Yoga and Cognitive Function

You already know how good yoga is for your body. But did you know it can improve brain function as well? Search the Web and you’ll find many studies  proving yoga can help cognitive function in elderly practitioners, but it can also help all ages with maintaining focus, and taking in, processing, using, and retaining new information.

A study published in 2013 by the University of Illinois found that people who participated in 20 minutes of yoga did significantly better on cognitive testing than those who participated in 20 minutes of aerobic exercise. The government of India is funding further research into the scientific study of yoga and its effects on healthy brains as well as possible benefits for those with disorders. The word is out: yoga works!

What is it about yoga that affects us so profoundly? Certainly the benefits to flexibility, strength, and balance are obvious, but the mindfulness component of yoga is often overlooked, especially in Western culture, in favor of the latest yoga flavor: hot yoga, power yoga, or any other innovative twist we can put on it. But the benefits of yoga are seen most often when the meditative component is as equally applied in the practice as the physical. In fact, there are yogis who would tell you that to separate the two is to not practice yoga at all.

Meditation keeps us in the moment, pardoning the cliche. A focus on the past can produce sadness, anger, and depression, while concern about the future results in anxiety and fear. Bringing the mind to center on the immediate eliminates the non-beneficial emotions connected to the past and future, and allows us to experience the peace associated with the present. Perhaps it is this focus on the present that enables our brains to process more efficiently, without the constraints of negativity and fear.

A regular practice means regular states of mindfulness and well-being. To learn to apply this to moments throughout our days and nights can certainly bring improved cognitive function, but also improve our relationships with others and within our own selves. What science is learning, millions of practitioners have known for centuries: yoga is good for body and soul.