5 Beginner Yoga Poses That Benefit Brain Health
Practicing yoga has numerous health benefits. The deep breathing emphasis in the various poses increases oxygen which in turn increases blood flow. And the overall focus of being present and staying calm reduces stress and encourages relaxation.
There are numerous styles of yoga, but when the style most people are familiar with is Hatha yoga. This style combined meditation and breathing exercises with gentle body movements. There is increasing evidence that yoga has several positive effects on the brain.
A collection of studies done on the effects of yoga on the brain concluded that there was a consistent positive effect on the function, and often the structure, of the prefrontal cortex, hippocampus, amygdala, cingulate cortex, and multiple brain networks including the default mode network. They also showed benefits in emotional regulation, specifically in relation to reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression due to balance between the common neurotransmitters, norepinephrine, dopamine, and serotonin when practicing yoga and meditation. In addition, people who practiced yoga demonstrated better performance on cognitive tests.
Advocates of yoga will attest to the powerful effect yoga can have on the body and mind. But knowing where to start can feel overwhelming. We’ve found five beginner poses that can be easily added to our morning, evening, or meditative routines daily.
5 Brain-Friendly Yoga Poses
- Child’s pose
Start by kneeling on the floor or mat with your toes touching. Spread your knees as wide as your hips. Inhale and as you exhale, slowly bend your torso over your thighs. Place your hands palms up alongside you, or stretched in front of you with your palms down. Rest your chest on your thighs and relax your shoulders to the ground. Breath deeply and stay in this pose as long as is comfortable.
Child’s pose is a resting pose that stretches our hips, neck, shoulders, and chest relieving muscle tension in those areas. Because our head is below our chest, it increases blood flow to the brain, calming and soothing the mind. In addition, because our belly rests between our thighs, every deep breath serves to massage our digestive tract promoting healthier digestion.
- Standing forward bend
In a standing position with feet together or hip-width apart, whichever is more comfortable, inhale deeply. As you exhale, slowly bend your torso from the hips down towards your thighs. Reach for the floor or bend your forearms to hold your elbows and continue to breathe deeply letting your head and neck relax with the gravitational pull.
Standing forward bend aids in relieving fatigue and stimulates blood flow to the brain. Come out of the posture while inhaling either by rolling your back up or lifting your torso with your back straight, always being mindful of keeping your back safe.
- Downward facing dog
From a hands and knees position, on an exhale lift your knees and raise your hips towards the sky. To help protect your wrists, keep your fingers spread and your weight distributed evenly into your fingers. Inhale. On the next exhale, press your heels to the ground while pressing your hips to the sky. Keep your head between your arms, don’t let it hang. On an exhale, drop to your knees and go into Child’s Pose.
Again, the gravitational pull will aid in bringing blood to the brain while the deep breathing will increase the oxygen in the blood. Studies published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, showed an average increase of 10% of cerebral blood flow during yoga and meditation to different parts of the frontal lobe. When done daily, this increased blood flow can change our actual stress circuits, reducing our brain’s long-term stress response.
- Bridge pose
Lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet pressed against the floor, raise your hips while keeping your shoulder blades pressed firmly to the floor, thus protecting your neck. To get a deeper stretch, raise your heels before lifting your hips, and once elevated, lower your heels to be flat on the ground. A deep bridge pose can extend from your lifted shoulders, keeping your back in a straight line through your hips.
Being mindful of your breath, bridge pose strengthens multiple core muscles while increasing overall blood flow. The arch of the back opens the chest, stimulating the lungs which in return improves oxygenation throughout the body, including a blood boost to the brain. This boost helps fight fatigue, reduces headaches and tension, and balances the hormones in our brain, rejuvenating our overall brain chemistry.
- Savasana or corpse pose
Lying on your back with arms and legs extended, palms out, and toes pointed up. Focus on each part of your body, starting with your toes and relax completely before moving on to the next part of your body. This pose sounds easy but takes a lot of practice to be both aware and completely relaxed at the same time.
It is a mindful pose that involves complete surrender but the benefits include calming and relaxing the mind. In the same vein as meditation, this relaxation lowers our cortisol levels, reducing stress. The deep breathing associated with this complete relaxation also increases blood flow which can reduce headaches and fatigue.
As more studies look at the effects yoga has on our brain and body, it’s becoming clear that including simple yoga poses into our daily routine can have significant brain health benefits. Even better is these benefits can emerge in even beginner yogis as most starter poses increase blood flow and lower stress. The more we practice, the more our body strengthens and the deeper, restorative benefits begin to emerge. And with multiple styles available, there are yoga routines that can fit into any schedule and lifestyle.