Exercise to Feed the Brain
In recent times the notion that the brain can’t change has been debunked. It has been discovered that the human brain has the amazing ability to reorganize itself by forming new connections between brain cells. This ability is known as neuroplasticity.
The environment in which a person lives, as well as the actions of each person, play a significant role in this plasticity.
Neuroplasticity occurs in the brain…
1- At the beginning of life: when the immature brain organizes itself.
2- In case of brain injury: to compensate for lost functions or maximize remaining functions.
3- Through adulthood: whenever something new is learned and memorized
While undoubtedly learning new skills like a new language or learning to play a musical instrument will boost the growth of new brain cells, studies have also found that exercise affects the brains plasticity. Exercise promotes the growth of new brain cells making it a much advised strategy for brain clarity.
Exercise sets into motion an interactive cascade of growth factor that has the net effect of stimulating plasticity, enhancing cognitive function . . . [and] stimulating neurogenesis (Wilcox et al. 2009).
Amazingly, research has found that even those who have already developed symptoms of dementia can benefit from exercise to improve cognitive function and allow them to be better able to perform activities of daily living
Yoga Breathing for the Brain
During exercise there is an increased supply of oxygen in the blood to the oxygen hungry brain. Just how hungry is the brain for oxygen? Well, studies show that the brain consumes 20% of the oxygen intake although it makes up only 2% of the body weight. It’s very hungry and very sensitive to oxygen deprivation. That’s why yoga breathing exercises and the more aerobic forms of yoga asanas contribute to our clarity.
There are two ways that yoga breathing is of benefit to the brain. Firstly, if you are feeling drowsy and finding it difficult to focus complete yoga breathing brings the breath deep down to the bottom of the lungs, helping to wake the brain up and clear the mind. If you are feeling anxious and stressed, simply focusing on your breath without trying to change it will help the nervous system to calm down and you will be able to think more clearly.
Meditation for Clarity
A study carried out in 2011 at Harvard University discovered that mindfulness meditation can change the structure of the brain. Only eight weeks of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction was found to increase areas of the brain which govern learning and memory.
While another recent study found that just a few weeks of meditation training helped people’s focus and memory
Feed the Brain
An interesting Australian study concluded that, ‘Lower intakes of nutrient-dense foods and higher intakes of unhealthy foods are each independently associated with smaller left hippocampal volume.’
Shrinkage of the hippocampus is associated, amongst other things, with depression and dementia. In other words junk food is not all that good for the brain and not all that good for your peace of mind.
Here’s a short list of foods that have passed the cognitive enhancing test:
Blueberries, turmeric, green tea and foods that are rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids like avocados, flax seeds, chia seeds and walnuts.
So … relax, eat healthy, exercise, breathe and meditate. Sounds like a prescription for life!
By Vrndavan Dasi
Founder and Principal of Veda Yoga Teacher Training