Most people are already aware of, or at least familiar with the fact that yoga can transform the body while at the same time calming the nervous system. But did you know that yoga is so good for your brain that it can make you smarter too?
How does yoga affect the brain?
Those who practice yoga consistently see dramatic shifts in the way their bodies feel, and they also find that they are able to cope with daily challenges more easily. But the key word here is consistency.
Studies have shown that individuals who practice yoga consistently score higher on brain fitness assessments. For instance, one study showed that patients assigned to yoga and daily meditation practice for 12 weeks did better than those who participated in memory training classes in verbal and visual memory, executive function, mood resilience, anxiety, and connectivity of the brain.
Another study showed that practicing Hatha yoga or mindfulness meditation daily enhances the brain’s executive functions, cognitive abilities linked to goal-directed behavior and the ability to control knee-jerk emotional responses, and habitual thinking patterns and actions.
And this is possible after just 20 minutes!
So if you are a student and you need to prep for a test, consider doing yoga for a few minutes prior to heading off to class. Doing so will increase the odds that your mind will be better focused.
But how does yoga affect your brain and make you smarter? Well, it boils down to the all-important deep breathing practiced in yoga. Inhaling and exhaling deeply stimulates the prefrontal cortex of the brain, thereby making you more alert and strengthening and heightening your senses and emotions.
How does yoga compare to aerobics?
Still not convinced that yoga is a better workout, especially for your mind, than other forms of exercise? Then check out the results of a study conducted by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, which was published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health. Researchers had 30 women do 20 minutes of aerobics or yoga.
The conclusion? After the yoga practice, these female students were able to focus better, as well as process information more accurately and efficiently. And they were also better equipped to learn new information, plus hold onto or update old information compared to those who did aerobics. The researchers also found that those who were tested following a yoga practice had better accuracy and shorter reaction times than those who did aerobic workouts like running on a treadmill.
Why is yoga so good for your brain?
Researchers are not yet completely sure why yoga seems to have such a positive impact upon the mind. However, many believe that improved mental clarity and focus is a result of the mind being quieted and relaxed during yoga.
This inherently meditative practice serves to stop the busy mind from rushing through thoughts. But even if the yoga or meditation session itself is short, the effects are long lasting — which is why you feel fabulous for hours after you come out of savasana.
On top of being meditative, yoga also encourages deep, steady breathing and body awareness. This further allows the mind to shift inward and focus on what’s going on inside the body while getting out of the hustle and bustle of everyday stressors. In fact, you can get multiple mental health benefits from yoga.
Ready to make your brain fitter?
If you are brand new to yoga, it is best to find a local studio where you can receive appropriate instruction for your experience level. This will reduce the risk of injuring yourself so that you can reap all of the amazing physical and mental benefits of this ancient practice.
So go ahead and start doing yoga if you feel that your mind is frazzled and unfocused at school or at work. Just 20 minutes a day can provide amazing results.
Cognitive Enhancement with Yoga, Psychiatric Times, https://www.psychiatrictimes.com/geriatric-psychiatry/cognitive-enhancement-yoga
Yoga, meditation improve brain function and energy levels, Science Daily, https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/09/170906103416.htm
A 20-minute bout of yoga stimulates brain function immediately after, Journal of Physical Activity and Health, https://news.illinois.edu/view/6367/204796