Yoga for learning results: diet & practice

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The ancient Indian science of yoga is a way of life which includes the practice of specific techniques such as yoga postures (asanas), breathing practices (pranayamas), chanting, meditation and changes in mental attitude and diet.

In our previous article “The influence of yoga over memory: ancient scriptures and modern science” we already understood how yoga can improve your attention.

Here, we are going to understand deeper how a specific diet combined to yoga practice can help students to obtain better learning results.

Yogic diet can boost your memory

It’s a fact that overeating energy-dense, nutrient-poor foods and a sedentary lifestyle have led to an epidemic of obesity and type 2 diabetes all over the world, which has been directly linked to lower cognitive functions and is one of the main risk factor for developing dementia and neurodegenerative disorders. [1]

Diet is a very important aspect of yogic philosophy. Today, modern science has discovered the strong link between food and memory and how the first can influence the latter.

We have explored this further in here, and you can also find our 3 day menu to improve learning & memory called “Boost your Memory” that provides a pragmatic guide for your daily cooking choices.

Yogic science recognises 3 different big groups of food:

  1. sattvic food like fruit and fresh vegetables which are considered pure and meditative;
  2. rajasic food like onions, garlic, spices which are considered stimulants;
  3. tamasic food like alcohol, meat, eggs or fried food which are considered heavy and enervating; (modern “junk food” would definitely belong to this category) [2], [25]

For the yogi, there aren’t good foods or bad foods. Simply, there are different kinds of foods characterised by different proprieties which affect the body and the mind in different ways.

A sattvic diet is supposed to increase the energy of the mind and produce cheerfulness, serenity and mental clarity. [26]

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Sattvic and rajasic food

Diet can strongly influence the incidence and onset of cardiovascular and neurodegenerative disorders. Thus, a healthy diet is an essential factor for healthy ageing.
Various phytochemical constituents of foods and beverages like flavonoids have been investigated in recent years.

In particular, foods and beverages derived from Vitis vinifera (grape), Camellia sinensis (tea), Theobroma cacao (cocoa) and Vaccinium spp. (blueberry), have demonstrated beneficial effects on vascular function and mental performance. While such foods and beverages differ greatly in chemical composition, macro- and micro- nutrient content and energy load per serving, they are amongst the major dietary sources of flavonoids.

Since ancient times, these foods are considered by the yogi as sattvic, pure and meditative.

Dietary intervention studies using flavonoid-rich plant or food extracts have indicated that flavonoids are capable of improving both memory and learning, via their ability to protect vulnerable neurons, enhance existing neuronal function and stimulate neuronal regeneration. [3]

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Yoga for better learning results

Increasing evidence indicates how yoga may be useful in reducing stress, preventing memory loss and improving cognitive function in younger individuals as well as the elderly.

As we mentioned before (and in our previous article: “The influence of yoga over memory: ancient scriptures and modern science“), yoga reaches far beyond the physical practice. In fact, it includes mindfulness, breathing exercises, meditation and different lifestyles.

For these reasons, research has suggested that the beneficial effects of yoga may surpass the benefits of typical physical activity. [4], [5]

Yoga can play an important role in helping students to combat anxiety and stress and to control one’s mental state. In this way, students can improve their learning abilities and academic achievements. [6], [7]

Sometimes learning is affected due to mental fatigue, which is a state of disturbed perception and memory. On one hand, regular yoga practice increases both memory and perception while on the other hand it delays mental fatigue. [6], [8], [9]

In fact, a state of mental tranquility is achieved by the practice of yoga as revealed by the increment in alpha index of eletroencephalogram after short term yoga. [10]

learning results

Yoga practice at school

The brain functions of attention, cognition, processing of sensory information and visual perception are toned with yogic practices and memory lapses can be prevented.

Yoga not only brings harmony between mind and body, it also modulates stress responses and one’s attitude to stress. The keen practitioner, will than improve his or her mental faculties of attention, memory, learning efficiency and positive attitude towards life. [11], [12]

In fact, a 30 min session of yogic stretching and breathing exercises produces a marked augmentation in perceptions of physical and mental energy. [13]

At the physical level, regular practice of asanas and pranayama bestows a proportionate, flexible, normally relaxed body with an ability to withstand stress efficiently.

At the intellectual level, yoga can sharpen memory, concentration and decrease anxiety levels.

Finally, at the spiritual level, yoga creates the awareness necessary to be in peace with oneself and to look for happiness within. [7]

Western science discovers the influence of yoga practice over memory

The practice of physical and breathing yogic techniques has been shown to facilitate mental functions such as visuospatial memory, attention and concentration. [14], [15]

An acute period of just 20 minutes of Hatha yoga can already improve your working memory accuracy. [16], [17]

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A yoga practitioner performing Paschimottanasana

A growing body of evidence supports the belief that yoga techniques and other types of mind–body therapies may improve physical and mental health. [18], [19], [20], [21]

A 6 months study was carried out to verify the efficacy of yoga in improving physiological and psychological parameters between 36 previously yoga-naïve men of the Brazilian army. Memory tests, salivary cortisol levels and stress, anxiety and depression inventories were assessed before and after the 6 months of yoga practice. Results showed improvements in both memory performance and psychophysiological parameters. [22]

Another study aimed to assess the effects of yoga on concentration and memory. The 201 students ranging from 14 to 15 years old, yielded higher concentration levels and exhibited better short term memory than participants who did not undertake any yoga practice at all. [23]

Since many studies concluded that yoga exercises influenced positively concentration, memory, cognitive functions and physical health it has been suggested that yoga practices should be a regular part of the high school curriculum. [24]

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It is very well said by William Shakespeare, “We know what we are, but know not what we may be”.

Today’s man is living in the web of pressures, tension and stress. Everyone is facing the menace of stress in one way or the other.

The focus of our present education system is mainly on the production of mechanical intellectuals not on the creation of human beings, which is the ultimate aim of education and life.

Any education system, which does not aim to develop the child in a holistic manner will fail to produce true human being. [23]

Be conscious. Be yoga.

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References

[1] Telles, S., Naveen, V. K., Balkrishna, A., & Kumar, S. (2009). Short term health impact of a yoga and diet change program on obesity. Medical Science Monitor, 16(1), CR35-CR40.

[2] Iyengar, B. K. S. (2007). BKS Iyengar yoga: The path to holistic health. New York, DK publishing

[3] Spencer, J. P. (2008). Food for thought: the role of dietary flavonoids in enhancing human memory, learning and neuro-cognitive performance. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67(02), 238-252.

[4] Longstreth, H. (2014). The effects of yoga on stress response and memory: A literature review (Doctoral dissertation, ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY).

[5] Ross, A., & Thomas, S. (2010). The health benefits of yoga and exercise: a review of comparison studies. The journal of Alternative and complementary medicine, 16(1), 3-12.

[6] Banerjee, S. Effect of Yoga on the Memory of Middle School Level Students. Journal of Research & Method in Education Volume 4, Issue 1 Ver. IV (Feb. 2014), PP 49-52

[7] Malathi, A., & Damodaran, A. (1999). Stress due to exams in medical students-a role of Yoga. Indian journal of physiology and pharmacology, 43, 218-224.

[8] Kocher, H.C.(1976),Effects of yogic practice on immediate memory, yoga mimansa, vo.18,No. 3&4,p.37-62.

[9] Kocher, H.C.(1976), Influence of yogic practice on mental fatigue(An exploratory), yoga mimansa, vol.18(2),p.1-13.

[10] Udupa, K. N., Singh, R. H., & Yadav, R. A. (1973). Certain studies on psychological and biochemical responses to the practice in Hatha Yoga in young normal volunteers. The Indian journal of medical research, 61(2), 237-244.

[11] Schell, F. J., Allolio, B., & Schonecke, O. W. (1993). Physiological and psychological effects of Hatha-Yoga exercise in healthy women. International journal of psychosomatics: official publication of the International Psychosomatics Institute, 41(1-4), 46-52.

[12] Udupa, K. N., & Prasad, R. C. (1985). Stress and its Management by Yoga. Motilal Banarsidass Publ.

[13] Wood, C. (1993). Mood change and perceptions of vitality: a comparison of the effects of relaxation, visualization and yoga. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 86(5), 254-258.

[14] Manjunath, N. K., & Telles, S. (2001). Improved performance in the Tower of London test following yoga. Indian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology, 45(3), 351-354.

[15] Naveen, K.V.; Nagarathna, R.; Nagendra, H.R. and Telles, S. Breathing through a particular nostril increases spatial memory scores without laterized effect. Psychological Reports; 1997; 81 : 555-561.

[16] Gothe, N. P., Kramer, A. F., & McAuley, E. (2014). The effects of an 8-week Hatha yoga intervention on executive function in older adults. The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences, 69(9), 1109-1116.

[17] GOTHE, N. P., PONTIFEX, M. B., HILLMAN, C. H., & MCAULEY, E. (2013) The acute effects of yoga on executive function. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, 10, 488-495.

[18] Astin, J. A. (1997). Stress reduction through mindfulness meditation. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 66, 97–106.

[19] Elsenbruch, S., Langhorst, J., Popkirowa, K., Müller, T., Luedtke, R., Franken, U., et al (2005). Effects of mind–body therapy on quality of life and neuroendocrine and cellular immune functions in patients with ulcerative colitis. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 74, 277–287.

[20] Nakao, M., Fricchione, G., Myers, P., Zuttermeister, P. C., Baim, M., Mandle, C. L., et al (2001). Anxiety is a good indicator for somatic symptom reduction through behavioral medicine intervention in a mind/body medicine clinic. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 70, 50–57.

[21] Grossman, P., Tiefenthaler-Gilmer, U., Raysz, A., & Kesper, U. (2007). Mindfulness training as an intervention for fibromyalgia: Evidence of post intervention and 2-year follow up benefits in well-being. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 76, 226–233.

[22] Rocha, K. K. F., Ribeiro, A. M., Rocha, K. C. F., Sousa, M. B. C., Albuquerque, F. S., Ribeiro, S., & Silva, R. H. (2012). Improvement in physiological and psychological parameters after 6months of yoga practice. Consciousness and cognition, 21(2), 843-850.

[23] Kauts, A., & Sharma, N. (2012). Effect of yoga on concentration and memory in relation to stress. International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 2(5), 1-14.

[24] Tiwari, R. K. Benefits of Yoga Practices on High school student‟ s memory and concentration in relation to Examination stress. International Journal of Yoga and Allied Sciences Volume: 4, Issue: 2; 77-81

[25] Agte, V. V., & Chiplonkar, S. A. (2008). Sudarshan kriya yoga for improving antioxidant status and reducing anxiety in adults. Alternative & Complementary Therapies, 14(2), 96-100.

[26] Agte, V. V., & Chiplonkar, S. A. (2007). Linkage of concepts of good nutrition in yoga and modern science. Curr Sci, 92, 956-61.

Andrea Cristofoletto

Andrea Cristofoletto is a certified Yoga Teacher and has been studying the ancient science of yoga in India under the guidance of Sri Yogacharya Lalit Kumar from the Himalayan Tradition.
He has deepened his knowledge on the therapeutic use of asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation and kriya techniques under the wise guidance of Ratheesh Kumar Atmaram.
He has a BSc in Foreign Languages – Business Communication Specialist and graduated with a thesis on the socio-economic importance of the hemp fibre throughout history. Andrea has gained his experience through direct training in hemp fields practising organic agriculture.

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