Do you find yourself running like crazy in summer? Speeding from work to BBQ to beach to friends' weddings?
Though it's fun, all the go-go-go can leave you frazzled, fragmented, and a little delirious.
And then there's all that input: Facebook, Twitter, news, email, voicemail . . . soon the texture and sounds of your phone is more familiar than, well, anything.
Have you spent more quality time with your devices than your dog/partner/kiddo today?
How about with your SELF? (huh? quality time with self?)
And we don't mean sleep or--ahem--other things. We're talking conscious downtime. Recharging. Unplugging. Taking a moment.
The Brain is Like Play-Doh (without the colors)
Conversations about neuroplasticity (the brain's ability to physically change and reform synapses and neural pathways) are more common than ever in the lab and the blogosphere. The fact that you can mold your brain, enabling better quality of life--wow, now you've got some kid-style fun!
Though not technically as malleable as Play-Doh, your brain can physically change, with mindfulness and stillness.
Stillness can bring(1):
- a change in neural pathways that allows a decrease in anxiety and taking things personally
- a literal shrinking of the amygdala, or fear center
- the ability to more rationally assess fears and "negative" bodily sensations (i.e. pain) without becoming trapped in a story loop about what the sensations mean
- thickening of the prefrontal cortex, area of higher brain function and decision making
- increase in empathy (and as a by product, compassion)
Mindfulness also allows for an increase in your creativity and ability to generate ideas. Your mind becomes less "cognitively rigid" and more able to come up with novel solutions to problems.(2) The tendency to "see what you expect to see" lessens, allowing perception and possibility to widen.
And the research is just beginning. Studies have taken the realm of mindfulness from spiritual to scientific, making the concept of a practice of stillness more universal.
Yoga and meditation are two amazing ways to get to a still point within the self. Stillness here meaning to consciously choose to cease the movement of mind and body while remaining awake and aware.
Both yoga and meditation shift brainwave patterns from the mind-as-racquetball-court beta wave to the brain state of sun, sea, and palm trees--or alpha waves.
Sure, you need to function in beta, because cognitive operations are required for how you live. But life in the fast (wave) lane burns a lot of energy.
Alpha is the resting state for the brain. The ahhhhhh.
Theta waves are the pre-sleep deep twilight level of brain activity, and can sometimes be reached through deep practice. You have experienced this level in the drifting time just before you fall asleep or wake. Here lies intuition and information not available during conscious awareness.(3)
Three Yoga Poses to Cultivate Stillness
Tadasana (Mountain Pose)
You've probably started a yoga class or two in this pose. Done without consciousness, it can kind of feel like doing nothing. But performed with intention, the pose creates:
- a deep body connection to the earth
- awareness of your typical stance vs. a healthier posture
- greater spinal elasticity as correct posture is practiced over time
- stillness, groundedness, focus
Vrksasana (Tree Pose)
This asana brings:
- focus & stillness
- toned leg muscles
Savasana (Corpse Pose)
The classic resting pose that most classes end with. Some teachers call this the hardest pose because it's just so darn easy to fall asleep, rather than remain conscious. If you can stay awake, this pose delivers:
- relaxation of the entire body & mind
- refreshment of mind and body
Why Standing Still Propels You Forward
Do you want to increase your mental focus, clarity and well-being? Would you like to be less anxious? A nicer person? More creative?
Practicing stillness for just a few moments a day will set you on a course for all of the above.
Try Tadasana while standing in line at the grocery store.
Give Tree Pose a go as you look out your office window (find a tree to practice with if you can!)
Practice a little Savasana at the end of a lunchtime workout session or before you head out for your commute.
More time on the mat/cushion=spending less energy in the negative worry loop=more time to do what you love with a greater sense of appreciation and calm.
Yoga Journal has a great website and clear pictorial how-to's for the above and many other poses.
Light on Yoga is the classic Iyengar text on hatha yoga poses and their health effects.
Headspace is a terrific site with free resources, easy to understand science, and tips to create mindfulness in your life.