The Single Best Exercise For Your Brain
Keep a healthy mind with this easy exercise.
Who wouldn't love to live to old age while maintaining the mental and physical agility of someone decades younger? While we may have to leave the actual stopping of time to theoretical physicists, slowing down the effects the aging process has on our bodies and brains is our prerogative. The good news? It's easier than you think. While high-intensity workouts can get you the flat abs you've always wanted, yoga is the answer for a healthier brain.
A study published in the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease reveals that older study subjects who practiced yoga over a 12-week period had increased neural connectivity and experienced improvements in both visuospatial memory and verbal acuity. Even better, for those saddled with the brain-clouding effects of depression, yoga can provide serious relief: researchers at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center found that depressed male veterans experienced a significant improvement in their symptoms following twice-weekly yoga sessions over a two-month period.
This body-to-brain connection may surprise yoga newbies, but seasoned instructors understand the practice's effects on mental health all too well. Lauren Magarelli, owner of BeBhakti Yoga in Beacon, NY, says, "The longer one practices mindfulness or meditation or experiences resistance in the body, the more one can experience longer mental pauses and increased mental clarity."
New York-based yoga coach Julia Shield says that yoga's challenges are what can spur a pronounced difference in a person's mental state. "People often find the physical practice of yoga mentally taxing; that's no accident. Yoga helps you notice your mind's fluctuations," says Shield. "Interestingly, once it has your undivided attention, the mind quiets down.
"After all, if you can maintain a clear mind and steady breath when it feels as though your legs are going to fall off in Warrior II, you'll be able to bring that clarity and steadiness to other domains of your life, off the mat."
Magarelli, who has been teaching for 13 years, says that the change in mood and mental clarity is what tends to get people hooked. "Most people who practice yoga do it because they feel better," says Magarelli. "Something shifts. That's why they come back."
Don't know where to start? Try on these easy moves for size. And for more on yoga's wide-ranging benefits, here are the Yoga Moves Guaranteed to Improve Your Love Life.
Standing on one leg, bring your other leg to rest on the inside of the opposite thigh. Press your palms together in front of your chest and breathe deeply. Not only does this pose improve balance—an essential component of an effective yoga practice—it's also an easy move to come back to in order to center yourself during a challenging or overwhelming workout.
Combining core work, lower body exercise, and upper body strength, crescent pose takes lunging to the next level. Lunge with one leg forward at a 45- or 90-degree angle and bring your hands over your head, palms pressed together, while arching your back slightly. If you're feeling particularly ambitious, you can lift your back leg, thus creating greater core engagement and improving your balance.
While the plank pose has been co-opted into many forms of exercise, this challenging workout is first and foremost a yoga move. Simply assume a push-up position with your elbows firmly tucked against your sides, pull in your stomach, and hold for as long as you can. If you're a beginner, you can also start this pose on your elbows and work your way up into a full plank using your hands. Once you've mastered the plank, you'll soon enjoy ab and upper body definition crunches and dumbbell curls just can't touch.
Centering the body and mind through periods of stillness is an essential part of any yoga practice. This asana is ideal for bookending a series of poses, allowing you to enter the mental state needed to have a focused workout and allowing you to achieve calm following a challenging practice. To achieve this pose, simply sit with your legs crossed and your hands on your knees, or, if you're a bit more flexible, put each foot atop the opposite thigh so that your heels are touching the opposite hip bone.
At the end of a difficult yoga workout, clear your mind by assuming child's pose. Kneel on your mat, bring your head to the ground in front of you, and sit on your heels. Stretch your arms out in front of you with your palms down, and breathe deeply.
Even if donning a pair of yoga pants isn't exactly up your alley, you can still reduce your stress and improve your health by getting active, even if it's just for a few minutes at a time. And when you're ready to make every minute an opportunity for better health, add the 15 Best 60-Second Health Hacks to your routine!
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