Do you ever feel like your mind has a mind of its own?
The human brain is an incredible organ. We are just beginning to understand how powerful our brains truly are. Most of us are aware of the importance of taking care of our physical body for overall wellness. We exercise our bodies and feed them a nutritious diet, or we are at lease aware that doing so fosters physical health. However, it is just as important we tend to our brain’s health. Here are five ways we can be more mindful of our brain’s health.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the oldest collection of writings about yoga practices of which we know. According to the Yoga Sutras, yoga is not something we do. It is what we are. The trick is, we forget that we are yoga. Why? Because our minds get caught up in worldly distractions. We mistake our thoughts, bodies, emotions, and life’s circumstances for the truth of who and what we are.
We access the yoga of which we are when our minds are calm. Yoga practices, like the asanas (yoga postures) and pranayama (yogic breathing techniques) help us to cultivate a quiet, steady mind. When our minds are peaceful (in essence, in a yogic state) we are able to make better decisions, think more creatively, and are able to enter into a state of flow.
The Sanskrit word mantra means “mind training”. A mantra is a sound, word, or several words repeated over and over again to help focus our minds. Most western yoga students begin by chanting OM. Other helpful mantras for those who are new to the practice are OM Shanti, which means “divine peace” and OM Namah Shivaya, which is a powerful mantra invoking Shiva, the great yogic deity.
One way to practice is to simply repeat the mantra to oneself over and over again. Another is to use prayer beads, such as a mala or rosary. Choose prayer beads that are appropriate to the tradition from which your mantra comes. For example, malas are appropriate for yogic mantras. Rosaries lend themselves well to Christian prayers. Or you can make your own prayer beads! Use stones, crystals, and symbols that are significant to you and your mantra.
Essential oils are the aromatic parts of plants. They are commonly used to help alleviate chronic wellness concerns and promote health. Some essential oils are wonderful for mental wellbeing! For example, lavender is a commonly used essential oil to help us relax and calm our minds. However, peppermint essential oil tends to be stimulating. It gives us a quick, caffeine-free energy boost!
We can use one essential oil at a time or as a blend. Some of my favorite blends are Adaptiv for calming stress, Balance for feeling more grounded, and Citrus Bliss to uplift my mood when I get up on the wrong side of the bed. (You can learn more about essential oils here.)
There is an old saying, “You are what you eat.” This applies to our brain as well! Just like our bodies need good nutrition, so does our brain. Foods that are great for brain health include leafy greens, Omega-3 fatty acids (such as that found in salmon), anti-oxidant rich blueberries, anti-inflammatory turmeric, and dark chocolate, due to its high levels of flavonoids (a type of anti-oxidant).
Adaptogens and nootropics may also enhance brain health. Adaptogens work to counter the effects stress has on the body. That is why they may be both energizing and soothing! They work with your stress response system to achieve balance. Ashwagandha is a popular adaptogen that is said to decrease stress, fatigue, and burnout while enhancing focus, stamina, and concentration.
Ashwagandha is also one type of nootropic. Nootropics are natural or synthetic substances said to improve mental performance. They include things like special types of mushrooms such as Reishi, Rhodiola, and Lion’s Mane.
Because adaptogens and nootropics are so powerful, take care and check with your physician before using them.
Believe it or not, our brains enjoy the benefits of the same exercise we do to keep our bodies healthy! For example, cardiovascular exercise is not only good for our hearts, but it also supports new and existing brain cells.
Our brains also appreciate exercise tailored specifically for them. Just like physical exercise challenges our bodies, making them strong and flexible, our brains crave stimulation as well! Teach your brain a new trick: learn to play a musical instrument, try jigsaw or crossword puzzles, or even learn a different language! Choose an activity that you have never tried before but think you might enjoy. Give it a try and see how it goes!