Long-term brain health requires a steady supply of oxygen, glucose, and physical activity – the last factor often the missing ingredient in today’s sedentary lifestyles. While many forms of exercise exist, yoga asana classes are exemplary physical modalities that incorporate strength, flexibility, balance, breath, concentration, and eye focus.

The human brain thrives on physical activity, utilizing its senses to provide feedback in order for the brain to develop properly. From the time when the fetus moves in its mother’s womb, to the first movement of its neck out of the birth canal, to learning to crawl, then walk, then run, physical activity enables the human brain to develop the faculties of balance and coordination, supporting all body functions from digestion to breathing.

Notice next time how you breathe (or don’t breathe!) when you are thumbing through your emails. You might actually be giving your body a constant dose of stress! As we are increasingly consumed by electronic devices and computer screens, our ability to focus our eyes properly can be degraded. These habits can wreak havoc on our brains!

Yoga asanas provide comprehensive stimulants to brain health. Cross lateral coordination (e.g., eagle pose), spinal articulation to heighten vagal tone, and core body temperature elevation to promote thermoregulation, are all examples of unique benefits to the brain. Recent pilot studies have shown that yoga may even stimulate production of brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), the “brain juice” that our health thrives on. BDNF is essential to cognitive function.

Notice whether you can fix your gaze (dristhi) on a single point on yourself in the mirror (or an imagined point in front of you) while you execute a yoga pose. Can you breathe slowly in that position? Can you concentrate fully on maintaining your balance in the more challenging standing postures? Can you be completely still in savasana? Chances are, you find one or more of these practices difficult. Each of these aspects of yoga challenges your brain in different ways.

Never fear. Regardless of your proficiency level, you and your brain gain with repetition, so keep coming back for practice, time and time again. Never give up!

Heidi Iratcabal ND, DPT, CGP, IFMCP
Founding Partner, Carpathia Collaborative