Posted by: Trudy Prevost | October 4, 2009

Yoga for Optimum Brain Function

Vogue and Self are putting out the message of yoginis as buff and perfect. If you start doing yoga for those reasons, fine. Most people get beyond that and see that it’s much, much more. ” ~ Patricia Walden

Practicing yoga regularly can be of great benefit to all but especially students. Besides releasing tightness and tension in the body; increasing energy; preventing repetitive stress injury, enhancing functional fitness and improving strength and flexibility – yoga can enhance mental prowess by releasing stress, improving memory; enhancing blood flow and equalizing the use of the sides of the brain.

Yoga can give that little boost of energy and alertness needed in the midst of studying. Stand up and take a few minutes to do a few yoga poses to increase energy and improve mood; preliminary studies show – it works!

Stress adversely affects brain function, especially memory by: damaging hippocampus; interfering with the function of neurotransmitters; diminishing the glucose reaching the hippocampus, causing a temporary impairment of memory retrieval; and contributing to sleeplessness.

Imagine what happens to students who stress out when they’re studying around exam time. Since a certain amount of stress can be beneficial the key is stress management not stress elimination.

Yoga is one of the most effective stress management techniques available today.

At Boston University researchers found that brain scans of yoga practitioners showed a healthy boost in levels of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) immediately after a one-hour yoga session.

At Thomas Jefferson Medical College there was a significant drop in cortisol levels after just a single yoga class.

Yoga is now recommended as an effective stress managment technique by the Mayo Clinic and Harvard University.

Participating in a typical Rainbow Yoga class you will be reaping the benefits of most of the stress management therapies popular today and listed below. Research is also showing many of these techniques are directly linked to improved scholastic achievement and executive function.

Controlled Deep Breathing …..
One of the most basic tenants of yoga is controlled deep breathing. Medical students from Illinois University School of Medicine who participated in a deep breathing study reported decreased test anxiety, nervousness and self-doubt. They also believed it enhanced their concentration, helped them academically and would help them as a physician.

Physical Fitness
Regular yoga practice is a great way to stay fit. According to the Mayo Clinic Physical activity — whether it’s a relaxing walk, bicycle racing or meditative tai chi — helps relieve stress. and research is now showing direct links to fitness and scholastic achievement. A University of Georgia study on children concludes: ‘Consistent with results obtained in older adults, a specific improvement on executive function and brain activation changes attributable to exercise were observed.’

Progressive Muscle Relaxation …..
At Rainbow Yoga classes start and end with progressive muscle relaxation of some form. During a Harvard Medical University study this therapy was proven to be an excellent stress management technique. This technique has the ability to release tightness in the body and relax the mind bringing a state of mindfulness into being.

Guided Visualization …..
Guided Visualization techniques are utilized in the final relaxation of many Rainbow Yoga classes.  This is recommended by the Mayo Clinicas an effective programme for relieving stress and mental imagery can be used to improve memory, perceptual skills, physical performance, even creativity.

Mindfulness ….
Mindfulness  – being in the moment – is the most essential concept of yoga practice. Yoga experts have promoted the benefits mindful eating; mindful breathing, minfulness meditation and mindful movement for 1000’s of years. A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Study (MBSR) on medical students concluded MBSR can be an effective stress management intervention.

Meditation …..
A Rainbow Yoga Hatha Yoga Class is a form of meditation as participants are encouraged to focus on the moment and observe the body and the breath from within. We also practice basic meditation techniques at the end of every class. Researchers have found that seated and moving meditation practice can alter the physical structure of our brains.

Yoga has also been proven to improve cognitive skills, memory and focus and concentration through the practices below.

Eye Movements …..
The 19th century physician Swami Sivananada believed eye exercises were the best way to train attention. Neurologists have now determined that the same brain systems that control eye movements control attention. Studies at the University of Manchester have shown that moving the eyes from side to side has another benefit; it can reduce misinformation effect and promote memory.

Alternate Nostril Breath …..
Ancient yoga teachers also said that practicing the alternate nostril breath would improve focus and concentration. Now scientists have shown that both verbal and spatial memory are improved after the practice of this breath.

Yoga can help in another way. One of the comments I get the most from participants in my classes is “yoga helps me sleep.” We need a good sleep to solidify our memories and reduce cortisol levels. Research shows there is  a link between deep sleep and visual learning; and our brain engages in data analysis, from strengthening memories to solving problems.

Weekly yoga classes with a skilled teacher and a regular personal practice – every day is preferable – will maximize the health benefits.


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