So 20 minutes of a mindful movement practice can make your brain faster and sharper?
That’s what researchers from the University of Illinois at Champaigne Urbana proved in a recent study
They compared the 20 minute yoga session to a 20 minute aerobic walk / run and the yoga proved to be significantly better at improving working memory and the ability to stay focused and block out distraction. These are so called “executive functions” of the brain.
Neha Gothe, the lead investigator says many factors can be responsible for the improved brain function. “Enhanced self-awareness that comes with meditational exercises is just one of the possible mechanisms. Besides, meditation and breathing exercises are known to reduce anxiety and stress, which in turn can improve scores on some cognitive tests,” she said.
Here are 5 reasons I believe ALL contribute to this improvement:
1. Spinal movement is the windmill that powers the brain.
This is a quote from brain researcher and Nobel Prize winner, Roger Sperry. Chiropractors have known this for years. Your brain is dependent on good spinal movement in order to fire on all cylinders! When you’re a slug and sit or lay around all day, cognition suffers.
Movement is INPUT for the brain, also called “afferance”. And guess what good functional afferance blocks pain, relaxes tight muscles, and improves coordination to the brain. That’s what happens when stuck or blocked joints get moving again and explains a lot of the “side benefits” of chiropractic and a healthy mindful movement practice!
2. You’re not wasting all your brain energy fighting gravity
Going back to Dr. Sperry, he discovered that 90% of your brain power is spent relating your physical body to the gravitational field. He also said that the more distorted a person is, the less brain power is available for thinking, metabolism, and healing.
Since yoga is all about posture and keeping yourself in good alignment, then you’ve got more brain capacity for thinking properly. Hence better scores on the cognitive tests.
3. Stress reduction = better blood flow to the “processing area” of your brain
Mindfulness movement meditation has a long history of proving measurable stress reduction. And when you are more present and not thinking about the future and the past, the nervous system can relax.
When this “relaxation response” happens, blood then more easily flows to the higher brain centers for naturally easy cognition instead of rushing to the lower centers that are built for fight or flight.
4. Brain “Attention Center” is activated through intense focus
Norman Doidge’s excellent book, “The Brain That Changes Itself” really drives home this important point.
Placing focus and attention on a task like breathing and movement “flips the switch” on the part of the brain (nucleus basalis) responsible for making a clear “engram” into the brain.
“Opening up the learning center” gets the mind “ripe” for effective learning and processing. Practicing intense focus on other new tasks like learning a new dance or learning a new language can also open up this key brain area.
So in addition to focusing on nurturing movement, learn something NEW every day!
5. Good posture quiets a noisy brain
This one is my favorite and I’ve talked about it a lot in previous video posts. I refer to it as the “BUZZ”.
Your brain is constantly getting messages from your body…and your joint positions have a LOT to say.
If your joints are in a stressful position (think head poked forward at a computer screen with shoulders rounded forward and upper back hunched) then they are sending a noisy “BUZZZZ” to your brain. It is also referred to as the “central excitatory state” (CES).
When your brain is buzzing in this state, then you switch into “stress physiology”. And remember what happens to brain blood flow when you’re under stress? That’s right, it goes to your lower brain to help you run away from danger. Now your higher processing centers are running on empty!
The solution, of course is creating what’s called “joint centration”, which puts your joints in the most optimal alignment to be able to bear the most load with the least amount of energy spent.
That’s what I’ve been teaching for years here on my free blog and in my comprehensive Reverse Crossed Posture Syndrome Now! online course .
And that’s what Yoga helps you reawaken if your are fortunate to have a good teacher that knows how to keep you safe.
When the “BUZZ” is quieted, then you can think more clearly and with more focus!
In my own clinical trial after having 30 people go through a circuit of exercises to reverse Crossed Posture Syndrome (if you don’t know what CPS is then click here for more info, self tests, and fundamental exercises to reverse it), one of the biggest changes on the before and after medical symptoms questionnaire where in the “mind” area.
The ultimate trick is to develop a DAILY MOVEMENT PRACTICE that is just as important as brushing your teeth. Not only will you have less pain and more energy, but you’ll have a sharper brain, too!
Got a Question? Comment? Leave it below now!
Just a suggestion – On this video post, the wind blowing into the mic is really LOUD – overpowering what you're saying a lot on this one. Any kind of a wind screen for the mic or if it's built into the camera, perhaps there's a setting on the camera? If external mic, they make mics that have a built in wind screen or resistance.
Still excellent content.
Thanks Shelly, yes the wind was part of the flow today and the wind screen was not on the mic.
The good outweighed the bad by far and I was happy with it 🙂
Thanks for your help. Glad you enjoyed the content!
All really good points but #2 got me thinking about our space astronauts. Here in Canada we avidly followed Chris Hadfield's posts from the International Space Station where he lived for an extended period of time without gravity pulling on his body during his recent tour as Commander of the ISU. I know the toll this took physically on his body as he is now having to rehabilitate and learn to live 'squished down' with gravity once more, but I'm curious to know if living without it's effects allowed his brain to function more effectively? Maybe somemore learnings to come out of that, and I'm sure they will only serve to reinforce this point that we must move as efficiently and centrated as possible.
Welll, off to do my mat exercises…mindfully:) Maureen
Good question Maureen! I understand where you’re coming from. Seems that there would be a lot more capacity to think / process / reason if the brain wasn’t trying to relate to gravity.
Our bodies are designed to use…or “recycle” gravity. So to live without it may cause decreased input that may eventually diminish brain function? It’s a great question. It would be interesting to do functional MRIs on astronauts in zero gravity and see what lights up or turns off in the brain.
Hi Dr Steve
Brilliant stuff…. very true I think. This is why I LOVE doing your mini circuits from the course 1st thing in the morning. I stumble out of bed, usually feeling crunched up and by the time I'm finished with a circuit I feel alive and limbered up for the day and the brain is definitely more switched on. If I skip a morning, I really notice the difference, and that in itself is motivation to do some exercises asap.
2 other things…
I've read that book, The brain that changes itself, and it really is an EXCELLENT read and I highly recommend it. Very very interesting stuff.
Making habits and introducing quality of movement in your daily life IS vital, like you say here in the vid and in your course. I don't remember to do it all the time BUT I have noticed that these days I barely need to think about one particular change I've made to my daily activity now that I've consciously made a new habit. When I put on, but especially pull off my motorbike helmet my ribs and shoulder blades go down and stay down and the core is engaged. This is also a new habit now when I'm getting on and off my bike. Just that action has reduced the energy levels going into that task – I really notice just how much easier and more swiftly I move about these 2 actions. Thanks to your section in your course Activities for Daily Living I've been more conscious of such things and this is one area that I've seen a notable change. Oh and I do it when I lift a jug of water or the kettle too, so there's probably a few things where it's applied now. Little by little I am seeing new good habits appearing – yay!
Anyway, best do a few exercises to shake off any bad habits I might have picked up today at work! Thanks again for another inspirational post.
Little hinges swing big doors, Kristina! It’s the little habits that you do a lot that can make an immense difference! And yes, it IS a SWITCH when you activate the deep core system with the therapeutic moves in the course.
Enough mindfulness eventually develops the HABIT. Drop it into autopilot, baby! Keep it up and it’s a pleasure to have you as a CWI student!
Thank you for this post. I loved you doing it from your garden. The energy was contgious. Hearing the wind, seeing the garden growing, butterflies flitting etc. was a great addition. I have been hesitant to do yoga because of my physical pain. I believe I could do that variation for downward dog. I am also hopeful that as I work on CPS I will be free to do more yoga. Who could not benefit from a brain that works faster and sharper?
Thank you for sharing.
Yes, in the course you can go to http://corewellnessinstitute.com/modified-down-dog and that will give you more details on the move.
Thank you so much. I am sure you are told this all of the time; however, I want to make sure that you know this is how I feel. This course is very exciting. Your explinations with video are exceptional. Teaching me much needed variations this way allows me to watch them over and over so I can check to make sure I am doing the smallest detail correctly. You are changing my world. Thank you!
You’re welcome, Carol! It’s action takers like you that make it all worth it for me! See you in the course!
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Great post. Just what I needed. I just went to the dr and found that i shrunk .25 inches from last year. 🙁
I try to do downward dog in yoga (new to me) and have a hard time. Will work on it with the coffee table. That help so much! Thank you! Passing on this info to friends as well.
Yes you can get taller with better posture and good centration, Cindi. Glad this helped and thanks for sharing!
Downward Facing Dog was new to me as well. I just watched a short video on Facebook made by a good friend of mine of his 14 month old daughter. She did the pose perfectly when he prompted her to do dog. She did it so easily and did not need to modify it. One day it will be easy for me, and I will not need modifications either. However, I am grateful for the modification now. Thank you Dr. Steve.
You're welcome, Carol. That one's in the course with more detailed instruction for you.