You already know how good yoga is for your body. But did you know it can improve brain function as well? Search the Web, and you’ll find many studies proving yoga and meditation can help cognitive function in elderly practitioners. Still, it can also help all ages with maintaining focus and taking in, processing, using, and retaining new information.
A study published in 2013 byfound that people who participated in 20 minutes of yoga did significantly better on cognitive testing than those who participated in 20 minutes of aerobic exercise. The government of India is funding further research into the scientific study of yoga and its effects on healthy brains as well as possible benefits for those with disorders. The word is out: yoga works!
Consistent with previous studies, studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that people who completed a one-week meditation program did significantly better on cognitive testing than those who did not participate in any mindfulness activities. Psychologists have hypothesized that people practice mindfulness because it may be helpful in more general health and well-being, including reducing stress, lower blood pressure, reduced blood sugar levels, and for improving cognitive function (particularly during midlife).
One reason meditation may be so effective for cognitive performance is that it tends to calm the mind and reduce the stimulation of the senses. We may feel that what is happening to our bodies is too distracting and that our minds are on an autopilot. We also tend to focus on the negative rather than the positive, making it hard to feel happy and frustrated. Mantra meditation has shown to be especially effective at helping people focus on postive thoughts and emotions. In this practice, meditators use a set of buddhist prayer beads to count mantras with. It is easy toand boost your cognitive performance.
What is it about yoga and meditation that affects us so profoundly? Certainly, the benefits to flexibility, strength, and balance are obvious. Still, the mindfulness component of yoga is often overlooked, especially in Western culture, in favor of the latest yoga flavor: hot yoga, power yoga, or any other innovative twist we can put on it. But the benefits of yoga are seen most often when the meditative component is as equally applied in the practice as the physical. In fact, there are yogis who would tell you that to separate the two is to not practice yoga at all.
Meditation keeps us in the moment, pardoning the cliche. A focus on the past can produce sadness, anger, and depression, while concern about the future results in anxiety and fear. Bringing the mind to center on the immediate eliminates the non-beneficial emotions connected to the past and future, and allows us to experience the peace associated with the present. Perhaps it is this focus on the present that enables our brains to process more efficiently, without the constraints of negativity and fear.
A regular practice means regular states of mindfulness and well-being. To learn to apply this to moments throughout our days and nights can certainly bring improved cognitive function, but also improve our relationships with others and within our own selves. What science is learning, millions of practitioners have known for centuries: yoga is good for body and soul.