University research shows yoga provides instant stimulation to brain

On the ground floor of the Campus Recreation Center East, Brittany Frost practices yoga two to three times a week. Frost, a junior in LAS, points her left toe to the side and her right toe forward as her legs lunge into a triangle position. Her hands slowly rise at chest level as her eyes gaze over her fingertips. As she crawls down to the floor, she lifts her body up into a plank position, which she holds for a steady minute. Her hips drop to the floor and her chest rises upward into a cobra stance.

“After a session, I feel relaxed and calm, but I also feel more vigorous and strong,” Frost said. “We are now so busy we neglect ourselves and I think especially in college, you need this.”

Other University students may find themselves pulling out their yoga mats before big exams rather than using aerobic exercise, in light of a recent University study that shows yoga instantly stimulates the brain.

Graduate student Neha Gothe’s study, “The Acute Effects of Yoga on Executive Function,” reports that after 20 minutes of yoga, participants performed better with their working memory and attention, which helps with the ability to retain and use new information. The study, held in the Exercise Psychology Laboratory, used 30 female undergraduate participants. According to the report, the study was female-only to avoid disproportionate results in relation to gender. Each woman scored better in cognitive tasking tests after their yoga session than after an aerobic session.

Participants of the study completed a session of seated and standing yoga poses, followed by meditative postures and deep breathing. Within the aerobic exercise, they walked or jogged for 20 minutes, maintaining a 60 to 70 percent maximum target heart rate. Participants maintained shorter reaction times and increased accuracy after yoga exercises, in comparison to aerobic exercises.

Frost was an “on again, off again” yoga enthusiast from her freshman year of high school into college. During her sophomore year, she transferred to the University and found yoga as more than a hobby but as a way to help deal with stress.

“I transferred here and was having really bad anxiety, especially with my grades, so I started doing yoga before exams and before going into class to really help me relax and calm down,” Frost said. “I’m generally just an anxious person, and yoga does great things for me to relieve that.”

Though Gothe is unsure of what causes the better score in relation to yoga, she said she believes the enhanced self-awareness that comes with yoga is one of the mechanisms.

“By focusing on your breathing and being more aware of your body, it pushes the distractions away,” she said.

As a certified iyengar yoga instructor, Jerry Chiprin said he was not surprised by the results of the yoga study.

“Within the class I teach, I see more students than faculty, specifically graduate students,” Chiprin said. “Frequently, I come across students asking me questions on how they are stressed, and we will do something specifically to help them.”

Gothe also said aerobic exercise may bring stimulation 30 to 40 minutes after recovery, but with yoga, the reaction is instant.

She expanded her research into a two month “SAY Exercise” study, which used 180 participants from the Champaign-Urbana community that were 55 years or older. Many of the participants were faculty at the University.

“Many found that they were less stressed after two months of yoga, and they were previously all new to the practice,” Gothe said. “It shows how well they adapted and were willing to try something new.”

Gothe, who is originally from India, grew up around yoga.

“I was always surprised at how instructed it is and how in-the-moment you are in comparison to other exercises,” Gothe said. “While you’re running on the treadmill, you can still think. While during yoga, you really leave all those distractions outside of the room. It’s much more engaging than just putting one foot in front of the other.”

Megan can be reached at [email protected]

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Jerry Chiprin is a yoga director at the Activities and Recreation Center. The article should have stated that Chiprin is a certified iyengar yoga instructor. The Daily Illini regrets this error.