A study conducted by Canadian researchers has found that practicing per day brief sessions of ‘Hatha Yoga’ — a branch of yoga that emphasises physical exercises to master the body along with mind exercises to withdraw it from external object — can significantly boost the brain’s goal-directed behaviour and energy levels.
Conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo, the study found that practicing just 25 minutes of Hatha Yoga or mindfulness meditation can significantly improve the brain’s executive functions, cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behaviour and the ability to control knee-jerk emotional responses, habitual thinking patterns and actions.
“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,” said Peter Hall of the University of Waterloo.
“These two functions might have some positive carryover effect in the near-term following the session, such that people are able to focus more easily on what they choose to attend to in everyday life,” he added.
The researchers studied the effect of Hatha Yoga and mindfulness meditation on 31 participants. It was found that after both the yoga and meditation activities, participants showed significant improvement in executive function tasks as compared to the control task of quiet reading.
“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,” said Kimberley Luu, lead author of the study.
The study also found that mindfulness meditation and Hatha Yoga were both effective for improving energy levels. But Hatha Yoga had significantly more powerful effects than meditation alone.
“There are a number of theories about why physical exercises like yoga improve energy levels and cognitive test performance,” said Luu. “These include the release of endorphins, increased blood flow to the brain, and reduced focus on ruminative thoughts. Though ultimately, it is still an open question.”
The study was published recently in the journal Mindfulness.