Does Yoga Make You Smarter? Give This Flow A Try For Some Major Brain Power
Including some strengthening and relaxing yoga in your life can do an incredible amount of good for both your body and your mind. If you've ever rolled out your mat and let your breath guide you from one asana to the next, you know how incredibly focused, centered, and entirely calm the practice can make you feel. What you probably didn't know, though, is that those few minutes of yoga can make you smarter in the long-term, thanks to its many brain-boosting benefits.
While it's true that I'm most likely biased about this because I'm a yoga teacher — one who rarely skips a day on my mat, mind you — it really is a proven fact that yoga can have a highly beneficial impact on your brain. According to findings from a 2013 study carried out by researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a simple 20 minutes of yoga can stimulate brain function immediately after finishing the practice.
Lead researcher on the study Neha Gothe described the findings to the University of Illinois News Bureau,
It appears that following yoga practice, the participants were better able to focus their mental resources, process information quickly, more accurately and also learn, hold and update pieces of information more effectively than after performing an aerobic exercise bout.
The science doesn't lie, my friends. The next time you feel like your brain needs a boost, try flowing through this simple and rejuvenating yoga sequence. You can thank me later.
1. Seated Meditation And Deep Breathing
Start your practice with a seated meditation, and move through deep, expansive inhales, and long, drawn-out exhales.
Meditation is a great way to get your brain moving because it's been shown to help relieve stress, quiet your mind, improve your focus, and even boost your self-esteem. Just a few moments of meditation in the beginning of your physical yoga practice can literally change your brain. Research reveals that sitting still and observing your thoughts without judgment can lead to a thickening in a few major areas of the brain, which translates to major #BrainGains for you, my little yogini.
2. Half Lotus or Lotus Pose (Ardha Padmasana or Padmasana)
Transition into a half lotus or full lotus pose, and sit here for multiple full, deep breaths, allowing the asana to calm your brain.
Full lotus pose is a pretty advanced asana that requires your hips to be very open, so don't be discouraged if you can't make your way into it at first. Opt for a half lotus pose instead if you need to, close your eyes, and feel the sensation the position brings to each part of your body.
With practice and consistency, you'll eventually be able to settle into full lotus.
3. Half Spinal Twist Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
Stretch out your spine and lengthen your entire being with a gentle, half spinal twist pose. Ardha matsyendrasana improves your digestion, which in turn makes your brain one happy camper.
Research has shown that there's actually a link between your gut and your brain (otherwise known as "the gut-brain axis"), so performing a half spinal twist within your yoga flow can help you maintain great gut and brain health.
4. Plank Pose (Kumbhakasana)
Plank pose may seem like a wildly simple asana, but it actually calms the brain and relieves mental stress, along with being a total-body strengthener, physically speaking.
Take five deep breaths in your plank, and really be sure to engage your shoulders and draw your belly button in toward your spine for proper form.
5. Dolphin Pose (Ardha Pincha Mayurasana)
From your plank pose, begin walking your feet in toward you, coming into a shoulder-opening dolphin pose.
Dolphin pose holds many of the same brain-rejuvenating properties that plank does, and it'll be a great preparation for future inversions that your practice may hold (hint hint, a headstand is coming up!).
6. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
Make your way off of your forearms and onto your palms, sinking into a strong downward facing dog, which will energize your entire body and perk up your mind.
Be sure that your fingers are spread wide on your mat, and that your legs are strong, supporting the weight of your body. Relax your head and neck, and make sure you're not holding unnecessary tension that would take away from your practice.
7. Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
Slowly walk to the front of your mat, and once you arrive there, let the upper half of your body dangle down like a rag doll in a relaxing forward bend.
You can keep a slight bend in your knees if your hamstrings aren't ready for the full expression of the asana. Let some fresh blood circulate to your brain to give your mind a gentle, healthy boost.
8. Seated Forward Bend (Paschimottanasana)
Take a vinyasa, and then come to a seated position on your mat, stretching your legs out in front of you and flexing your feet.
First, reach your arms toward the ceiling, and grow your spine as tall as possible. Then, begin to fold forward over your legs with a flat back, only going as far forward as feels comfortable for you.
Relax your upper body, and rest it on top of your thighs. Let the sound of your own breath soothe and nourish you.
9. Headstand (Sirsasana)
If you feel up to it and it's within your skillset, set yourself up for your inversion. Headstands are incredible for your brain, and the movement can actually stimulate mental power because it activates the pituitary and pineal glands, according to Yoga Journal.
If you've never done a headstand before, make sure you're being spotted by an experienced yogi or teacher.
10. Child's Pose (Balasana)
Finish your flow, and unwind from your inversion with a restorative and comforting child's pose.
Let any mental chatter that's clouding your brain slowly be released as you sink your hips into your mat, and relax every part of your body, from head to toe.