Practice How Yoga Changes Your Brain Inside yoga and meditation’s astounding ability to rewire our brains for the better By Zuzu Perkal Get your yoga on at a Wanderlust Festival this year. More Info | Lineup | Get Tickets The things we think and the things we do have a dynamic impact on our brain, our attitudes, and ultimately our reality. My father always reminded me of the power of positive thinking and the philosophy of creating my own reality. He taught me that it all starts with the things we tell ourselves and the way we handle situations. Yoga has helped embed this mindset into my daily practice and life. After losing my father to brain cancer seven months ago, I began researching the effects of yoga and positive thinking on the brain. I hope these findings inspire you to slow down, enjoy each moment like it’s your last, and to breathe. The Breakdown A Stressed Mind = Stressed Muscles = Negative and Anxious Thoughts A Calm Mind = Relaxed Muscles = Positive and Uplifting Thoughts We are conditioned to think, feel, and react the way that we do when life starts to pour down on us. It’s natural to be tough on ourselves and continually search for external solutions. But here’s the good news: You already possess all the power, skill, and necessary components needed to completely alter the way your brain works, thus all the power needed to change your life for the better! The Science If the endless bookshelves of self-help books, millions of online quotes, and thousand-dollar seminars aren’t enough prove the importance of happy thoughts, deep breathing, and learning to de-stress and slow down, maybe the scientific evidence will persuade you to make some small changes that come with life-long effects. Think about this: Our thoughts and actions actually change the chemical composition of the brain. When we practice deep, slow breathing, relax our muscles, and think positive thoughts, we are actually rewiring the brain. Alex Korb, Ph.D., is a postdoctoral researcher in neuroscience at UCLA who studies how yoga affects stress and the brain. He shares with Psychology Today that “the specific thoughts you have may differ, but the brain regions involved and the physiological response will be the same. The physiological stress response means an increase in heart rate, breathing rate, muscle tension, and elevation of cortisol and other stress hormones.” Sounds familiar, right? Our current response to stress feels natural and hard to combat, because they are habits that most likely were picked up when you were young, witnessing your parents’ responses to stress. By the time we become adults we have absorbed these same habits. Our brain currently knows how to react to stress, love, challenge, and struggle. It is referred to as “our response factor.” More good news! We can alter our “response factor” and break away from old habits that impair us from being the best versions of ourselves. The secret: yoga and meditation! The Yoga Connection Yoga is all about taking what we learn on the mat (all the things we’ve discussed here today: deep breathing, softening muscles, clearing the mind, and enjoying the present moment) and bringing it into our daily lives. These are the techniques that break bad habits, eliminate negativity, and diminish stress, studies have found. In addition, the powerful effects of meditation on the brain are often subjects of medical studies and new scientific research is released daily about the practice’s neurological benefits. Yoga and meditation decrease stress, depression, and anxiety while increasing happiness and the overall quality of life. Start Now! Take ten minutes every day to meditate, bringing your focus inward. It’s super simple—just breathe. Sign up for a yoga class in your local community or deepen your current practice. Big changes don’t happen overnight and habits don’t change instantaneously. Stick with it for a month and watch your life transform. Remember, think positive thoughts, take deep slow breaths, and let your muscles (especially the shoulders and jaw) relax. Love your yoga brain! Photo via iStock — Zuzu Perkal is an artist, photographer, yoga instructor, blogger, and pizza lover. Born in San Diego and currently living in Austin, Texas, she lives for creativity and connection. In 2010, after studying Creative Advertising at the University of Texas from one of the nation’s top rated portfolio schools she chose the path of travel, exploration, art, and inspiration; wild and free. Fall down the rabbit hole… ihavepinkhair.com and @zuzubee.