I had the great fortune to spend time with not one but two grandmothers. These two remarkable ladies were as different as black and white, sugar and spice, in all things imaginable. One's junk drawer was meticulously organized, the other’s a mad scramble of old elastics, rusted thimbles, scrap paper, and half-eaten gum. One made baked goods that made your mouth water looking at them; the other's baked-goods aesthetic left something to be desired, but her crumbling apple pie made your eyes water in delight.
To this day, my 94-year-old grandmother is quick as a whip (pictured above). I'm not exaggerating when I say that her memory is far better than mine (which reminds me: I'm due to give her a call!) She is my go-to source for family birthdays and events and won't let you forget for a moment if you owe her a visit. I used to think it was the vodka-OJs that kept her young, but since rounding the corner towards her mid-90s, grandma has laid off the screwdrivers, and she continues to shock us with her mental prowess.
One of the biggest differences between my grandmas was their approach to "remembering." If something "slipped the mind" of Grandma A, her response was, "It' will come back to me." Grandma K, on the other hand, refuses to let anything go. Like a fierce and determined sergeant, she orders an army of "brain cells" to the exclusive task of recalling the name, date, or detail she's forgotten—and doesn't give up until it's been tracked down. Little does grandma know, she’s doing “abdominal crunches” for her brain! Just like any muscle in your body, you have to work your brain to keep it healthy and strong. Yoga is one way to do this.
Scientists have come a long way in understanding what works to improve brain function. And some of them say that yoga—with its unique combination of exercise, meditation, relaxation, and focus—is optimally placed to serve that purpose. Current research cites stress as a major contributor to memory loss and even Alzheimer's disease. Yoga is a natural anti-stress antidote.
Yoga for reducing stress and boosting memory:
Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Fold) stretches the entire length of the spine and calms the mind, reducing stress.
Inversions, such as Legs-Up-the-Wall pose soothe the nervous system and aid to improve blood flow to the brain. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain, thereby increasing cognitive function.
Simple stretches, like Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), keep joints supple, prevent stiffness, calm the mind and improve circulation throughout the body (including the brain!).
The physical coordination required in a yoga class, to do the postures and also to synchronize breath and movement, train the brain to focus for a sustained time. Attending classes with someone passionate about the finer details of asana practice (for example, me and my passion for anatomy!) emphasize this benefit.
Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) absolutely qualify as an aerobic exercise. Studies have long shown the benefits of cardiovascular training on brain health.
So there you have it, 5 simple and enjoyable ways to do yoga and boost brain health at the same time!