Neuroplasticity and the Importance of Self-Care

 for Yoga Medicine® discusses neuroplasticity, how it contributes to health, and how self care takes advantage of the power of the brain.

Neuroplasticity and Self-Care

What we practice on the mat has a huge impact on our muscles and joints, but what about our self-talk? What is the impact of a 60-minute practice on the storyline running in our heads throughout the other 23 hours of each day? Just like life, practice can be filled with preferences and opinions that cycle back into our personal critiques that we carry off the mat. We can become grounded in likes and dislikes of postures, styles, body parts and even breathing techniques. What happens when we get anchored in places that negatively affect our conversation with our own bodies or abilities?

Negative self talk can be likened to inflammation on the brain. We have the capacity to trigger or elevate our stress response in the body. Our adrenals are responsible for the production of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline; but the adrenals are reacting to the mental patterns or environmental triggers. The adrenals are not acting independently, we have a huge impact on their stress or ease. Makes sense right? We can be doing all the things – have a regular practice, go to classes, teach lovely sequences – but are we checking the underlying inflammation and stress levels in our bodies? Are we stuck in patterns that are winding up our fight or flight mode, as we are trying to find some ease in the day?

Teach Lovely Sequences

That’s right, I said teach lovely sequences, because yoga teachers do not get a free pass here. As teachers, we too can be incredibly hard on ourselves as we simultaneously craft a body positive environment for our students or clients. This can especially be true for a new teacher who is trying to find a unique voice and style, which can create anxiety and stress. Students and teachers alike can focus practice on perfection way more than on ease.

The first yama is ahimsa or nonviolence, to do no harm. Practicing kindness to ourselves, our abilities, our bodies is the subtle side of ahimsa. In this mindset, we get to rewire our stress response with new language, a new foundation of support for ourselves. When we choose self care as a motivation, it transforms our practice and make room for easeful pathways in the brain.

Let’s face it, most of us didn’t find yoga because everything was awesome in our lives. We found the practice for it’s ability to change us, to change our attitudes, our focus, our ability to chill out in a stressful time. This is the beauty of neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to form and reorganize synaptic connections in response to learning, injury, and general life experiences. We are able to adjust our response and reorganize our thoughts and reactions around fresh connections in the brain. We can change patterns and belief systems and our bodies through yoga.

A Practice to Try

#1 – Write it out.

Name your mindset and describe it. Maybe it is about a challenge, task at hand or emotional response you are experiencing.

#2 – Call out the evidence.

Mindsets and self talk are molded with the evidence we collect. We gather to prop it up, to make the mindset stronger and stronger. For example, when we have a mindset that we are connected to all living beings, we see the world through that lens. We collect the evidence in our lives to support connectivity. We may be more likely to see similarities with others, to find compassion for another person’s difficult time. Connectivity, as a mindset, changes the way we interact with the world.

#3 – Ask yourself if there is another pathway to explore or a route – a PATTERN INTERRUPT.

This is where we can collect and mine for different evidence to support a new groove in our brain. We get the opportunity to soften the edges of what seemed so solid and try on a new conversation. We have all experienced times of loneliness, when we may feel like the only person on the planet who gets it. And many of us have experienced a pattern interrupt when we remember our connectivity, we remember that we are in this together, we wake up to the possibility of support.

#4 – Be willing.

Letting go of the conversation that we hold so dear can sometimes feel like a white knuckled death grip. It can feel like unknown territory … because it is. It is the beginning and we have to try it out like a new outfit and it may take a while before it becomes a favorite. But everyday we can choose to be willing to try.

#5 – There is plenty.

Remind yourself that there is plenty – of time, of possibilities, of perspectives, of ways to be in relationship with yourself. The relationship we craft with ourselves, is the longest one we will ever have. There is a vast depth to our ability to care for ourselves, to let our yoga practice facilitate a wild release of what may be stagnating our potential. There is plenty of room to be kinder to ourselves and reap the benefits.

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