HOW YOGA AFFECTS YOUR BRAIN
Yoga isn’t just a great way to get strong and toned, it’s also an amazing way to keep your brain young, healthy and able to handle whatever life throws at you.
If you’ve ever been to yoga on a day the teacher says “we’re going to try something new today. I’m sure you’ll all be fine,” you know the awkwardness that comes with trying a new pose. Despite feeling like a coiled-up pretzel, trying new poses, and even repeating learned ones, is amazing for your brain's health.
Yoga changes your automatic stress response
When you encounter a difficulty, like running twenty minutes late for an important meeting, your brain harnesses your stress response. This response is created by the sympathetic nervous system and it causes your heart to race, your breath to quicken and your blood to rush to your extremities preparing you to run! But! Imagine if you could be cool and calm in the face of challenges and confrontation? Now you can, with yoga.
Yoga teaches your brain how to stay in calm during moments of stress. When you’re doing the tenth vinyasa of the class and your teacher tells you to pause in plank, your body turns on the stress response. When your teacher reminds you to slow your breath though, you’re able to turn this stress response off. Your brain learns that you don’t automatically become stressed in moments of presure, and this response to stress becomes learned.
Yoga aims to retrain the automatic stress response as it’s not useful for us in modern life.
Can an old dog learn new tricks?
Yes! Thanks to neuroplasticity you really can change your brain. Your brain has the ability to rewire itself to new behaviours and responses. It’s the old saying ‘practice makes perfect;' the brain alters its behaviours after repetition and time. If you continue to halt your stress response when it starts at yoga, that learned behaviour will filter into your daily life.
There is a catch though - be present
To reap the incredible mental benefits of yoga, you have to fully embrace the mindful aspects of your class which means ignoring the million thoughts that try to infiltrate your consciousness, and maintaining slow, monitored breathing.
If you’ve never tried yoga before, we know it can be intimidating. So head to your nearest beginners yoga class. The instructors explain everything in English (not just in snazzy Sanskrit terms) and help you understand all the basics, including why they say Namaste at the end!