In our interconnected world, many people spend their days working at a computer. And wouldn't it be nice if we could get a little bit better and a little bit faster with our digital tool? Well, you may be able to.
According to a new study published online in the scientific journal TECHNOLOGY, yoga and meditation may actually sharpen certain computer skills.
Expediting digital learning
For the study, University of Minnesota researchers analyzed the learning patterns of two groups, one that practiced yoga or meditation for one year at least two times a week for an hour, and another that had little or no yoga or meditation experience. Individuals in both groups were learning to control a computer with their minds by wearing a high-tech, non-invasive cap over the scalp that picked up brain activity.
The participants' brain activity was monitored as they used left and right hand movements to move a cursor across a computer screen. Those who did yoga and meditation learned three times faster than those who rarely practices the mind-body techniques. They were also twice as likely to finish the task by the end of 30 trials.
"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," lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor, said in a news release. "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."
Meditation's Digital Side
While yoga and meditation are known for their calming attributes, this new research might secure a digital role for the ancient techniques. The results could also have major implications for treatments of people who are paralyzed or have neurodegenerative diseases.
Scientists have been increasingly focused on finding ways to help physically disabled individuals whose brain function is still intact. Professor He gained international attention in 2013 when members of his team demonstrated flying a robot with only their minds. As bewildering as it sounds, it very well might be the future of technology.
The new study showed that not everyone can easily learn to control a computer with their brains. In the trials, many were unsuccessful after multiple attempts, due to an inconsistent electromyography brain signal from a distracted mind and unsustained attention. Those who meditated have shown more distinctive EEG patterns than untrained participants.
Professor He said he hatched the idea for the study more than five years ago when he began his brain-computer interface research and noticed one woman participant who was much more successful than other participants at controlling the computer with her brain. The woman had been an avid member of the yoga community.
For the able-bodied computer worker, a similar principle found in these new yoga and meditation benefits may still be relevant. Since the Internet is a vast reservoir of information, it is rather easy to become distracted, straying away from the work you should be doing. The mind-body techniques could help workers stay on track, whether operating machines with their brains or hands.