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Oct 03, 2014 12:01 PM EDT

Yoga and Meditation May Help Train the Brain

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People who practice yoga and meditation long term can learn to control a computer with their minds faster and better than people with little or no yoga or meditation experience, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota said their findings could have major implications for treatments of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases.

"In recent years, there has been a lot of attention on improving the computer side of the brain-computer interface but very little attention to the brain side," Bin He, who led the study, said in a statement. "This comprehensive study shows for the first time that looking closer at the brain side may provide a valuable tool for reducing obstacles for brain-computer interface success in early stages."

For the study, researcher involved a total of 36 participants. One group of 12 had at least one year of experience in yoga or meditation at least two times per week for one hour. The second group included 24 healthy participants who had little or no yoga or meditation experience. Both groups were new to systems using the brain to control a computer. Both groups participated in three, two-hour experiments over four weeks in which they wore a high tech, non-invasive cap over the scalp that picked up brain activity. The participants were asked to move a computer cursor across the screen by imaging left or right hand movements.

Participants with yoga or meditation experience were twice as likely to complete the brain-computer interface task by the end of 30 trials and learned three times faster than their counterparts for the left-right cursor movement experiments.

"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."

The findings were published online in TECHNOLOGY, a new scientific journal featuring cutting-edge new technologies in emerging fields of science and engineering.

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