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One way to boost your brain’s working memory and ability to focus at school this year may be to take up the practice of yoga.
Thirty female undergraduate students participated in a research study that involved engaging in 20-minute hatha yoga sessions. Doing this increased their reaction times and accuracy on mental tasks completed after the practice.
Interestingly, 20 minutes of aerobic exercise prior to the same mental tasks showed less improvement in accuracy and reaction times, and the students experienced no improvement in working memory or inhibitory control (ability to focus).
The study participants’ yoga practice was a 20-minute progression of seated, standing and supine asanas, or yoga postures. The postures included the contraction and relaxation of specific muscle groups, as well as controlled breathing. Each session ended with deep breathing in a meditative posture.
Following the practice, participants were better able to:
“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," said lead researcher Neha Gothe. "Maybe these processes translate beyond yoga practice when you try to perform mental tasks or day-to-day activities.”
Other factors that explain the benefits of yoga are the increased self-awareness that meditation activities facilitate. Controlled breathing and meditation also lower stress and anxiety. This can help individuals think clearly and perform to the best of their ability.
In Sanskrit, "hatha" means "forceful." In a broad sense, hatha yoga refers to the physical practice of yoga, meaning the postures or poses. However, many people today use the term to indicate a gentle and meditative form of asana practice with no flow between the poses.
“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," says kinesiology professor Edward McAuley, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
The next time you have an exam, you might want to engage in some gentle, relaxing meditative yoga poses for about 20 minutes just prior to class. See for yourself whether it makes the test experience more relaxing, and possibly more rewarding.
Source: Science Daily
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