TWELVE MIN­UTES TO A YOUNGER BRAIN Ex­er­cise for mind and body

It’s been proved to hone, tone and give you a fab­u­lously youth­ful body, but the lat­est buzz about yoga is how it can help de-age your brain. Best of all, even the busiest woman should have time to do it

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YOGA IS DEF­I­NITELY HAV­ING A MO­MENT

From board­rooms to church halls, you’ll find all ages, shapes and sizes in down­ward dog or do­ing a cat pose. It seems we just can’t get enough of this an­cient prac­tice, said to be good for mind, body and soul. Yoga re­ally does seem to of­fer the whole pack­age – as well as ton­ing and strength­en­ing the body, im­prov­ing pos­ture and mo­bil­ity and re­duc­ing chronic pain, it also soothes

stress and anx­i­ety. There’s been a whole raft of re­search into its ben­e­fits over the past decade – done reg­u­larly, yoga can lower your risk of heart dis­ease, re­duce back pain, im­prove asthma, sup­port the im­mune sys­tem, boost mood, lower anx­i­ety and beat in­som­nia, as well as help­ing you lose weight and im­prove your eat­ing habits. But the hot news is that one kind of yoga could also help to stave off Alzheimer’s. Just 20 min­utes a day of Kun­dalini yoga re­versed the early signs of de­men­tia, ac­cord­ing to a UCLA study pub­lished in the Jour­nal Of Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. Re­searchers took a group of peo­ple aged over 55 who were deal­ing with the kind of nig­gly, ev­ery­day mem­ory blips that aren’t se­ri­ous, but can still be frus­trat­ing – blank­ing on names, for­get­ting ap­point­ments, mis­plac­ing car keys (or the car). We may laugh th­ese off as Se­nior Mo­ments, but they can also be a warn­ing flag – peo­ple with mild cog­ni­tive im­pair­ment are two and a half times more likely to de­velop Alzheimer’s. At the start of the study, the vol­un­teers un­der­went mem­ory tests and brain scans. Then they were di­vided into two groups. The first were

given 20 min­utes of brain train­ing ex­er­cises, such as word as­so­ci­a­tion games, to do at home ev­ery day. The sec­ond group at­tended a weekly, hour-long Kun­dalini yoga class, and then prac­tised a short Kun­dalini med­i­ta­tion ex­er­cise called Kir­tan Kriya ev­ery day at home.

Af­ter 12 weeks, both groups were bet­ter at mem­o­ris­ing words and names. But MRI scans showed that the yoga group had sig­nif­i­cantly im­proved their brain con­nec­tiv­ity, sug­gest­ing that the changes would be longer last­ing. They also ex­pe­ri­enced an ad­di­tional ben­e­fit – no­table im­prove­ments in their vis­ual-spa­tial mem­ory skills, which makes driving and nav­i­gat­ing much eas­ier. Plus the yoga group re­duced their lev­els of de­pres­sion and anx­i­ety and showed in­creased re­silience to stress.

THE 12-MINUTE MEM­ORY BOOSTER

Kun­dalini classes in­volve chant­ing in San­skrit, re­peat­ing sim­ple repet­i­tive phrases, such as Sat Nam (Truth is my identity) or Ong Namo Guru Dev Namo

(I call upon the di­vine wis­dom), in a sort of tune­less singing voice. But it’s worth get­ting over the cringe fac­tor be­cause it’s the chant­ing that brings the ben­e­fits. ‘When you prac­tise the mantra, the tongue is pushed against the roof of the mouth and that stim­u­lates around 30,000 nerve end­ings and around 80 re­flex­ol­ogy points, so the whole body ben­e­fits,’ says Kun­dalini teacher Mariya Gancheva, who com­bines teach­ing yoga with a job as an in­vest­ment banker in the City of Lon­don. ‘But it’s also a very ef­fec­tive form of med­i­ta­tion – fo­cus­ing your mind on re­peat­ing the sounds means it’s less likely to wan­der off.’

In the Kir­tan Kriya Kun­dalini ex­er­cise, there is also a se­quence of hand po­si­tions called mu­dras, which in­volve touch­ing the thumb to the pads of your finger­tips, that you co­or­di­nate with the chants. Ac­cord­ing to Pro­fes­sor He­len Lavret­sky, who car­ried out the UCLA study, the mantra-mu­dra com­bi­na­tion en­hances pro­duc­tion of a pro­tein in the brain that stim­u­lates con­nec­tions be­tween neu­rons. It’s also thought to re­gen­er­ate ac­tiv­ity in the telom­eres, the end-bit of our DNA that helps slow down the age­ing process. In a pre­vi­ous study, prac­tis­ing 12 min­utes of Kir­tan Kriya daily for eight weeks boosted telom­ere ac­tiv­ity by 44%.

‘One of the first ma­jor changes I no­ticed when I started do­ing Kun­dalini reg­u­larly was my mem­ory im­prov­ing,’ says Mariya. ‘I started remembering phone num­bers with­out re­ally try­ing. My fo­cus and con­cen­tra­tion at work have also im­proved. I work on the trad­ing floor, and it’s full-on for eight hours. I used to rely on cof­fee to keep me sharp; now my en­ergy lev­els are nat­u­rally high all day.’

On pa­per, Kun­dalini yoga cer­tainly sounds ap­peal­ing – for a start, Ly­cra is op­tional, and par­tic­i­pants are en­cour­aged to wear loose-fit­ting cloth­ing in nat­u­ral fi­bres. It’s of­ten done on a soft sheep­skin rug (Demi Moore has been snapped car­ry­ing hers rolled up be­tween classes), in­stead of the tra­di­tional rub­ber yoga mat, to min­imise stress on the joints. There’s also noth­ing fast-paced about it – rather than rat­tling through sweaty sun salu­ta­tions, you hold pos­tures for longer, while fo­cus­ing on your breath­ing. Many of the pos­tures are done from a seated po­si­tion. The re­sult is a deep and energising feel­ing of calm. ‘It teaches you to fo­cus the mind and not let stress

af­fect how you feel,’ says Mariya. ‘Kun­dalini is known as the yoga of aware­ness. Your body will change, but what peo­ple no­tice first af­ter prac­tis­ing it is that their mind be­comes sharper and more awake. You stop spend­ing so much time drift­ing through life on au­topi­lot.’

Of course, Kun­dalini is not the only way to im­prove your mem­ory. Your de­men­tia risk goes down if you don’t smoke or overdo the booze, and you are not over­weight. Eat­ing a bal­anced diet with lots of fruit and veg­eta­bles and keep­ing ac­tive also pro­tect brain health.

Other types of yoga are also good for your brain – sig­nif­i­cant im­prove­ments in work­ing mem­ory were found in a group of 55 to 79 year olds who prac­tised Hatha yoga and med­i­ta­tion three times a week for eight weeks, com­pared with a group that did a sim­i­lar amount of stretch­ing. But if your New Year’s res­o­lu­tion is to find a new way to re­lax, or to take up med­i­ta­tion, Kir­tan Kriya is a sim­ple way to do it in just 12 min­utes – we show you how be­low. It might even help you find your keys!

To find a cer­ti­fied Kun­dalini teacher near you, put your post­code into ‘Search for a class’ on kun­daliniyoga.org.uk. Or you can find on­line classes taught by the world’s top teachers at kun­dalin­ilounge.com.

Pos­ture per­fect: yoga can im­prove strength and flex­i­bil­ity

Flex your mind as well as your body

A good diet helps pro­tect brain health

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