Edward McAuley, a professor and director of the Exercise Psychology Laboratory at the University of Illinois, said the study involved 30 subjects who were young, female, undergraduate students.
"Yoga is an ancient Indian science and way of life that includes not only physical movements and postures but also regulated breathing and meditation," Neha Gothe, who led the study while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said in a statement.
Gothe, a professor of kinesiology, health and sport studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, said the practice involves an active attentional or mindfulness component but its potential benefits have not been thoroughly explored.
The yoga intervention involved a 20-minute progression of seated, standing and supine yoga postures that included isometric contraction and relaxation of different muscle groups and regulated breathing. The session concluded with a meditative posture and deep breathing.
The participants also completed an aerobic exercise session where they walked or jogged on a treadmill for 20 minutes.
Gothe and colleagues said they were surprised to see participants showed improvement in their reaction times and accuracy on cognitive tasks after yoga, while the aerobic exercise session showed no significant improvements on the working memory and inhibitory control scores.
The findings appear in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health.