Looking at yogis contorting themselves into unthinkable postures, wrapping their limbs around like they were made of rubber, it is easy to imagine that yoga benefits only if you do the impossible. In reality, though, yoga is a far more inclusive practice that everyone can benefit from. More importantly, it is a practice that can transform and supercharge your brain, making you more productive and efficient in your everyday life.
In fact, regular yoga practice even helps increase your grey matter in areas responsible for memory retention and rational thinking. That is why consistent yoga practice improves focus, helps us control our emotions, reduces impulsive behaviour and improves decision-making.
But to get these benefits, one must incorporate all three pillars of yoga into their practice. These are asana (posture), pranayama (breathing exercises), and dhyana (meditation). Interestingly, though when it comes to the brain, meditation is the biggest influencer.
Namita Piparaiya, yoga and ayurveda lifestyle specialist and founder of Yoganama, lists five yoga techniques that can supercharge your brain for success.
These are postures such as Tree-Pose (Vrikshasana), Dancer Pose (Natrajasana), Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III) and Half-Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana). The ability to balance on one leg is strongly linked to the health of our brain. Studies show that people who balance on one leg for at least 20 seconds have a lower risk of stroke and Alzheimer’s. The good thing is that balance improves with practice. Therefore, you must include at least one such posture in your daily practice.
All yoga practices are done while being mindful and aware of the breath, but pranayama practices is the next stage in which the breath is the exclusive focus. In this stage, we stop moving the body and become completely still. Now, you work on breathing in specific patterns.
Just as you create shapes with the body while doing asana practice, you create specific patterns with the breath in pranayama. While there are many different breathing patterns, two are particularly good. These are Sama Vritti Pranayama (equal breathing) and Anuloma Viloma Pranayama (alternate nostril breathing). You can practice these daily after your asana practice. Energising and cleansing breathing practices such as Kapalabhati (skull shining breath) can be practiced before starting your asana practice.
Rest and relaxation
Nowadays, we live more inter-connected and hectic lives, in which sleep, rest and recovery often take a backseat. All this has a cumulative effect on our mental health, eventually leading to burnout, slow processing or chronic fatigue. Yoga helps you recharge, de-stress and sleep better. Good, restful sleep equals a smart and sharp brain. Restorative yoga practices that focus on relaxing postures and deep breathing are an excellent addition to counter everyday stress. Practices such as Yoga Nidra should be done at least once a week. End your regular daily yoga practice with some cooling poses such as Child’s Pose (balasana) or Crocodile Pose (makarasana). Finally, don’t miss spending at least 5-10 min in the Dead-Body Pose (shavasana).
Yoga is a powerful practice that uses movement, stillness, conscious breathing and concentration exercises to strengthen the connection between the body and mind. Consistent yoga practice improves your cognitive function, specifically your memory, rational thinking and emotional processing. To get a balanced practice, include dynamic movements such as the Sun Salutations (suryanamaskar), practice single-leg balances daily and conclude your asana practice with pranayama and dhyana.
Vinyasa-based yoga practices, which involve moving from one pose to another in rhythm with the breath, are excellent to boost brain development. Traditional suryanamaskar is a form of Vinyasa.
Dynamic movements help because they improve circulation throughout the body, including the brain. In yoga, you also move your body in many different directions — you connect the body’s right and left sides in twists and binds. This improves creativity and is a great booster for the brain. Include Vinyasa yoga in your routine at least twice a week to get a balanced practice.
This is the crux of yoga; everything you did till now in your practice was to prepare yourself for this step. In this stage, you begin with focusing your mind on one chosen object or subject of meditation, and you repeatedly think about it. The chosen object of meditation can be a mantra, a deity, a spiritual symbol, or your breath. In the beginning, you may be able to keep your focus on the object only for a few seconds before getting distracted again. But there’ll be a moment when you remember that you were supposed to be meditating —it is ‘this’ moment that you must cherish. Each time you remember, you win and take a step forward in your meditation journey. With regular practice, you will get distracted less and less.
Meditation helps in stress management by reducing hormones such as cortisol; it even helps in reducing blood pressure. Consistent meditators have more brain development in areas related to rational thinking and self-awareness. This is why regular practice makes us less impulsive and more in control of our emotions.