This week’s yoga classes are based on the brain, stress and Neuroplasticity. I love the word Neurosculptor (Your Fantastic Elastic Brain by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.). “Neuro”means “brain” and “sculptor” who is someone who “reshapes, carves, styles”…so as a Neurosculptor you are the sculptor of your own brain. The brain is amazing, that is for sure! We have the ability to sculpt our brains. With determination to learn and by practicing what we learn., we become more and more able to do things because our brains change with each new thing that we learn.
Determination (What a GREAT word!). I see this word as very active and internally driven. “What is the difference between confidence and determination?” I believe that, “Confidence can waiver because it seems more stagnant and momentary, where as determination is active and requires focus and effort, so it does not become stagnant.”
What is determination? It is bravery, courageousness, being energetic, persistent, driven, gutsy, purposeful and spunky! It is GROWTH. With determination, we can do hard things!
The more we can focus, plan and practice, the more efficient our brains work. We get smarter and smarter by learning new things and by practicing what we learn. Have the determination to persist even when it’s tough, because intelligence grows and expands. It, like the word determination, is not stagnant. Learning is like lifting weights for the brain-it is exercise, it helps you get stronger and feeling better. Also, do not be afraid to make mistakes as the old saying goes, “Learn from your mistakes”. Mistakes train your brain too! It is better to RISK being wrong as a new pathway will be created for more learning. Risk= Take a chance=Dare. You will be braver; more confident and in turn, more determined to keep on going. Stand on the edge of that diving board and go for it!!!
***I point out here, especially in reference to my work in the schools and working to get teachers involved in this mindful process; It is very important for adults, educators and parents to understand this, because by keeping this in the forefront of their professional practices or their parenting style, can remind them that when a student or their child is struggling, it is not because they cannot learn but because they need more practice and instructional support-maybe come at the situation from a different angle.
Imagine your brain is a house. The people who live upstairs are your THINKERS: Planning Penelope, Problem Solving Peter, Peace Keeping Pari, Flexible Felicia, Kind Karl, Wise Wilma. The people who live downstairs are your FEELERS: Worried Willa, Nervous Nelly, Anxious Aisha, Easily Upset Eliot, Angry Alexander, Fearful Frieda, Sound-The-Alarm Stevie
When the two floors are working together messages can go up and down the stairs, between the two floors. Problems get solved, new challenges are met and a calm way of being is in effect. When you FLIP YOUR LID, the two floors are no longer connected and they can no longer work together for a solution, so the downstairs folks take over and there is a time of confusion, easy out bursts and no problem solving is accomplished.
To help with brain flexibility and strength, yoga constantly pushes the mind and body to be more open-minded and to want learn more. Yoga can help change the way the brain “thinks” by, over time, creating and strengthening new neurons and neural pathways to help get out of ruts and stuck old ways of thinking. Yoga boosts executive functioning and emotional resilience.
Studies looking at how the brain changes before and after meditation found that brain structures involved in awareness, attention and self-related thinking changed in structure and increased in volume. Plus, after eight weeks of meditation training, research found that the hippocampus, which is involved in learning and memory, developed more gray matter density.
The brain is the center of the Nervous System. The nervous system is the highway along which your brain sends and receives information about what is happening in the body and around it.
The brain and the spinal cord make up the central nervous system. The brain lies protected inside the skull (originally 22 bones which fuse) and from there controls all the body functions by sending and receiving messages through nerves. It gets the messages from your senses – seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, touching and moving. The messages travel from nerve cells all over the body. They travel along nerve fibers to nerve cells in the brain.
- The Prefrontal Cortex is at the very front of your brain, in the cerebral cortex. It is your Wise Old Owl. The decision maker: yes or no?; should I or shouldn’t I?; true or false? This area helps you with learning and focus. The best thing for this part of your brain is for you to remain calm in order to for you to be able to learn at your best.
- The Hippocampus, from the ancient Greek “Hippo” which means “horse” and then “kampus” which means “sea” (seahorse) because this area looks like a 2 seahorses side-by-side, one in the left side of the brain and the other in the right side, is buried deep inside the brain. This is your filing cabinet, that stores all your long-term memories.
- The Amygdala, which is basically attached to the end of the seahorse, is the center that controls your emotions, more specifically, your fears. This is your Security Guard, there to protect you. Here we see the Fight of Flight response initiated. Now, if you were a caveman and you came across a saber toothed tiger, you would need the ability to decide very quickly whether to stay and fight the beast, run away or freeze and become food. If you decided to stay, you would need to be the best warrior you could be and if you decided to run, then you would need to be the fastest runner. For this you would need your body to be working very efficiently so all your bodily and mental functions could help you out! This is stressful to you and your heart rate increases. You sweat, your muscles get ready to spring and your mind is focused on your one objective. But not everything needs to be experienced with such a stressful response and instead by activating the Relaxation Response (*see Herbert Benson), we can get through lesser stressors without them taking a toll on our body. Group discussion about big, medium, small problems and other ways we can solve things without getting stressed out.
Interesting facts about the human brain
- Your brain has around 100 billion nerve cells
- Your brain keeps on growing until you are about 20 years old. By then the brain has made lots of links which it no longer needs so it is able to shed any unwanted connections and still have billions of brain cells left to cope with whatever you may want to do. You can still make new connections even when you are 100 years old, so get Grandma going on the computer – she may not learn as fast as you but she can do it!
- The front of the human brain is larger than any other animal’s, even the dinosaur’s!
- The left side of your brain is usually better at problem solving, maths and writing.
- The right side of the brain is creative and helps you to be good at art or music.
- The brain stores all sorts of things in the memory including facts and figures and all the smells, tastes and things you have seen, heard or touched.
- Your brain can also find things that you have remembered.
- The adult brain weighs about 3lbs.
Looking after your brain
Your brain is protected inside your skull and is cushioned by cerebral-spinal fluid but could still be damaged if your head is hit or bumps into something hard.
- Always wear a helmet if you are riding a bike, scooter or skate board.
- Always wear a helmet for sports where you could be hit or fall, eg baseball, horse-riding, skiing & snowboarding .
- Never dive into water unless you know how deep it is. (Your brain should let you know that this is not a smart thing to do.)
- Listen to that ‘voice’ inside you – you know what I mean, the one that says ‘This is not a good idea!’
Apart from making sure that you don’t injure your brain, you can also make sure that you help your brain by:
- Eating healthy food like fresh fruit and vegetables, drinking milk and not eating too much junk food.
- Exercising your brain by learning new things and trying to remember them.
- Getting plenty of sleep.
5-5-5 Breathing to Calm Down
One part of our nervous system gives us more energy when we need it. This part is called the sympathetic nervous system. Another part helps calm us down when we are too excited. This part is called the parasympathetic nervous system. When you get upset, nervous, or anxious, we can trigger our parasympathetic nervous system to calm us down.
Follow these steps.
- Inhale very slowly through your nose for 5 seconds: 1-2-3-4-5.
- Exhale very slowly through your nose or mouth for 5 seconds: 1-2-3-4-5.
- Suspend breath and pump belly 5 times: 1-2-3-4-5.
- Repeat the process 3-5 more times
- Notice how you feel. (Hopefully you will feel calmer.)
This is an AWESOME breath for an overall sense of calm and inner focus.
In Kundalini yoga, kriyas are sets of postures, movements or breath patterns which, when all performed as a sequence, lead mind and body to a specific desired outcome, such as eliminating stress in the body. Each standalone movement within the kriya will change how you feel, but by practicing the full set, we will physically change our entire body.
Self-care is vitally important. Taking care of yourself needs to be your number one focus. The less stressed you are the happier, healthier and more wholly well you will be and there fore will be more able to give of yourself to work, family, friends and life in general. How can you add some stress-relief into your daily routine? You need to put your air mask on first before you can be of service to others.
Kundalini Kriya for Stress-Relief
The following Kundalini kriya is specifically designed for self-care with an emphasis on relieving stress.
Listen to Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo while breathing. This chant awakens our inner teacher and wisdom. It sets us up to focus in on ourselves & devote this time to our inner well-being. *I am not a certified Kundalini teacher nor am I a Sikh, but I am 100% enamored with the art and science of kundalini. My goal is to bring this powerful tool into the world through non-sectarian means.
Begin standing and wrap your arms around yourself so you are hugging your lower ribs as tight as you can. Begin extending alternate legs forward, and as you build momentum, make each extension a little jump. This lifts the heart rate, shakes out any tension in the legs, ankles and feet, and loosens up the hips. 3-5 minutes.
This exercise is the same as step 2, but now we add a forward bend to touch the toes after each leg kick (kick/kick/bend) and lift back up to continue. Keep the legs as straight as possible to stretch out the hamstrings. This is also beneficial for balancing the upper and lower chakras, as well as the central meridian line. 2 minutes.
Come into rock pose. Clasp the hands together and rest them on the top of your head. Keeping the spine upright, begin to draw circles with the torso. This releases toxins from our cells (which is important because cell toxins often constrict blood flow). 1 minute.
Still kneeling, place your palms on the cheeks with the Venus Mound of the thumb pushing up under the cheekbones. Apply enough pressure to distort the face and make speaking difficult. Purse the lips and ‘drink’ your inhale in (as though slurping a long drink). Exhale powerfully through the nose. 2 minutes.
Sit in a comfortable easy pose (cross legged) and continue the same breathing pattern from step 5. Bringing your hands to the knees, allow your torso to bend towards one side, then come back through center and bend towards the other side. Inhale one side – exhale the other. Try to bend as deeply as possible. 2 minutes.
Relax on your back, arms at your side, palms facing up. Relax & drift off to sleep 11 minutes.
Self-Care Breathing Kriya: helps to reduce stress quickly and effectively
- Sit comfortably in a meditation pose (either in a chair with feet flat on the floor, or crossed legged on the floor). Ensure your spine is straight and the crown of your head is reaching skyward.
- Open the mouth and form a small circle – slightly bigger than if you were about to whistle.
- Place left hand over your heart center, then right hand on top of left.
- Close your eyes and breathe a steady, powerful inhale and exhale through the mouth (this is known as Cannon Breath), while focusing your awareness on the area under your palms.
- Continue for 5 minutes.
- To end, inhale and suspend the breath.
- Relax the mouth and mentally repeat “I am beautiful, I am innocent, I am innocent, I am beautiful.”***
- Exhale through the nose.
- Repeat this breath suspension and affirming mantra 5 times.
Self-care is so vitally important to all of us. Think about how you could achieve a higher level of self-care in your daily routine to reduce your stress. Remember – the most important person in your life is YOU. If you aren’t ok, then how can you be ok for your friends, family, work and all the other wonderfulness in your life?!