There is a lot of talk today about what supplements or foods should be taken or avoided to boost our brains. Yet there are even easier, almost instant and totally free ways to positively modify our minds, and you can get started on them right now!
1. Regular, Rhythmic Breathing
One of my most important yoga teachers, Swami Veda Bharati, used to insist we do this at all times, and it was not until science started to talk about it that I understood why.
To get the best heart-rate variability, an indicator of longevity and good health, we need to take full, deep and regular breaths. Full breathing relaxes the body and improves brain function, leading to better mental performance and outlook.1
As anyone who exercises knows, the mind seems clearer and more relaxed, and the mood is uplifted after a good workout or a long walk, mainly because we are breathing more fully than at other times.
Take a moment now to relax your body as you exhale, softening your heart, your stomach and your abdomen. Inhale slowly and softly – without forcing a deep breath – for a silent count of four; then exhale slowly and just as softly for a count of five.
You can vary the duration of each breath to suit your comfort and so you breathe without straining, but always make the out breath a little bit longer than the in breath for best results.
You might also notice a short, natural pause after each inhale and exhale, and you can stretch these out just a bit to slow down your breathing even more. Ideally, always breathe in and out through the nose, but if you feel anxious you can exhale slowly and silently through the mouth as if you are breathing through a straw.
Meditation as taught by many traditions has long been known for its transformational power, and now science is able to demonstrate why it works so well.2
Hundreds of studies over the past three decades show the beneficial changes that occur in the brain as a result of as little as 20 minutes of meditation a day over eight weeks! Yet, as those of us who meditate can attest, the mind feels much calmer and clearer after every session of meditation.
Yes, smiling! As soon as you smile – whether you are genuinely happy or not – your body and mind start to transform. In laughter yoga sessions we say just fake it ’till you make it – your body can not tell the difference between a real or a fake smile, and you get the benefits either way.
As you smile or laugh you quickly begin to feel uplifted, and this can have you spontaneously smiling even more. Smiling increases dopamine and serotonin levels, which regulate your mood and ability to focus, and it stimulates the brain’s reward centers in a way that even chocolate or money can not match!3
My dear teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, always said: “smile, and relax your body”. I quickly realized that it was not just a nice thing to say, this was a profound teaching!
Half the struggle of being mindful is over when you become aware of your body softening, and the joy and calm of smiling spreads over you. How cool is that?!
|↑1||Rojviroj, Wanee, Vichit Punyahotra, W. Sittiprapaporn, and A. Sarikaphuti. “Study of Brain Activity Analysis of Deep Breathing.”|
|↑2||Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain, The Washington Post.|
|↑3||The Science of Smiling: A Guide to The World’s Most Powerful Gesture, Blog.Bufferapp.com|