Can you teach an old dog new tricks?
I have always regarded yoga as something beyond my own capability. For I was born with ants in my pants and have never been able to get rid of them. Relaxation seems to be my deadly enemy. It renders me vegetable-like, bereft of any coherence or functioning motivation, bringing in its wake a dreaded sluggishness.
Yet conversely I admire those whose lives are punctuated by regular holidays and who seem to embrace a period of calm without any side-effects to their normal reserve of energy.
The latest findings by scientists that intrigues me is that yoga is better for the brain than exercise.
The research suggests that twenty minutes of yoga can boost brain activity more than conventional aerobic exercise such as jogging.
Since matters of the brain are of paramount importance to me I woke up to the fact that perhaps meditation should be next on my agenda, although I have to get rid of my demons first which will prove an insurmountable task to begin with.
Thirty women were asked to take part in a twenty-minute Hatha yoga session, including standing, sitting and lying postures, while keeping their breathing steady throughout.
The exercises included contractions of various muscles in the body without moving any limbs, and were followed by meditation sessions in which participants focused on deep breathing and posture.
Researchers found that, after the sessions, participants performed ‘significantly better’ in terms of speed and accuracy when tested on their working memory and concentration.
The author of the study, Neha Gothe, professor of Kinesiology, Health and Sports Studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, said: ‘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.’
When the participants were tested after jogging or doing exercises they were found to be less able to focus mentally on tasks.
Professor Gothe conceded that her team could not pinpoint any specific process that takes place during yoga that boosted the mental state of the participant, suggesting that relaxation from meditation could hold the answer. ‘Enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises is just one of the possible mechanics,’ she said. ‘Besides, meditation and breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests.’
The study, which is published in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health, involved thirty female students from the Exercise Psychology Laboratory at the University of Illinois.
Edward McCauley, professor of Kinesiology and Community Health who directs the laboratory, said that it was still ‘early days for the research’. ‘We only examine the effects of a twenty-minute bout of yoga and aerobic exercise in this study among female undergraduates,’ he said. ‘However, this study is extremely timely and the results will enable yoga researchers to power and design their interventions in the future. We see similar promising findings among older adults as well.’
‘Yoga research is in its nascent stages and, with its increasing popularity across the globe, researchers need to adopt rigorous systematic approaches to examine not only its cognitive but also physical health benefits across the life span.’
At my advanced age it is very difficult to teach an old dog new tricks. However, being a compliant sort of fellow, ready to try anything to widen one’s experience, I might be persuaded to yoga myself before I hop the twig.
Better late than never, as wise men say.