There aren’t many forms of physical exercise that calm the mind quite like yoga does. And it’s this very calming effect that yoga has on the brain that can lead to a variety of great mental benefits, including memory enhancement.
So if you’re the type of person who has trouble remembering the names of people you meet, or you have a big test coming up, or you simply want to be able to recall past events in greater detail, then yoga might just be able to help you do that.
Here’s some of the science behind how yoga can have such a positive impact on memory.
Yoga Boosts Memory Better Than Aerobic Exercise
Exercise in general has been shown to have all sorts of beneficial brain-boosting effects, but in a study where participants completed a 20-minute session of hatha yoga versus a 20-minute session of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise, it was the yoga that led participants to show significant improvements in the speed and accuracy of their memory when tested for it. Surprisingly, participants didn’t show any improvement after the aerobic exercise.
The yoga session involved seated, standing, and supine postures with isometric contraction and relaxation of the muscles, plus breathing techniques and a brief meditation at the end. The researchers said that after the yoga practice, the participants appeared to focus their mental resources more efficiently, process information faster, learn faster with more accuracy, and retain/update bits of information better.
Yoga Has a Broader Effect on Memory Than Brain Training
Think it’s worth investing a few minutes every day spent playing a brain training game? You may be better off just using that time for your yoga practice. A study involving a group of older adults with mild cognitive impairment or memory problems showed improvements in verbal memory after completing a three-month yoga and meditation course.
The types of cognitive and emotional problems that the participants had were those that typically precede Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. According to the researchers, memory improvements from yoga were comparable to that of brain training, but the yoga enhanced the mental benefits by also providing a mood boost and anxiety relief.
Yoga Improves Concentration and Short-Term Memory
It turns out that yoga can help you focus your attention on specific things and remember things that are temporarily stored in your memory — like what you had for dinner last night. In a study involving around 300 students, both an experimental group and a control group were pre-tested for their concentration and memory skills before they participated in a seven-week yoga practice that combined postures, breathing, and meditation.
Both the experimental group and the control group were tested again after the seven-week practice period, with results showing that those who practiced yoga yielded higher levels of concentration and exhibited improvements in their short-term memory. The participants involved in the study were a mix of both high-stress and low-stress students, suggesting that yoga can help improve concentration and short-term memory in all types of people with varying levels of stress.
The evidence is pretty clear that yoga has great potential to improve memory not just in those who are already mentally healthy, but also in older adults with age-related cognitive decline and those who may be under more than normal stress. So next time you’re on the mat, do a quick check-in to be grateful for the incredible effects your practice is bringing to your memory!