When I was in college way back when, I remember hearing about the research that suggested when students nap during studying, they remember more about what they were studying or in other words, students improved their memory retention. This research flew in the face of what I observed most students doing instead – pulling all-nighters before exams. However, I always thought about it when I found myself napping on the weekends while reading my textbooks or writing papers as it made me feel less guilty about nodding off. Flash forward thirty years and now the research is showing that practicing Yoga Nidra (yogic sleep or sleep of the yogis) can improve academic achievement.
Yoga Nidra has been referred to or described as deep relaxation, sacred rest, nirvana, an altered state of consciousness, psychic sleep, a meditation practice, and/or resting in awareness. No matter how it is referred to, Yoga Nidra is a guided awareness practice that has the effect of supporting the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the part of our autonomic nervous system responsible for rest and digestion. When practiced, the physical body is positioned in a comfortable, supine position, supported by blankets and pillows to provide comfort and the awareness of the mind is directed away from thoughts and guided to focus on the body, breath, senses, emotions and even imagery.
By supporting the parasympathetic nervous system, balance is invited into the body and mind with the effect of creating greater access to all parts of the brain and, thus, facilitating the digestion of our external experiences, such a learning something new. Although the research findings indicate that practicing Yoga Nidra reduces stress levels and improves academic achievement, it is not clear if these findings are a result of increasing cognitive functioning, including attention, learning and memory, or as a result of increasing emotional regulation, or a combination of both. Regardless of the mechanism, this research offers a powerful tool to not only students, but to teachers, the educational system and its entire support structures.
For more information on the beneficial impacts of Yoga Nidra on academic performance, click on the links below:
At any age, in today’s fast-paced world, we may be challenged by our ability to maintain our focus long enough to actually create a memory worth remembering! I hear myself saying almost daily “Thank God for Google” or I wouldn’t be able to remember the name of the new restaurant in town I saw on my way home from the office to tell my husband or the movie I saw last week to tell my friends. We have come to rely more on our electronic devices with all of the available apps to assist in reminding us of where we need to be and when, to keep track of our finances and when to pay our bills, and to prompt us so we don’t forget a birthday or anniversary. There are even apps to remind you to get up from your desk every hour and to stop whatever you are doing and simply breathe!
As we age, the brain does change and it is not unusual for all of us to experience some level of memory loss, specifically working memory. This expected memory loss due to aging does not necessarily mean we are developing dementia. However, with an increasingly older population, it is important to understand ways to support our brains and our memories to maintain our mind-body health. A new research study has shown that yoga may be one of those ways!
In this research, the intention was to focus on the brain’s cortical thickness, which has been shown to decline with age and is associated with executive functioning relating to memory and attention. With the assistance of MRI scans, the results showed an increase in the cortical thickness, specifically in the left prefrontal cortex which supports working memory and cognitive flexibility, in the older women who had practiced yoga for at least 8 years. The researchers suggest that it is the unique contemplative or attentional component that is an integral part of yoga that differentiates it from other conventional forms of physical fitness exercise. So even if you consider yourself active and regularly participate in other forms of physical movement, your brain may not be getting the same boost as it would from integrating yoga into your self-care routine.
This study is important for people of all ages, not only those of us that may believe we have reached the peak of our life span. Yoga comes in many different forms and styles and is not one size fits all. Yoga ranges from very little movement at all, such as with yoga Nidra or Restorative Yoga to the other end of the spectrum, with continuous movement, such as with a Vinyasa or Ashtanga class. So no matter how old you are in the present moment, it is a great time to explore this practice and find a style that works for you. It is never too soon or too late to integrate yoga into your overall preventive health care efforts. Your body and mind will thank you now and well into the future!
“PTSD isn’t about what’s wrong with you, it’s about what happened to you.” ― Author Unknown
The human body’s Autonomic Nervous System has two branches: the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) which are designed to compliment each other. Our SNS is the part of our nervous system that gets activated in times of stress, whether that stress is considered positive or negative. When the SNS is activated, our heart rate and respiration increase and our blood pressure goes up. Our PNS is the part of the nervous system that gets activated in times of rest and relaxation, typically after the cause of the stress is removed from our awareness. When the PNS is activated, our heart rate and respiration decrease and our blood pressure drops.
- Mindfulness. This intention might simply start with acknowledging that the human mind, just like a computer, is not designed to multi-task. Embracing this natural state, we can then begin to invite opportunities to focus on just one thing at a time. Starting with simple one-minute meditations, sprinkled throughout our day, can create just enough space for a deeper connection with our authentic self as reflected through our experience of gratitude, compassion, peace, and love Some short meditation ideas include stopping what you are doing and trying one of the following: taking a few drops of your favorite essential oil (lavender and orange are two that have been shown to support our PNS) in your palm, rub your hands together, hold your hands up near your nose and take 10 long deep breaths; redirect your attention to your body, starting with your feet and moving up to your face, tightening one muscle group at a time (e.g., feet, lower legs, thighs, etc.), taking one full, deep breath for each muscle group before releasing and relaxing; and.or close your eyes and allow you other senses to sharpen, first by identifying all of the sounds the ears might notice, then describing the sensations the skin might be experiencing, and then deepening your breath to notice the scents that might be in the air in that moment.
- Breathe Less. No, I don’t mean hold your breath! Instead, taking more conscious, extended diaphragmatic breaths, where you lengthen both the inhale and exhale, but allow your exhale to be longer than the inhale, means you may end up only taking 4 breaths per minutes instead of the normal 12 to 20 breaths per minute. To practice lengthening your exhale, grab a straw and release your exhale through the straw and see if you can get your exhale to maybe be 30 seconds long! Your inhales support your SNS, while your exhales support your PNS, so encouraging your exhales to be longer than your inhales allows the PNS to express itself.
- Stop and smell the roses. Being out in nature has also been shown to trigger the PNS. Therefore, consider becoming a silent “tree hugger”! You don’t have to tell anyone and you can do it when no one is looking. Maybe try it for 40 days and see what happens. Another option might be the next time you see white clouds in the sky, find a patch of grass to lie down on, look up and begin to identify shapes that the clouds are taking. Maybe you will see a dolphin, unicorn, or heart!
- Restorative Yoga. Some may suggest that all yoga is restorative and I certainly wouldn’t argue with them. Yet, a pure restorative yoga practice includes poses that are supported with props, such as blankets, pillows, and bolsters, and held for 10 to 20 minutes to allow the muscles to release built up tension. So consider seeking out a restorative yoga class in your neck of the woods and pencil it in your calendar. If you would prefer to try it right now, find yourself near a wall (or the back of a closed door), lie down on your right side and scoot your hips close to (but NOT touching) the wall, and then slowly roll onto your back and you lift your legs to the sky and rest the heels on the wall. For even more comfort and support of your PNS, place a pillow or folded blanket under your hips/sacrum. Hold this pose as long as you feel able, then slowly roll to your side again, and wait at least 3 breaths before pushing yourself back up to a seated pose. Check in with yourself before standing up and returning to the next item on your “To Do” list.
- Yoga Nidra. This practice is also known as “yogic sleep”. It is a guided meditation that encourages the mind to drop into deeper states of consciousness. There are 5 levels of brain waves in the human mind. Gamma waves reflect active thought, Beta waves are present much of our waking time, when we are alert and working, Alpha waves reflect a more relaxed and reflective experience, Theta waves are experienced as a state of drowsiness and meditation, while Delta waves occur while we are sleeping and dreaming. Yoga Nidra creates a space for the mind to experience a more steady Theta wave experience, even floating between Theta and Delta wave states, supporting the activation of the PNS. It has been said that 1 hour of Yoga Nidra is equal to 4 hours of sleep. You can find free Yoga Nidra meditations on-line, so find your pillow and blanket and check one out soon!
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LINDA CROSSLEY, MBA,
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