found to be more effective at boosting brain power than conventional aerobic exercise.
Researchers in America discovered that a single session of Hatha yoga significantly improved a person's speed and accuracy when tested on their working memory and concentration.
Relax: The ancient practice of yoga provides almost instant mental benefits. Scientists found that a 20-minute session of Hatha yoga outperformed a run on the treadmill in terms of boosting memory and concentration
Lead author of the study, Neha Gothe, professor of kinesiology (human movement), health and sport studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, explained: 'Yoga is an ancient Indian science and way of life that includes not only physical movements and postures but also regulated breathing and meditation.
'The practice involves an active attentional or mindfulness component but its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored.'
During the experimental yoga sessions participants were asked to assume postures stood up, sat down and laid down, while keeping their breathing steady.
The exercises included isometric contractions of different muscles in the body, where the muscles are tensed and relaxed without moving any limbs.
The exercises were followed by a mediation session, when participants focussed on posture and deep breathing.
Researchers also put the guinea pigs through their paces on a treadmill for the same 20-minute period, keeping their heart rate up between 60 and 70 per cent of the maximum.
Working up a sweat is good for heart health but it is not as effective as yoga at calming the mind
They found that people who had been for a 20-minute jog were less able to focus mentally on tasks than they were following a yoga session.
Gothe said: 'It appears that following yoga practice, 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.
'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.'
'Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.'
Gothe conceded that the team could not pinpoint any specific process that takes place during yoga that boosted the mental state of the participants, suggesting the relaxation from meditation could hold the answer.
She said: 'Many factors could explain the results.
'Enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises is just one of the possible mechanisms.'
'Besides, meditation and breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests.'
The study, published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, involved 30 female students at Illinois University's Exercise Psychology Laboratory.
Kinesiology and community health Professor Edward McAuley, who directs the where the study was conducted, said:
'Yoga is becoming an increasingly popular form of exercise in the U.S. and it is imperative to systematically examine its health benefits, especially the mental health benefits that this unique mind-body form of activity may offer.'
But Professor McAuley stressed it is early days for study of yoga and its effects on the body and mind.
He said: 'We only examined the effects of a 20-minute bout of yoga and aerobic exercise in this study among female undergraduates.
'However, this study is extremely timely and the results will enable yoga researchers to power and design their interventions in the future.
'We see similar promising findings among older adults as well.
'Yoga research is in its nascent stages and with its increasing popularity across the globe, researchers need to adopt rigorous systematic approaches to examine not only its cognitive but also physical health benefits across the lifespan.'