World Mental Health Day: Ms Shalini Bhargava and Ms Namita Piparayia explains the importance of yoga to improve cognitive health and some yoga poses to sharpen your brain.
Yoga makes you feel better from head to toe by making you feel relaxed, stronger, and give you mental clarity. This ancient practice strengthens the connection between the body, mind and spirit, which helps with conditions such as depression and anxiety. Ms Shalini Bhargava, Fitness Expert explains that in order to keep your brain fit and in upright working order, yoga is key for our cognitive health.
Ms Namita Piparayia, Yoga, and Ayurveda Lifestyle Specialist, Founder Yoganama connotes yoga as a powerful practice that has been found “very effective in activating and enhancing parts of the human brain responsible for memory (Hippocampus), and the ability to focus, plan, control our reactions (the Pre-Frontal Cortex).” We asked the two experts about the yoga poses one should incorporate in their daily life to improve their cognitive health and this is what they recommend.
Here are some asanas to slope up your brain and keep it healthy by Ms Shalini Bhargava.
Standing Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Stand with your feet about 6 inches apart and fold the chest to the ground, reaching the flat surface or consider twisting the arms and holding an opposite hand to opposing elbow. Make sure to sway a little side to side and inhale and knees should be bent as much as essential to decline straining if any. Gradually, the tension in the hips and legs will start releasing.
Plow Pose (Halasana)
Lie down on your back and lightly lift the legs directly above your head. Slowly, touch the flat surface behind you with your feet. While you do this, keep your hand on your back for support or on the floor. You can do this pose for 1-5 minutes for better sleep and improving blood flow, which in turn will help improve cognitive function.
One Minute Breathing
Start by inhaling in and exhaling out gradually to become conscious of your normal breathing rhythm. You can perform this pose in three steps:
1) Breathe in for a count of four;
2) Hold your breath for a count of seven, and
3) Breathe out for a count of eight. Repeat these steps four times for effective results.
Legs Up The Wall Pose (Viparita Karani)
This is a relaxing yoga pose that helps relieve stress and anxiety. Begin with lying on your back with your hands on either side and legs straight on the floor. Slowly, raise your legs to 90 degrees. Put your hands under your lower back, and raise your body at the level of the waist, using your hands and elbows.
Ms Bhargava recommends holding the pose for at least 5 minutes, with your eyes closed. You can use an eye pillow if need be.
Other things you should keep in mind, according to Ms Namita Piparaiya:
Posture is essential for good health and also for the efficient functioning of our brain. “A slumped posture impacts our mood, makes us less confident, and dulls our intellectual capability. A consistent yoga practice with various asanas will bring about noticeable changes in your posture,” she adds.
Yoga poses specifically good for improving posture include Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana), Locust Pose (Shalabhasana) and Wheel Pose (Chakrasana).
Ms Namita Piparaiya explains that meditators have a large prefrontal cortex – the most developed and advanced area of the brain responsible for thinking, decision making, focus, and perception. “For this reason, meditation helps us control our “impulsiveness’ as it physically makes changes in our brain’s structure. Regular meditation improves our awareness levels, equips us to manage our emotional responses, and improves our attention span, making us more empathetic towards other people.”
She recommends beginning with guided mediation and finding a meditation method that appeals to your inherent nature. “Aum meditation is specifically recommended in ancient Yogic texts,” she adds.
We often underestimate the value of rest and recovery and try to push ourselves beyond the limit. Ms Piparaiya explains it as a counterproductive practise to stay mentally sharp and alert. “The best way to relax and recover is through sleep.”
She recommends doing Yoga Nidra or Yogic Sleep – a guided practice which can be anywhere from 20 mins to 1 hour.
4. Stress Management
In our fast-paced life, it can become rather difficult to cope with the daily grind, which in turn leads to stress. And stress impacts our ability to think clearly and affects our memory.
“Yoga is an excellent tool to manage stress because of its strong emphasis on breath awareness. Long, deep and calm breaths help activate our nervous system’s relaxation response and protect the brain by reducing the levels of hormones like cortisol. One of the best breathing techniques in Yoga is Sama Vritti Pranayama or Box Breathing. In this technique, you breathe in four steps: inhale, hold, exhale, and hold. Each step is held for four calm breaths,” she added.
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