Can yoga make you think faster? According to research conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: yes. Then-grad student (now Professor of kinesiology at Wayne State University in Detroit) Neha Gothe conducted research on the effect of 20 minutes of Hatha yoga on participants’ performance on working memory and inhibitory control tests. She found that 20 minutes of yoga boosted participant’s abilities in focusing on, retaining, and using information.
The research consisted of 30 young, female, undergraduate students. The women participated in a Hatha yoga session—the type of yoga that focuses on holding poses—that included seated, standing, and supine poses. The yoga session also included isometric concentration, relaxation of various muscle groups and regulated breathing. At the end of the session, participants assumed a meditative posture and engaged in deep breathing.
In addition to the yoga, participants also took part in a 20 minute session of aerobic exercise: walking or jogging on a treadmill. During this exercise, the goal for participants was to maintain 60 to 70 percent of their maximum heart rate.
Participants completed both exercises because previous findings have shown an improvement in cognitive functioning after aerobic activities like jogging. Gothe wanted to compare the post-yoga cognitive boost to that of aerobic exercise.
In fact, Goethe found that participants did better on the cognitive tasks after the yoga practice than after the aerobic exercise session. After doing yoga, the participants improved in both reaction time and accuracy on the cognitive tests. However, they showed no significant improvements on the tests they took after the aerobic exercise session.
Goethe commented, “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.” This may have to do with the focused breathing and meditation that are a part of yoga practice.