This is your Brain on Yoga

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As a personal trainer, many people assume that my motivation for wanting people to lead a more active life has to do with weight.  But, truly, that’s a meaningful but secondary (or even tertiary) reason I think exercise is important.  Currently, the most interesting research in exercise science has to do with the many convincing links between physical and mental wellness.

The research goes far beyond the popular understanding of exercise, endorphins, and the “runner’s high.”  Rather, we are beginning to learn how exercise of various forms contributes to focus, productivity, and efficiency.  What was most surprising to me, however, was that short bouts of exercise– just 20 minutes– could yield these positive results.  And not to diminish the thrill of the runner’s high, but one study from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champagne found that the greatest post-exercise cognitive boost wasn’t gained from cardiovascular exercise; rather, a short yoga practice provided the basis for measurable improvements in accuracy and speed of tasks.  While I wouldn’t want someone to seek out a yoga practice with the sole intention of using it as a means to make them more productive, the study gives us an opening for greater conversation.

For those of us who practice and teach yoga, this research gives us one more reason to try to encourage people to join us. Yoga is more than flexibility, lithe bodies, and sticky mats.  Yoga is a process of connecting breath and body, attuning the mental and physical. The poses (asana) of yoga build power in our muscles and minds, and it allows us to create change within ourselves.

Later this week I’ll share some studies linking lack of exercise and dementia.  I’m telling you: the research about exercise and brain activity is fascinating stuff.

Note: If the title of this blog post doesn’t make sense to you, congratulations.  You are young enough to not know the greatest commercial of the 1980s.

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