Finger Dexterity and Visual Discrimination Following Two Yoga Breathing Practices

Article excerpt

Byline: Shirley. Telles, Nilkamal. Singh, Acharya. Balkrishna

Background: Practicing yoga has been shown to improve motor functions and attention. Though attention is required for fine motor and discrimination tasks, the effect of yoga breathing techniques on fine motor skills and visual discrimination has not been assessed. Aim: To study the effect of yoga breathing techniques on finger dexterity and visual discrimination. Materials and Methods: The present study consisted of one hundred and forty subjects who had enrolled for stress management. They were randomly divided into two groups, one group practiced high frequency yoga breathing while the other group practiced breath awareness. High frequency yoga breathing (kapalabhati, breath rate 1.0 Hz) and breath awareness are two yoga practices which improve attention. The immediate effect of high frequency yoga breathing and breath awareness (i) were assessed on the performance on the O'Connor finger dexterity task and (ii) (in) a shape and size discrimination task. Results: There was a significant improvement in the finger dexterity task by 19% after kapalabhati and 9% after breath awareness (P<0.001 in both cases, repeated measures ANOVA and post-hoc analyses). There was a significant reduction (P<0.001) in error (41% after kapalabhati and 21% after breath awareness) as well as time taken to complete the shape and size discrimination test (15% after kapalabhati and 15% after breath awareness; P<0.001) was also observed. Conclusion: Both kapalabahati and breath awareness can improve fine motor skills and visual discrimination, with a greater magnitude of change after kapalabhati.

Introduction

Perception is often discussed with reference to cues as a separate source of information for the perceiver. [sup][1] These cues are in turn correlated with the manner in which the sensory apparatus has physically and computationally evolved. Sensory perception and discrimination of shapes and sizes depends on haptic or tactile cues. [sup][2] Tactile information relevant to the size discrimination is combined with proprioceptive inputs. [sup][3] Hence shape and size detection requires specific stereotypical movements. [sup][4] These movements often take the form of scanning movements of the fingers. [sup][5] While not directly related to the kind of movements mentioned above, finger movements involved in performing a dexterity task are also required for haptic sensitivity; the two (i.e. size discrimination and dexterity) being influenced by similar factors. [sup][6]

Yoga is an ancient science, originating in India which includes specific postures, voluntary breath regulation, meditation, and certain philosophical principles. [sup][7] Practicing yoga has been shown to influence several motor functions. These include static motor performance, [sup][8],[9] tweezer dexterity, [sup][10],[11] maze learning, [sup][12] as well as visuomotor speed. [sup][13]

Early studies on experienced practitioners of Burmese Buddhist meditation showed that experienced meditation practitioners were more sensitive to various aspects of visual stimuli, such as size, shape, color and texture. [sup][14] Apart from meditation alone, a combination of yoga practices was shown to improve the sensitivity to a flickering light stimulus, [sup][15] to reduce visual geometric illusions, [sup][16] as well as to improve visual contrast sensitivity. [sup][17]

More recently Tai Chi, a Chinese slow-motion meditation was shown to enhance tactile acuity in long-term practitioners. [sup][18] A blinded assessor compared the ability to discriminate between two different orientations (i.e., parallel and horizontal) of different cross-grating widths at the fingertips in Tai Chi practitioners and controls. This tactile spatial acuity was found to be better in more experienced Tai Chi practitioners, compared to those with less experience in meditation. The authors also speculated that related somatosensory attentional practices such as yoga mindfulness meditation, and qigong could have similar effects. …