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Yoga and Brain Researcher, Neha Gothe

How would you describe your background?

My bachelor's and master's training is in psychology. My master’s was specifically in counseling psychology and I practiced as a counselor for a couple of years. I used to be an athlete—I played tennis— and that is how I was always interested in exercise and sport. I decided why not bring exercise, sport, and psychology all together? I started looking for academic programs that examine exercise psychology or exercise science. In India, unfortunately, this area of studying is not quite developed. So I came to the US to pursue my Ph.D. in kinesiology. That is where my masters and Ph.D. in and I’ve been here since.

What is your favorite part of research?

I think I am most excited by problem solving; testing new ideas, new theories. I think just learning new things, things we don’t know or we unexpectedly find out, that is the most exciting part of research. Of course, data collection, working with people, and everything related to that come with exploring those ideas. All my research is applied, so it’s human subjects-based research. On a day-to-day basis, I see people, I get to talk to them, and just help them become a little more active and get a little more exercise throughout their day. It’s just very satisfying to see how their life changes gradually over time. I would say that the problem solving and exploring new ideas is the most exciting and fun part.

What made the University of Illinois a good place to conduct your research?

I actually came here for my graduate studies. My master’s and Ph.D. training was in this very same department in this building [Freer Hall] on this very same floor [where I conduct my research]! So, this place is almost like a home to me. This is where I got my training, I work with the best and the experts in the field in of exercise and cognition which my specific area of research.

After my graduation, I was a faculty at Wayne State University in Detroit, but when this job position opened up it was just too good to pass. It was just good to come back to a place that I know, where I have some collaborators and colleagues, and already established networks. It made the transition and the move easy. Also, our kinesiology department is among the top-ranked in the US.

How does using yoga in your research allow you to encompass what you want to study?

Yoga is a form of mind-body activity, it has  something more to offer. It is not just moving your body but it is also some sort of mental exercise. If you are in a yoga class, you are not only doing different postures that the instructor is explaining to you but also a lot of deep breathing, relaxation, meditation. When you are doing yoga, you are in the moment.

From a science perspective, I felt like this combination of mind and body exercise should be explored. There is not a lot of research or science or evidence for these kinds of mind-body therapies. Even from my graduate school days I was interested in doing some pilot studies involving yoga. I did my dissertation focused on yoga and cognitive health, specifically in older adults. Since then I have been conducting research studies that test the practice of yoga against other forms of exercise that are more widely practice in the US.

Can you talk about a time where were greatly challenged?

It was definitely a big learning curve for me when I came to the US as a graduate student. Transitioning to graduate school in the US and now into a graduate faculty role as a professor has been a challenging and learning experience.

What do you do in your spare time?

I still enjoy playing tennis. I’m part of the USTA League, so I get to play tennis weekly. I enjoy traveling; my husband and I take trips in the US as well as around the world. Traveling and tennis are my two favorite pastimes.

What’s a fact about you that people don’t expect to learn?

Painting. I like working with canvas and oil colors.

If someone in the program, a student or a colleague, needed to refer to you but did not know your name, how would you prefer for them to describe you?

I’ve had students who refer to me as the yoga researcher or the yoga and brain researcher. […] I okay with that. I don’t want them to get too creative.