In studying the brain side of the brain-computer interface, research at the University of Minnesota has discovered that yoga and meditation can help improve brain power and use it effectively in controlling a computer.

For people affected by neurodegenerative problems, the finding has major implications raising the hope that paralysed people can operate a computer, bypassing muscular control and tapping their thoughts to interact with their environment.

The study involved 36 participants of whom 12 had at least one year of experience in yoga or meditation at least two times per week for one hour.

Wearing a non-invasive cap that picked up brain activity, they were asked to move a computer cursor across the screen by imagining left or right hand movements. Their brain activity was noted in the process.

The participants with yoga or meditation experience were twice as likely to complete the brain-computer interface task by the end of 30 trials and showed enhanced ability to control the system compared to their counterparts.

The research is published online in TECHNOLOGY.

"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," said lead researcher Bin He, a biomedical engineering professor in the University of Minnesota's College of Science and Engineering and director of the University's Institute for Engineering in Medicine.

"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."

Professor He got 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 others in controlling the computer with her brain.

The woman had had extensive experience with yoga and meditation.

Among other things required to control the computer using the brain is an undistracted mind. This is where regular meditators score.

Professor He gained international attention in 2013 when members of his research team were able to demonstrate flying a robot using mind power.