Yoga and meditation are thought to assist in brain training

Yoga and meditation are thought to assist in brain training

A new study has helped to shed light on the benefits of yoga and meditation.

Scientists at the University of Minnesota have recently rediscovered what spiritualists and Buddhists have known for centuries: yoga and meditation improves the brain and the ability of individuals to think better.

In other words, it aids consciousness.

The study showed that those who practice meditation or exercises such as tai chi and yoga, can learn to control a computer with their minds faster and better, compared to people that have little or no history of those practices.

In a research paper published within the Technology journal, analysts assessed 36 participants, with 12 having yoga or meditation experience and 24 having none. Both groups had never used systems that control a computer with the brain.

Every participant took part in three sets of two-hour experiments over the course of a month and wore a brand new, high tech, non-invasive cap over the scalp that picked up brain activity.

They were then asked to move a computer cursor across the screen by imagining left or right-hand movements.

The results showed that those who had yoga or meditation experience were twice as likely to complete the brain-computer interface task by the end of 30 trials and they learned three-times faster than their inexperienced counterparts.

Lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor in the University of Minnesota’s College of Science and Engineering and director of the University’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine, said that he got the idea for the study after more than five years ago when he began his brain-computer interface research.

He noticed that one woman participant was much more successful than other participants at controlling the computer with her brain. The woman had extensive experience with yoga and meditation, referred to by researchers as Mind-Body Awareness Training (MBAT).

Professor He added that once further studies are completed, it could be used to help those with chronic disabilities and illnesses to take back control over their lives.

“Our ultimate goal is to help people who are paralyzed or have brain diseases regain mobility and independence,” He said: “We need to look at all possibilities to improve the number of people who could benefit from our research.”

Scientists have had a growing focus on finding ways to help physically disabled individuals who are paralysed, lost limbs, or suffer from diseases such as ALS or cerebral palsy. With these conditions, the brain function remains intact, but these people have to find a way to bypass muscular control to move a wheelchair, control an artificial limb, or control other devices.

This new research could result in greater recognition among medical professionals about the benefits of meditation and alternative therapies in a clinical setting.

Professor He gained international attention in 2013 when members of his research team were able to demonstrate that it is possible to fly a robot just by using their minds. However, they found that not everyone is able to control machinery using their minds alone.

His research suggests that the ability to have ‘mind over matter’ and generate a consistent and reliable EEG brain signal may depend on an undistracted mind and sustained attention. In Buddhist meditation, this is known as ‘mindfulness’. The study found that meditators have shown more distinctive EEG patterns than untrained participants, which helps to explain their success.

This research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the University of Minnesota’s Institute for Engineering in Medicine.

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