Abstract

Yoga is an activity that aims to integrate physical, mental and spiritual elements and is an increasingly popular approach to enhancing physical fitness. The integration of imagery within yoga practice is considered an important component and may be critical in contributing to the benefits of yoga that have been reported. In this study, we tested whether individuals who practice yoga demonstrate superior performance on an objective measure of implicit motor imagery. Thirty-six participants (18 yoga, 18 non-yoga) matched for age, sex and handedness, undertook the hand laterality recognition task; an objective measure of implicit motor imagery performance. Accuracy and response times were gathered and analysed to determine any group differences as well as any differences relating to the typical hallmarks of imagery (i.e. dominance and awkwardness effects) on the task. Response Times (RTs) in the yoga group were significantly faster than controls (p < 0.05) and there was also a trend towards greater accuracy for the Yoga group (p = 0.073). Dominance effects (faster responses to images corresponding with the dominant limb) and Awkwardness effects (faster responses to images corresponding with natural compared with awkward postures) were evident across groups, supporting the participants' use of motor imagery in undertaking the task. Additionally, a Group × Awkwardness interaction (p < 0.05) revealed that the enhanced imagery performance for the yoga group was most pronounced for awkward postures. This is the first study to show that yoga practice is associated with superior motor imagery performance; an association that may be important in explaining the established rehabilitative value of yoga for chronic pain.

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