Every time you speak up in front of your boss, your mind zeros in on all the ways you might mess up. Sound familiar? There’s a simple way to keep your cool: Practicing 20 minutes ofHatha yoga before a big presentation can reduce anxiety and help you focus, according to a new study published inJournal of Physical Activity and Health.
For the study, researchers conducted two experiments with 30 undergraduate women. In the first experiment, participants were shown a series of arrows on a screen and asked to press the button that corresponded with the direction the arrow pointed. On the first day of this test, the participants did no physical activity beforehand. On the second, they did a 20-minute treadmill workout, and on the third they did 20 minutes of Hatha yoga, a broad term used to describe any kind of yoga that incorporates physical postures and deep breathing (Vinyasa, Ashtanga, and Iyengar are all considered forms of Hatha yoga). In the second experiment, participants were asked to look at a series of shapes and use a keypad to indicate whether they’d seen the shape before. In both tasks, participants performed significantly better after doing yoga than they did after doing aerobic exercise or no exercise.
“Yoga is a mind-body activity,” says study author Neha Gothe, PhD, kinesiology professor at Wayne State University in Detroit. “The mental exercises in yoga reduce anxiety and stress, and that in itself can lead to better cognitive performance.” What’s more, when you do yoga correctly, you focus on your breath and movements and suppress distracting thoughts, which teaches you to become more present in the moment, she says.
Previous research has shown that regular aerobic exercise—even walking—can boost your brain’s performance. But unlike the benefits of aerobic exercise, which take a while to kick in, yoga has a pretty immediate effect on your mind—so you’ll feel it just 30 minutes after you say “Namaste,” says Gothe.
The next time you’re facing a stressful event, try the 20-minute yoga sequence used in the study: You should aim to do it about 30 to 40 minutes before the stressful event to reduce anxiety and improve your focus. Perform the first eight poses in a sequence, holding each position for about 30 seconds. Then repeat the sequence on the other side before you progress to the final resting pose.
1. Standing Forward Bend
a. Stand up straight with your big toes touching in mountain pose. Bring your hands to prayer position in front of your chest.
b. Then inhale and lift your chest, arms, and gaze up. As you exhale, fold forward from your hips, keeping your spine straight and your hips directly over your ankles.
c. Bring your palms to the floor if possible, lining your fingers up with your toes.
d. Inhale as you come up onto your fingertips, lift your chest, lengthen the front of your spine, and gaze slightly forward. Then exhale as you place your palms back on the floor and lower your chest back toward your thighs and head toward your knees. Hold for three to five breaths.
e. Inhale, come onto your fingertips, lift your chest, and gaze forward. Then place your hands on your hips and return to mountain pose, keeping your spine straight as you come up. Bring your hands to prayer position.
2. Tree Pose
a. Begin in mountain pose.
b. Lift your right foot off the floor, turn your right knee out to side and place sole of your right foot on your inner left thigh anywhere between your knee (not on it, above it) and your groin. Gently press your foot into your leg and your leg into your foot as you reach your left foot into the floor. Hold for three to five breaths.
c. Extend your arms overhead if you like. Trying various arm positions can test your balance further. Or close your eyes. Hold for another three to five breaths.
d. When you’re ready to come out of the pose, release your right foot from your left leg, turn your right knee to point straight in front of you, and lower your feet and hands.
3. Triangle Pose
a. Begin in mountain pose.
b. Step your legs about 4 feet apart. Turn your right toes out 90 degrees. Lift your arms out to the sides at shoulder height, parallel to the floor, palms facing down.
c. Extend your right arm way out to the right and tilt your hips so your tailbone points toward your left heel. Then keeping the right side of your torso long, reach your right hand to the floor outside your ankle or calf.
d. Extend your left arm up in line with your right arm and turn your head to look at your left thumb. Hold for three to five breaths. Rotate your right glute under as you open your left hip more toward the ceiling. With each inhale extend your spine longer, and with each exhale rotate your chest open toward the ceiling. Keep your collarbones broad and your shoulders away from your ears.
e. To come out of the pose, engage your abs to lift your torso upright, keeping your arms extended. Turn your right foot back to parallel to your left foot and step or jump your feet together. Lower your arms.
4. Reverse Triangle Pose
a. Begin in mountain pose.
b. Step your legs about 4 feet apart. Turn your right toes out 90 degrees. Lift your arms out to the sides to shoulder height, parallel to the floor, palms facing down.
c. Extend your right arm way out to the right and rotate your hips so they are parallel with the front of your mat. Then bend at the waist and reach your left hand to the floor outside your ankle or calf.
d. Extend your right arm up in line with your left arm and turn your head to look at your right thumb. Hold for three to five breaths. With each inhale extend your spine longer, and with each exhale rotate your chest open toward the wall behind you. Keeping your collarbones broad and your shoulders away from your ears.
e. To release the twist, engage your abs to lift your torso upright, keeping your arms extended. Turn your right foot back to parallel to your left foot and step or jump your feet together. Lower your arms.
5. Downward Facing Dog
a. Begin in a pushup position with your arms and legs fully extended (wrists directly under shoulders) contract your core and abdominal muscles.
b. Slowly exhale and shift your weight backward by pushing your hips up and back. Continue moving until your body forms an inverted V, allowing your head to hang loosely between your shoulders. Keep your arms and legs extended, and be sure to maintain a neutral (flat) spine.
6. Easy Camel Pose
a. Begin by kneeling. Stack your hips directly above your knees, your shoulders above your hips, and your ears over your shoulders. Curl your toes under.
b. Place your palms on the small of your back, fingertips facing up. If that’s uncomfortable, turn your fingertips toward the floor.
c. As you inhale, lengthen your spine, expand your chest, and let your breastbone and ribcage float up away from your waist.
d. Lift your upper back and imagine you’re bending back over a beach ball. Reach one hand at a time for your heels (or blocks placed next to your ankles).
e. Now arch your upper back to its maximum bend. Keep your hips aligned over your ankles by pushing your pelvis forward and tilting your hipbones up, as you reach your big toes back. Take five full breaths here, letting your head drop back; if that strains your neck, tuck your chin toward your chest and relax your face.
f. To come out of the pose, bring both hands to your lower back and on an inhale use your core to lift your body back up.
7. Hare Pose
a. Sitting on your heels with your toes pointed behind you, sit up straight and relax your upper body.
b. Inhale and raise both arms straight up above your head.
c. Keeping your back straight, and butt on your heels, exhale as you bend forward from the waist until your arms and forehead touch the floor.
d. Relax the whole body, especially the shoulders, neck and back.
e. Inhale and raise the upper body and arms back to the starting position
8. Sun Salutation
Begin in mountain pose with your back straight, legs and feet together, and arms to your sides
a. Inhale as you raise your arms straight up overhead and bring your palms together.
b. Exhale as you extend from your hips to fold your torso forward and move your hands down to the floor
c. Inhale, keep your hands down, but raise your head and chest slightly and gaze forward
d. Exhale, and step back into Plank pose with your arms and legs straight, your hands on the floor beneath your shoulders, your core engaged, and your back straight
e. Bend your elbows and lower toward the floor into a pushup position, keeping your elbows tucked close to your body
f. Inhale as you roll over your toes and, using your arms, press away from the floor and lift your chest into Upward-Facing Dog
g. Exhale as you roll your toes back over and lift and press your hips back into Downward-Facing Dog
h. Take five breaths in Downward-Facing Dog. Inhale and gaze forward as you lengthen back into your legs and bend your knees. Exhale as you step or jump your feet forward to meet your hands. Inhale as you extend your gaze and chest. Exhale as you fold forward over your legs
i. Inhale as you extend your arms wide to the sides, lift your chest, come all the way up to standing, and press your palms overhead. Exhale as you release your arms and return to mountain pose.
9. Deep Breathing in Lotus Pose (4 minutes)
a. Sitting with your legs out stretched in front of you and your back straight, take your right foot and place it up on the left thigh, draw your right heel toward your left hip joint with your sole facing up.
b. Bring your left foot on top of your right thigh, and draw your left heel toward your right hip joint, so your left sole is facing up.
c. Press both ankles firmly down into the thighs and lengthen your spine.
d. Keep your hands on your knees or touch your thumbs to your index fingers, extending the other fingers.
Published on June 10th, 2013