Yoga For Optimizing Brain Function
Edited by: Constance Isreal
Photo by: Danielle Holman
Helping people is kind of my jam. I know how pathological that must sound, but the truth is I’ve encountered so many problems in my life, from health to financial, I have a moral obligation to the universe to share what I’ve learned thus far.
This way, the reader can advance past me at great speed through my condensed experience. That’s how and why story medicine—a method of education humans have utilized since long before each of us was even a whisper.
So what stories will I tell you today…
Working with hundreds of natural case studies I have had the wonderful opportunity to learn a great deal about the human brain and what kind of food and activities it likes best and needs to function optimally.
The brain is pretty great, right?
I mean, it is responsible for divinely orchestrating the compositions of oxygen which then get evenly distributed throughout the 11 systems of the physical body. Or at least the physical body is designed to operate in all equal mannerisms, every day returning to wholeness without needing to even think about it. It’s really quite remarkable.
In fact, if everyone in the world could only realize how highly intelligent this body and its 11 systems are, and how they cooperate in total unity when free of certain habits, one would never again worry of imperfections. One would realize there is only utter perfection. Everything else is an illusion.
However, what if I were to tell you that there are two things that are not only contributing to brain malfunction at alarming rates, but they are actually going to be the downfall to westernized society unless we, you know, change some habits. Two things absolutely threaten our abilities to evolve as animals, as well as our abilities to become this supposed enlightened being that everyone is aspiring toward.
I’m not talking about diet, being overweight, or even pharmaceutical drugs (and you know I have some things to say about those…).
I’ll tell you right now, this may not come readily, but we can always just simply try…
I’m talking about sitting in chairs and wearing shoes. As supportive as both may sound, even the most supportive of shoes will surely atrophy vital muscles and stiffen joints over time. This could be said for all forms of crutches if overused. Including glasses and vices. Sorry about that.
If you were moving mindfully an average of six hours per day, as we’re designed to do, free of shoes or restrictive clothing, you would not need pharmaceuticals. Was that too bold a statement for someone who intimately studies the vast subject of yoga medicine?
You see, even when we know something, most people are afraid to share it because that means they would have to be liable. I’m suggesting being liable for your own selves and do your own research on the matter, rather than wasting energy on a debate for a subject you have spent a fraction of the time studying as the practitioner you might wish to debate.
Back to the bold and uncomfortable truth, You wouldn’t need pharmaceuticals because you’d have something better and more sustainable. I call it “nature’s morphine” from time to time; you know it as oxygen.
Not only does oxygen carry the information of the world outside to the information of the world inside, fresh oxygen cells also carry nutrients which have the power to satisfy our nutrition receptors, prevent disease, and yes, even cure disease.
Anciently known there is a natural formula which equaled total wellness, and that formula was in equal air distribution between cells. Since the mind so loves numbers, the magical number is in 108 measures. 108 intentional breaths or reps is a lot for many western practitioners. Why we modify western practices to make them more appealing to a commercial market.
As the brilliant Mr. Sheldon Saul Hendler M.D., Ph.D., would have said, (as well as SO many life-yogis before him), “Breathing is the first place, not the last, one should look when fatigue, disease, or other evidence of disordered energy presents itself.” -("The oxygen Breakthrough." Copyright 1989)
Ancient yogic/Ayurvedic practitioners were known to say something similar which was, “If it could not be cured through yoga, then it was in fact an incurable disease.”
Now we minimize the experience of the yogic practitioner, lumping us into this separate aerobic exercise where we burn calories and sweat precious minerals, and possibly the biggest perpetrator of all, making yoga (yog) into a separate thing from our other life activities—activities which could otherwise become yog with just a flicker of intention toward connective breathing.
The thing about the human mind, lovely as it is, is it tends to want to categorize, separate and pretend that things are not in any way related. This is why when I work with various medical practitioners (and I work with a lot of them), I have to sometimes remind them how sectors of the body are correlated. Many medical science practitioners are trained to isolate parts, which is why we call them “specialists.”
There is a tendency in western practices to separate the brain from the teeth, separate the teeth and brain from the body etc. It’s kind of a strange thing when you think about it. And in my professional opinion, it’s dangerous!
This means western practitioners are ultimately trained to patch up the affected area, treating only the end result, rather than diving into the unique universe which dwells in each client, patient, student, and really unearthing the root cause. That, my friends, takes time, patience and a different kind of education all together.
I’m not in any way suggesting that western medical science practitioners do not care about their patients, because many of them absolutely do.
Dr. Hendler (or, Shelly as we called him) was one of these practitioners who deeply cared for his patients. He was so deeply invested in his patient's wellness that he wrote two books completely dedicated to prescribing breath work in place of pharmaceuticals, ("The Oxygen Breakthrough," and "The Purification Prescription"). This would have been during the incline of retrovirus research, so a true pioneer in addressing HIV and cancer related viruses. See the correlation here?
In both "The Oxygen Breakthrough," as well as "The Purification Prescription," Shelly was speaking primarily to his colleagues, knowing even in as early as the 1960's what a terrible epidemic over prescribing drugs would become. He was not against the use of drugs, he was against the overuse of them. In fact, he wrote an edition of the PDR, as well as an edition of the "Doctor's Vitamin and Mineral Encyclopedia". So it's fair to say he was well versed in both hard and soft drugs.
Shelly was special though, for it was his forward thinking skills which led him to believe there was a better more natural way to attack viruses without killing the host at the same time. "Which, alas, has too often been the result of many chemo- and immuno- therapies."
However, many western practitioners do not actually have the time to care all too much for their patients. Have you seen their schedules? More importantly, most western doctors and dentists, unless otherwise specified a holistic approach, are also not trained in health and wellness. They are trained in treating end results, via surgery or pharmaceuticals.
If you don’t believe me, just ask one...
They are actually quite open about these things, particularly when probed for nutrition advice. As those types of questions just kind of flatline…
Truth is, I’m not in any way against western medicine. In fact, I used to be a veterinary surgery technician for several years and had to understand the anatomy of various kinds of animals before I transitioned into working purely with human animals.
No, I'm not against the use of western medical practices. Like Shelly, I'm against the overuse of these systems. And you know what, your doctors, nurses, dentists and psychiatrists are against the overuse of these systems too.
I treat doctors suffering from burnout, doctors who develop autoimmune diseases from high stress, lack of sleep, overwork, and improper eating and drinking habits. Doctors who sometimes tell me there are some days when they feel like drug pushers. Practitioners who struggle with the same range of ailments they treat they’re patients for.
We live in a really interesting time right now when so much is being brought to light, and global connections are being made, and practitioners have an incredible opportunity to evolve and establish truly deep fulfillment in their work. When our methods and morals align with higher purpose we help the world evolve. So the more integration that occurs between all forms of medicine, the safer these practices become.
Something I'll often say is: "When equality is of mind and heart, there is only gain."
If there are any practitioners reading this I think it's important to realize that none of us are exempt from the inevitable evolutionary process. Each patient is a unique source of wisdom which deserves to be unlocked. And each patient, client and student deserves an opportunity to tell their story and their truth, without the self righteous urge to immediately invalidate.
For any yoga practitioners reading this, stop appeasing your students and do what is actually good for them. Even if it doesn't look as pretty. It seems much of the world is making more of what we already have, and less of what we actually need. Please be someone who can always be willing to evolve. Someone who never loses sight of good o'l fashion- natural observation. For it is in pure and natural observation, and time to be present in your studies that forward thinking skills are developed.
Methods to look for that can actually help you in the long run would be the methods which have survived the longest. The methods which have stood the tests of time and are still relevant today. Like yoga/mindful movement with coordinated breath, or rather, Classical Hatha. Many are attempting to take the medicinal and scientific properties out of yoga, but yoga is the first medicine. And we must never forget that when all else fails.
Lest we forget nourishing herbal infusions from first nation's wise women, and a wide variety of whole cooked foods which grow native to your region and which are also in season. Cooked, as cooking/infusing plants for at least one hour to help break down dense fiber cells ensured we live past a certain threshold.
Ensuring you get a sufficient amount of healthy/whole fats depending on your unique system will ensure optimum brain function. To truly optimize sustainable brain function, a pure source of grass fed eggs, fresh wild fish and grass-fed butter is recommended. As the great Patrick Holford would say, "If you were to squeeze out all the water from the brain, a whopping 60% of dry weight would be fat." ("New Optimum Nutrition for the Mind."copyright 2009)
Photo by: Danielle Holman
Postures like squatting (malasana) hold many benefits to the central nervous system, and virtually every other system. When we lose the ability to squat, we lose a whole lot of other functions along with it.
If you read my last blog you know the importance of smiling and how that optimizes brain function.
Now I want to invite you to do something active with me, which is to get out of your chair and take a squat. That’s right, spread your feet mat-width apart, (give or take depending on your height), reach your hands and fingers high up to the sky, place your hands to namaste, and follow the hands down until you come to a squat to the best of your abilities.
If you are not able to perform a full squat, go only to the point of tension, then adjust until you are above that point of tension, so there is no tension whatsoever.
Inhale, finger tips reach up toward the sky, exhale, bending the knees placing the buttock into a squat keeping within your range of motion. Hands in the air, simply inhaling stand up, exhaling squat down, eventually reaching full malasana, or ninth position after twenty or more reps depending on the range of motion you began with.
For very tight pelvis, hips and back, or for the very rigid mind, this process to reach full malasana may take upwards of three weeks.
"There are no stiff bodies, only stiff minds." -B.K.S. Iyengar
If you’re just beginning your yogic journey, or is it's been awhile since you've taken a squat, only perform four or five exceedingly mindful repetitions. Again, keeping within your own range of motion without strain.
When utilizing breath as the foundation of the practice, there is only mindfulness. It is very difficult to injure the body when moving coordinates with the breath, versus the other way around as we so love to do in the west. You would not believe the amount of people I treat from yoga related injuries. All I can say is, if you are injuring yourself in yoga, you are not doing yoga. Yoging is a mindful act, which is why anything that represents our responsibility to life can become a yog.
Ever think about why people love running? It’s a completely unnecessary activity from a yogic standpoint but we enjoy it because of the breathing technique we adopt while moving in such a way: inhale one step, exhale the other.
Movement encourages our bodies to breathe properly. This is a wonderful advantage to modern commercial practices as now you can stylize your movement to encourage you get some breaths throughout the day, (or “steps in,” as they say).
I beg to differ. I say "create a foundational rhythm for breath first, then move mindfully to the precision of the breath."
Walking, great! Running, why?
We are the only animals in nature who run unnecessarily. As a retired runner I can say life gets better and far less painful after running ends.
Working with a lot of end results in my practice, I’ll tell you what the first parts to go on a runner are, though I’ll bet you can guess...
If you guessed the knees, you win!
Hips, back and jaw are right up there with them!
Here is a pro tip for anyone wishing to taper off of running: Adopt kapalabhati pranayama, as well as bastrika k.d. pranayama. These breathing techniques are not only more effective in regulating virtually every system of the body, but they can be done even whilst sitting in your computer chair (or when you take your malasana breaks) thereby sparing the knees and hips a whole lot of damage over time, including possible replacement.
Of course before beginning either of the listed pump-like pranayamas, you will want to first slowly hatch the micro vessels of the brain and regulate heart rate through, (in order), two minutes of connective breathing, two minutes of ujjayi, and two minutes of chandra and surya bhedana.
For greatest vitality in overall brain function, utilize the pump-like pranayamas. For clarity, centering, calming, restoring and restfulness, utilize the slower connective breaths, meaning no pause in between. This will also lead to optimum brain function.
Photo by: Danielle Holman
Key points to remember when optimizing brain function:
Smile, breathe, walk in a bit of sunshine if possible, and try not to identify too much with the things you are not.
You are not your job, or a condition, or a disease.
You are a human being, not a human doing.
Be gentle on yourself, and trust in the incredible intelligence that resides in your body.
You are the universe streaming through a tiny channel, so let it stream easily...
Oceans of Love,
Modern Day Cave Yogi