Yoga has been shown to have incredible benefits for the body. But research can now prove that it has equal benefits for the mind as well. Studies have shown that yoga may help people in the following ways:
- It helps improve cognitive functions such as remote memory, attention and concentration, verbal retention and recognition tests.1
- It may help reduce stress and anxiety, by improving blood flow to the brain and allowing it to function better.
- It may help people gain clarity in thinking and increase mindfulness.
- It has also been seen to increase levels of GABA(gamma-Aminobutyric acid) which is a neurotransmitter that helps reduce anxiety.2
Here are some poses that may be beneficial in improving brain power.
1. Paschimottasana/Seated Forward Bend Pose
This pose helps relieve stress, reduce anxiety and irritability. It stretches the entire body and helps align the spine. Here’s how to do Paschimottasana:
- Start by sitting on the floor with your legs stretched out in front of you.
- Start to reach towards your heels.
- Try not to bend your knees but beginners may do so if they find it difficult.
- Hold on your shins, ankles or feet depending on your body’s limitations.
- Inhale and exhale slowly. Then try to touch your head to your knees.
- Hold this pose for up to a minute.
2. Sarvangasa/ Shoulder Stand Pose
This pose is said to help improve thyroid imbalances. In turn, this may improve one’s ability to make connections, improve concentration, and short-term memory. It also increases blood flow to the brain, allowing it to function better.
Here’s how you can do this pose:
- Lie down on your back on a floor or mat.
- Raise your legs to a 90-degree angle.
- Place your palms flat on the floor and lift your waist and hips.
- Bend your elbows and use your palms to support your body and legs, keeping them as straight as you can.
- Your body weight should be supported by your shoulder blades.
- Maintain this pose for up to 2 minutes before slowly lowering your legs and body to the ground.
3. Padmasana/Lotus Pose
This pose is said to calm the brain and increase attentiveness and awareness. Here is how you can do this pose:
- Start by sitting on the floor or a mat with your legs stretched out in front of you
- Bend your left knee and place your leg on your right thigh. Your sole should be facing upward.
- Do the same with the other leg and place it on the opposite thigh.
- Breathe slowly.
4. Halasana/Plow Pose
This pose reduces stress, strengthens the spinal cord making it flexible, and increases blood flow to the brain.
- Start by lying on your back on a floor or mat.
- Relax your entire body.
- Keep your palms flat on the floor and breathe normally.
- Raise your legs upwards and try to touch the floor behind you.
- Hold this position for 1–2 minutes.
- Slowly return to your starting pose.
- Repeat this 3–5 times.
5. Tadasana/Mountain Pose
This pose not only helps correct posture, but it also helps one relax and concentrate. It improves blood circulation as well. It calms you down, making you more aware of your breathing. Here is how to perform this pose:
- Start by standing barefoot on the ground with your legs and feet together.
- Bend your knees slightly and straighten them again to help loosen your joints.
- Flex your thigh muscles and turn them inwards slightly.
- Lift the inner arches of your ankles.
- Lift your chest up and out and push your shoulder blades back, widening your collarbones.
- Lift your head up, lengthening your neck and keeping your spine erect.
- Continue breathing slowly and lift your toes, balancing your body weight on your heels.
- Stretch your chest, shoulders, and arms upwards as bring your weight back to your toes instead.
- Hold the pose for 5–10 seconds before coming back down.
Pranayamas/Deep Breathing Exercises
Simple breathing exercises and meditation help calm the brain down. Regular meditative practices have been shown to increase and preserve gray matter in the brain even as one ages.3
Here is a basic pranayama you can practice.
Bhramari Pranayama/Humming Bee Breath
This pranayama is said to release tension and increase mindfulness.
- Close your ears with your thumbs and place your index fingers on your temple.
- Close your eyes with the other three fingers.
- Slowly inhale through your nose and hold your breath for a few seconds.
- Keeping your mouth closed, slowly exhale while making a humming sound.
With regular practice, these methods could help you improve your brain function in the long run.
|↑1||Chattha, R., R. Nagarathna, V. Padmalatha, and H. R. Nagendra. “Effect of yoga on cognitive functions in climacteric syndrome: a randomised control study.” BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology 115, no. 8 (2008): 991-1000.|
|↑2||Streeter, Chris C., J. Eric Jensen, Ruth M. Perlmutter, Howard J. Cabral, Hua Tian, Devin B. Terhune, Domenic A. Ciraulo, and Perry F. Renshaw. “Yoga Asana sessions increase brain GABA levels: a pilot study.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine 13, no. 4 (2007): 419-426.|
|↑3||Luders, Eileen, Nicolas Cherbuin, Florian Kurth, and R. Lauche. “Forever Young (er): potential age-defying effects of long-term meditation on gray matter atrophy.” Deutsche Zeitschrift für Akupunktur 58, no. 4 (2015): 30-31.|