People who practice yoga and meditation may be able to control computers with their minds more efficiently and effectively than those who don't, according to a very small study by biomedical engineers at the University of Minnesota.

An example of one such machine would be Neurobridge, a device that made history by allowing 23-year-old Ian Burkhart to move his arm for the first time since an accident left him paralyzed: It allows the brain to send messages directly to the limbs, bypassing the spinal cord.

The new study involved a total of 36 participants, 12 of whom had one year or more of yoga and meditation practice, at least one hour two times per week, and the rest of whom had little to none. All participants were healthy and new to mind-machines.

Over the course of four weeks, they participated in three separate two-hour sessions attached to non-invasive skullcaps that picked up brain activity while they attempted to move a cursor across the screen using imaginary hand movements.

The yogis and meditators in the study were twice as likely to succeed after 30 tries than their counterparts, learning three times faster.

"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," says 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."

The paper was published in the journal Technology.