My friend and colleague, Shelbi Miles, introduced me to the book, My Stroke of Insight many years ago. At the time, I was immersed in my Yoga Therapy training and that story along with Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence by Matthew Sanford, set my brain on fire. Shortly after reading these books, I was introduced to the concept of NEUROPLASTICITY and I was hooked.
As a wellness professional I have always believed that we could change our minds, our bodies and our destinies. Nike’s Just DO IT campaign was right. As was one of my favorite speakers, Earl Nightingale. Mr. Nightingale said first you have to make a decision, then you have to do one thing everyday toward you goal – sounds like practice doesn’t it? I digress, now back to the point at hand.
When I read those books and then heard countless stories of individuals recovering from brain injury, stroke or other brain damage and traumatic events, I thought yoga has to help with this magic thing called neuroplasticity.
It’s this simple – Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt.
“It refers to the physiological changes in the brain that happen as the result of our interactions with our environment. From the time the brain begins to develop in untero until the day we die, the connections among the cells in our brains reorganize in response to our changing needs. This dynamic process allows us to learn from and adapt to different experiences.” Celeste Campbell (n.d.)
(Just FYI – neurons are the cells that make up our brain).
The Father of Neuroscience, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, coined the term neuroplasticity in the early 1900s. Who knew it has been around for so long? He believed the brain could change even as we entered into adulthood.
Now we know that a traumatic event and even STRESS can change the function and structure of the brain. (Fuchs & Flugge, 2014). Currently, researchers agree there are two types of neuroplasticity:
- Structural Neuroplasticity
- Functional Neuroplasticity
Structural neuroplasticity has to do with how the strength of our neurons or synapses change. Functional neuroplasticity has to do with permanent changes in our synapses due to learning.
The exciting part of structural neuroplasticity is the idea that we can CHANGE ourselves and how we show up in the world.
In January, I shared about SAMSKARAS – our ruts, routines and habits we develop and fall into and how yoga can help us move out of these patterns. YOGA HELPS US CHANGE OUR NEURONS.
When we learn new things we form new pathways in the brain. Yoga is learning on many levels: cognitive through techniques and skill, physical through touch, breath and mental through the use of sounds and mantra. Bottom line, yoga requires your brain and your body.
AND BEST OF ALL, IT’S A SUSTAINED PRACTICE! For neuroplasticity to work, it has to be practiced.
Here are some ideas for boosting your brains neuroplasticity:
- Traveling (maybe you want to join Lisa and I for the Sisterhood of the Travelling Yoga Pants)
- Learning to play an instrument (sitar anyone?)
- Non-dominant hand exercises (hold your yoga mudra hand position the opposite way)
- Reading fiction (Neurosculpting by Lisa Winberger)
- Expanding your vocabulary (Sanskrit)
- Creating art (pull out your coloring book)
- Dancing (vinyasa or flow based yoga)
- Intermittent Fasting
As a Yoga Therapist (next month – what is Yoga Therapy), I am excited about research that shows yoga, in all its forms – asana, pranayama, meditation, mantra, mudra – can help us live with vitality, deal better with depression, anxiety, stress, chronic pain and many other issues we endure.
“With meditation, your brain is effectively being rewired: As your feelings and thoughts morph toward a more pleasant outlook, your brain is also transforming, making this way of thought more of a default…The more your brain changes from meditation, the more you react to everyday life with the same sense of calm, compassion and awareness.” Jessica Cassidy (n.d.)
Want more? Listen to this TEDx Talk by Sara Lazar on Meditation and Brain Change