Clarity is such a nice word. Conjuring up images of pristine cool clear lakes, blue skies and everything very crisp and beautiful. But a lack of clarity brings images of stumbling along in the dark, tripping over debris and sliding in the mud. Mental clarity is much the same: a clear tranquil mind or a muddled, messy one. Without clarity we forget where we put our keys, we forget people’s names, we forget appointments, not only that but we find it hard to focus on tasks. Our mind seems to go around in circles, and we are exhausted.
Mental clarity is a wonderful tool which helps us to function easily and get tasks done well and on time. For most of us who need a bit more clarity the fix is simple…. we need to get a handle on our stress levels, to exercise and to breathe deeper. The absolutely great news is that yoga practices address all these strategies to help our minds to become a bit more cool, calm and clear.
Stress and Lack of Clarity
The great offender from stress is cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced in adrenal glands which in fact is not only an offender but also a friend. Cortisol is released on a regular basis throughout the day to keep our energy levels up, to regulate blood pressure and keep inflammation at bay. A surge in cortisol is what helps us get up in the morning and helps us deal with stressful situations. And there lies the problem.
Unfortunately, many of us experience stressful situations on a daily basis and according to medical opinion the resulting near-constant cortisol release can damage the memory centre of the brain. In cases of moderate-to-high chronic stress, we lose our ability to concentrate, and recalling memories or laying down new ones becomes more difficult. Additionally to make matters worse, the receptors in the brain become less adept at regulating cortisol as we age.
So what can we do? While we can’t stop the aging process, we can address our reactions to stress in a multi-pronged approach.
Yoga Asanas to Lower Stress Levels
Yoga asanas performed mindfully help to bring us into the present moment, they help to increase our ability to focus and help us to relax our brain. This mindfulness during our asanas is enhanced by a soft and focused yoga breath which brings us into the present moment and also helps to relax our nervous system.
Staying for a while in challenging poses develops our fortitude. Fortitude is the ability to keep holding the pose even though our mind is telling us to come out of it. This fortitude is said the spill out into our everyday life and help us withstand the onslaught of stress. The fortitude muscle is said to grow with yoga asanas and enable us to meet stresses in our daily life with strength, calmness and determination.
Meditation to Lower Stress Levels
Many studies strongly endorse the soothing effects of a yoga meditation practice. Even as little as 10 minutes of meditation a day can have a profound affect on stress levels. During meditation the brain produces alpha and theta brainwaves which are associated with deep relaxation. This state of deep rest promotes the production of feel good chemicals like endorphins, serotonin and dopamine. The more we meditate the more the harmful effect of stress will dissipate, our thinking patterns will become clearer and we will see ways to avoid stress. Meditation is a wonderful tool to help us cope with stress, calming the nervous system and bringing clarity to our lives.
Other Strategies to Increase Clarity
Get enough sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 – 9 hours or sleep per night. It is thought that during REM sleep memories and information are being processed and organized in your brain. Without this our mental clarity is greatly hampered.
Low progesterone levels and an underactive thyroid also contribute to brain fog so if symptoms persist this might be an avenue to check out.
Many people are deficient in vitamin B12 which can cause poor memory, fogginess and depression. Interestingly people with higher levels of B12 seem to have less brain shrinkage as they get older. Bring out the B12 folks!
Anemia is another cause of lack of brain clarity so make sure your iron levels are good – plenty of leafy greens.
Part 2 coming in March
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training