Yoga has been proven over time to be successful at increasing flexibility, strength and overall health, but it might also give you a bit of a mental boost.
According to research conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, when comparing 20 minutes of yoga to 20 minutes of aerobic running or walking, the yoga showed better results for improving memory and allowing the user to block out distractions and stay focused.
After performing a standard aerobic exercise routine, the 30 female undergraduates participating in the study showed no signs of improved mental capabilities.
The reasons behind the improved memory from yoga may stem from yoga being more mentally involved than simply running or walking down a path or on a machine. The researchers don’t have a scientific answer as to why, but Neha Gothe, the head researcher, says in a statement that it could be a variety of factors giving the brain a mental boost.
“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,” she says.
The yoga exercises given to the subjects involved a 20-minute progression of seated, standing and supine yoga postures complete with relaxation of different muscle groups and regulated breathing.
“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,” Gothe says. ”Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.”
Yoga can also be beneficial to mental health as well as brain power.
Although self-reported, some research suggests that yoga can be a way to help those suffering from bipolar disorder. Out of a group of 86 people with the mental disorder, many deemed regular participation in yoga as beneficial in managing their symptoms.
So, maybe taking that yoga class last spring was a good idea. Even though you were sore, your brain got a good workout. It’s probably time for some more classes.