Yoga and The Brain
Lifestyle habits can help maintain brain health in check by decreasing the risk of neurological diseases.
Because the human brain works non-stop, aging inhibits brain cells to build new connections.
Making it challenging for us to learn new things or change old patterns of behavior.
Therefore, many scientists believe that it is important to constantly challenge the brain to keep it healthy and fit throughout life.
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Brain Health Exercise
The nervous system is a network that sends and receives messages, via the brain, to various parts of the body.
Given its size, the brain is extremely powerful as it uses 20 percent of the body’s energy to accomplish its tasks.
However, the brain is often neglected.
With emerging neurological problems caused by several factors, the brain requires the same regular exercise and proper nutrition the body gets to be fit and healthy.
Hence, yoga offers to challenge, stimulate and refresh the brain.
It is the science of conscious development or according to Dr. Swami Gitananda Giri, it is “the science of conscious evolution.”
Yama and Niyama: Purifying and refining the brain
Yama and Niyama are the first stages of the eight-step journey.
The ability to reflect, to see a situation at the present moment, without past patterns of behavior, and make an adequate choice, is the essence of Yama and Niyama, the moral and ethical systems, on which Ashtanga Yoga is based.
An important food for the brain cells is positive thoughts.
This means letting go of negative ideas and thoughts that cause tension and even diseases in the body.
Patanjali recommends fostering positive thoughts (pratipaksha bhavana) to counter negative thoughts.
The brain structure requires a mindful lifestyle and constant intensive practice that will lead to the transformation of brain structures and creation of new neural networks in the brain.
Yoga Practice as Brain Food
The various yoga techniques like Hatha, Raja, Jnana, Bhakti, Kriya and Karma have the power to keep our brains healthy and functional, active and young.
Yoga nourishes the brain with a variety of poses that may be unfamiliar to a non-practitioner.
The unfamiliar poses force the brain to rethink, push to the limit with mindfulness, perform deep breathing, and self-reflect.
When we move our limbs into unconventional positions, new signals are sent back to the brain. Wake the brain up and create new reaction patterns.Asanas or poses, therefore, open up a whole new world of body-brain interactions. They are food for the brain.
Activate the Brain Cells with Breathing
It is particularly important to provide the brain cells with sufficient amount of oxygen. This requires deep breathing.
Breathing in the upper lung areas activates the brain centers which supply the brain with healing energy.
Many asanas are helpful in providing the brain with oxygen, such as devotional pose (Dharmika asana), wide-legged forward bend pose (Prasarita Padottanasana), and the hand-foot-big toe pose (Hasta-Pada asana) and the king of asanas, the headstand (Sirsha-asana).
For example, you can your brain’s nerve cells by doing hero pose (Vajra Veerasana)
Another pose called thunderbolt pose (Gulpha Vajra Asana) activates the pineal gland.
In addition, Kriya Surya Namaskar or sun salutation is very good for the activation of the pineal gland where the whole body is also activated.
It is best to do this exercise early in the morning, face the rising sun and allow it’s rays be absorbed by the whole body while breathing deeply.
Regular practice of surya namaskar promotes brain mental activity and the youthfulness of the mind.
Another important exercise for maintaining our mental health is Brahma Mudra.
In this exercise, the head is moved with inspiration in four directions and returned to the middle with the exhalation, A-U-I-M intoning.
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Mantric sounds activate brain cells and deliver healing vibrations to the brain.
Through visualization we can train our thought processes and expand our imagination.
Mantras like the mantra of all mantras, Pranava or Aum, promote the retreat inwards and help us reach another level of consciousness.
Improve Brain Activities
There are a number of techniques that can keep the brain clean and energized.
For example, one technique is called alternate breathing which is used to balance energies in the body.
Another method is called alternate nose breathing (Loma-viloma pranayama) which cleanses the nerves and builds up energy flows.
Here, you breathe through the right nostril, hold your breath and exhale through the left nostril.
Vishnu mudra helps control the alternating nasal breathing and fix the concentration on the respiratory movement.
Furthermore, tensions deposited in the body are relieved by several breathing techniques of the Gitananda yoga tradition, namely, alternate nostril breathing (Nadi Shodhana) and the cleansing of subtle channels (Nadi Shuddhi).
Nadi Shodhana is a rough cleaning method, while Nadi Shuddhi is more refined and should be used after rough cleaning.
Additionally, other important cleansing techniques include cleansing by inhalation and exhalation (Anunasika Pranayama), and Kapala Bhati or skull-shining breath.
These techniques pave the way for higher brain-mind activity, pure brain structure and enhanced memory, yoga aspirants or not.
Use It If You Don’t Want to Lose It
In summary, if the brain is inactive or stagnant, it will deteriorate sooner than we think. If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it.
Yoga practitioners or otherwise, taking care of the brain is essential for a sound body, mind and life.