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Yoga May Help To Ease Anxiety And Improve Memory

1 year, 2 months ago

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Posted on May 09, 2023, 2 p.m.

According to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Medicine, led by researchers from the University of Illinois-Champaign, stressed-out people may be able to find relief from stress within the comforts of their own homes with a virtual yoga program. 

Mindfulness practices have been demonstrated to have various benefits including helping to promote a more relaxed state when one becomes overwhelmed. It may come as no surprise to learn that yoga may be able to accomplish this as well, as this study found that a virtual 8-week moderate-intensity yoga program helped to reduce stress and anxiety among full-time working adults.

“There is some literature that has directly compared yoga to aerobic exercise, and we’ve known for quite a long time that aerobic exercise has benefits for the brain,” says Sean Mullen, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Our research investigates complex movements — not just riding a bicycle or walking in a straight line, but multi-planar movements that require navigating one’s space a little differently and being conscious of movement, technique, and breathing.”

The virtual yoga program guided participants with self-paced instruction videos that helped them to learn a progression of Sun Salutation Poses that mimic the sunrise and sunset. As the participants progressed as the weeks passed they were slowly encouraged to branch out and become more self-sufficient by doing the exercises without guidance. 

“Our philosophy is to improve everyone’s confidence about the exercise in which they’re engaging,” explains Mullen. “We start slow and incrementally progress.”

The researchers wanted to investigate whether doing an activity with multiple sequences such as yoga could help to improve participant working memory, similar to how learning a dance might be able to do. Additionally, they wanted to investigate how participants would adhere to the virtual exercise program. 

“Having to move through multiple active postures, as opposed to static holds, should theoretically improve attentional abilities or inhibition control,” says Mullen. “Going through the flow could potentially improve spatial memory.”

“The reductions in anxiety and improvements in short-term working memory suggest that it is possible to practice moderate-intensity yoga at home and still reap the benefits of reducing stress and anxiety without compromising safety,” says Mullen. “[The study] really became about promoting resilience in dark times.”

Coincidentally this study coincided with the onset of COVID which helped to provide even more unique insights, with the participants even recommending the program to family and friends indicating that the participants genuinely felt that they experienced benefits after the 8 weeks. 

“When participants are willing to recommend the program to friends and family, that’s great,” Mullen said. “To me, that suggests we were successful and that everyone involved had a good time.”

The researchers plan to continue to investigate more mind-body interventions and promote adherence to exercise by developing additional technologies in hopes of encouraging better participation in activities that challenge the mind and body; such as other types of yoga and kickboxing that are more cognitively challenging than standard aerobic activity which could be influenced by flow-based training in spinning poi and martial arts like Filipino Kali and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. 

“We always try to keep it fun, keep it interesting, incorporate variety, and ensure our programs are as inclusive as possible,” Mullen concludes. “We tailor our programming so more people can take advantage, such as older adults or those with mobility limitations.”

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.

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