Adult brains can be taught new tricks — yogic exercises help new experiences and learnings to transform cognitive functions
For the longest time, the belief was that the adult brain cannot change even with training. But this changed around the 1960s, when scientists discovered that the adult brain is not so inflexible after all — it can change with new experiences and learnings. “The possibility of changing our mind or subconscious is the underlying premise of practices like Yoga, which have the capacity to boost cognitive skills and brain functions,” says Namita Piparaiya, yoga and ayurveda lifestyle specialist and founder, Yoganama.
Namita lists 5 yogic exercises for the brain
The vision has a strong influence on the nervous system because it influences the levels of alertness and calmness. And alertness is one of the prerequisites for bringing about a change in the brain.
Yogic eye exercises that require focussed attention, like Trataka and Shambhavi Mudra, or near and far gazing, are very effective techniques to improve the brain’s functioning. Actress Shilpa Shetty Kundra recently shared on social media the benefits of Trataka meditation to ward off stress and sharpen eyesight. “We may not always have the power to change what’s happening around us, but we can definitely control what happens within. That is possible only through yoga. Give yourself the ability to calm the mind, reduce unwanted thoughts, centre your wandering attention, and improve your focus through Trataka meditation,” Shetty captioned her post.
Practitioners must fix their gaze on a lamp or candle flame, a Shiva Linga, or a black dot on the wall. Gaze for as long as possible without straining the eyes, and then close them when you need to. Gently rub the palms to create some heat and place the palms on the eyes such that the palms do not touch the eyes but form a ‘cup’, shielding the eyes after completing Trataka. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds.
Any type of movement or exercise will result in changes in the brain. But what makes yoga unique is that it requires awareness of the breath. One of the best ways to practice yoga asanas is to count your breaths as you hold postures and aim to keep your breath slow, calm, and composed.
The practitioner is focussed on the present moment, with a sense of surrender and acceptance. When competitive, go-getter attitudes are discarded and practitioners come with a sense of openness and acceptance, it becomes even more beneficial.
This powers transformations in the brain. Eye exercises, yoga asanas, Pranayama, etc. are needed to bring the mind into a state of calm stillness, to facilitate meditation.
“Regular meditation changes the brain, making people more rational, patient, and less reactive. It particularly strengthens the executive centre of the brain, called the Prefrontal Cortex, situated behind the forehead. This is why during many yogic meditations you’re asked to bring your focus to the centre of the eyebrows, or the centre of the forehead,” says Namita Piparaiya.
Non-Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)
NSDR or Yoga Nidra is perfect for those who struggle with meditation. This practice is often guided by a teacher and you simply have to sit or lie down and follow instructions. “One benefit of NSDR is, if you’re trying to learn something, your retention and recall will be higher if you practice these techniques for 10-20 mins after a 90-minute period of intense study,” says Namita.