YOGA PRACTICES FOR CONCENTRATION
The months of February and March are usually a stressful time for students, parents, and even the teachers. Long study hours, lack of sleep, anxiety before exams can take a toll on students’ health, both physically and mentally. A healthy lifestyle - such as eating a healthy diet, exercising or practicing meditation and yoga - can help improve or maintain health, reduce anxiety, and perform better. Studies have shown that asana, pranayama, and meditation are all an effective tool to enhance your brain function. In fact, a 2013 study conducted by researchers at Wayne State University in Detroit, USA, found that a single, 20-minute session of Hatha yoga significantly improved participants’ speed and accuracy on tests of working memory and concentration.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) increasingly affects our population as cell phones, TVs, tablets, laptops, and social media absorb our attention and distract us from being fully present in our day-to-day lives. Constantly being bombarded by stimuli around us can make concentrating feel like an impossible task. Yet being mindful is key to living in the present moment, and presence is key to concentration and staying focused.
Thankfully, yoga can help. Bringing our awareness to the present moment and focusing our attention on our breath, the movement, and challenging poses will in turn improve our concentration.
"Concentration" can be described as the action of focusing and directing one's attention exclusively on something. In yoga, concentration is the sixth of the eight limbs of yoga outlined by the great sage Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras, where he described it as the “binding of consciousness to a spot." The Sanskrit term for concentration as the sixth limb of yoga is dharana.
The previous, or fifth, limb of yoga, pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses) prepares the yogi for concentration. The following limbs, dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (union), are considered advanced stages of concentration. Patanjali said that the last three limbs of yoga should be practiced together as samyama, a simultaneous combined practice of concentration, meditation and union, as a tool to achieve deeper knowledge. Yoga practice, in general, has been proven to be very beneficial for improving concentration and memory.
Practicing concentration helps to clear, focus and center the mind. Yogis use different techniques that can help increase their concentration, such as the following.
During physical practice, it helps to find one gazing point, especially in balancing postures. Pranayama, or controlled breathing, is also beneficial for concentration, as the individual must focus on the flow of their breath. Meditation is considered a higher form of concentration, and the regular practice of meditation can increase concentration in day-to-day life.
Yoga beginners can practice this discipline by choosing something to focus on and trying to concentrate on it daily for 10 to 15 minutes. The object of concentration can be a thought, idea, mantra, breath or a physical thing. It is highly recommended to practice concentration with a mantra as it can provide a powerful vibration to focus on.
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Types of concentration
The deep absorption of attention on an object is of four kinds,
1) gross (vitarka),
2) subtle (vichara),
3) bliss accompanied (ananda), and
4) with I-ness (asmita), and is called samprajnata samadhi.
(vitarka vichara ananda asmita rupa anugamat samprajnatah)
- vitarka = gross thought or reasoning
- vichara = subtle thought
- ananda = bliss, ecstasy
- asmita = I-ness, individuality
- rupa = appearances, nature, form
- anugamat = accompanied by, associated with
- samprajnatah = cognitive absorption, lower samadhi
Yoga for memory and concentration:
Yoga improves your physical, and mental health, and well-being adding great value to the quality of your life. With the help of these few asanas, pranayama and meditation techniques, you can surely improve your concentration levels. The practice of yoga includes static and dynamic postures (asanas), breathing manipulations (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana). Yoga is a tool which works in the gross body level to the shuttle mind level. Yoga is a simple and inexpensive health regimen that can be incorporated as an effective adjuvant therapy for the improvement of brain and mental activity
Yoga which is easily accessible to everyone may well be the elixir for youth and vitality. A dynamic process, this ancient science aids in the boosting brain function while also providing you with innumerable physical benefits. Yoga practices of asanas, pranayama and meditation impact the central nervous system, endocrine system, circulatory system, respiratory, cardiovascular and digestive systems etc. boosting overall development of the individual.
We all know about the amazing health benefits of Yoga, but the greatest thing amongst all is that Yoga works on changing our internal make-up. According to a recent study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, practicing yoga daily for 20 minutes can improve brain function and actually focus better on the task at hand. In the study, 30 people performed two tasks involving identifying shapes on a computer screen, and found that yoga helped the subjects perform better in comparison to aerobic exercises or no exercise at all. Yoga helped improve concentration and focus by calming the mind and getting rid of distracting thoughts.
Have you been getting too distracted at your workplace or at home? Are you taking forever to do even the simplest day-to-day tasks? Well, chances are that you are lacking concentration or you may be suffering from concentration issues. We all need focus and concentration to do various day-to-day tasks, but if you have been struggling with your attention and focus, it is time you got your loitering mind to concentrate on the things that you need to do. If you are looking for ways to increase concentration, yoga may offer a solution to your problem. If you wish to know how you can get your concentration back with yoga, we recommend doing some of the following yoga asanas that may help in calming your mind.
How Does Yoga Helps you to Increase Concentration?
Yoga has been in practice in Indian culture for a long time and now it is taking the world by storm. Yoga not only helps in improving your physical health but it is also beneficial for your mental well-being. When you practise yoga on regular basis, it helps to calm your mind and senses. A calm mind is able to focus and concentrate better. In simple words, yoga helps in keeping fluctuating thoughts and distractions at bay, which in turns helps you attain a peaceful and calm state of mind. Therefore, practicing yoga is a great way of getting rid of clutter from your mind and attaining better focus.
Practicing yoga quiets your mind and keeps distracting thoughts at bay. Patanjali, the sage who compiled Yoga Sutras said, ‘yoga chitta vritti nirodha’, which means yoga reduces the fluctuations of your mind. It flushes out the emotional clutter in your head and helps you concentrate better.
The ancient yogis believed in the magical powers of yoga and its potential to improve concentration. Later, research added authenticity to their claim with science and logic. In a recent experiment at the University of Illinois, a group of people was made to practice yoga daily for 20 minutes. And, viola! The results showed that the brain function had improved. Guess that’s enough to prove the claim, and now, it’s time to begin the actual practice.
Yoga is all about linking breath with motion and becoming fully present in mind and body. The practice itself is centered on concentration – focus on the breath, the alignment, and the movement. Balancing postures in particular are a great way to improve concentration. Balancing poses quite literally force us to concentrate on the present moment and the task at hand. With so many factors that could physically and metaphorically make us fall during balances, we are forced to become present, concentrate, and focus on these points to maintain our balance.
The Yog Power of Drishti
1) Drishti is possibly the most important factor of balance poses. Meaning focus, drishti is the point where you shift your “gaze” during the yoga practice. Drishti is the practice of steadying your gaze.
2) Where your eyes go, your attention follows. This can mean both the literal place where you look or the metaphorical place that holds your attention (such as your intention). When your gaze begins to wander, so do your thoughts.
3) While performing balancing postures in yoga, it is super important to find a drishti and stick to it throughout the duration of the posture. I always recommend to my students to find a still, non-moving point in front of them (at eye level) where they can focus their gaze without altering it.
4) By focusing your gaze on one spot, you can internally find equilibrium. From there, you can focus your attention on just one thing. And honing in your attention allows you to concentrate so much better.
Brain is the sites of mind and mental function. Brain has three specific areas, lower brain, mid brain and fore brain. This three parts control different types of mental function. Brain is a vast area and lakhs of specialized neurons engage themselves for different types of mental activities. Some area stores the memory where as the other control intelligence level. The development of brain function started from the early childhood and it continuous up to the starting point of ageing. Obviously there is an individual difference in brain function. The improvement of brain function is related with educational development, job performance, professional achievement and sports performance. Ageing and injury may decline the brain function. Scientist are trying to improve brain function by different modes and methods and to delay the decling of brain function.
For the improvement of brain function pharmacological drugs, natural products, different types of chemical has been used in different civilization from the ancient time. Indian is the only ancient civilization who identified vyamaya (physical exercise) and yoga (mental exercise) for the development of brain function and especially the mental function. By definition yoga is a practice to control and develop the mental function. In yoga techniques they used different types of asanas, pranayama and meditation as a whole or in a part. In this article, the present researcher reported improvement of brain function related literatures with the intervention of pranayama, meditation and combined yoga intervention. It is interesting to note that there is no such literature found till date on asanas effect on brain function.
Objective of the Study
The specific objective of this systematic review study was to explore the improvement of brain function through meditation, pranayama and combined yogic intervention.
Acquisition of Evidence: In this systematic review study a thorough online searching procedure was applied for acquisition of evidence. The electronic databases: PubMed, Embase, Medline, Google Scholar, Google Advance Search, PsycINFO, ROAJ, DOAJR and Web of Science were carefully searched for the purpose of reviewing the literatures.
A growing body of scientific evidence indicates that yoga has a positive influence on brain function. In this systematic review, the studies related with the yoga and brain function are summarized under the following heads
Improvement of brain functions through combined yogic intervention:
Long term combined yoga practice improves primary cognitive processes such as attention, perception, reaction time, accuracy, and observation (Verma, 2015; Banerjee, 2014; Gothe, 2013). Short term yoga practice for 10 days in school children lead to significant improvement in cognitive function (Reddy, 2015). Short term integrated yoga practices can improve memory scores of diabetics and play a vital role in managing the mental health of diabetics patient (Bhanu, 2015). The effect of eight-week yoga exercise improve balance with intellectual disability (Parisa, 2015). Combination of regular yoga practice with orel hypoglycemic agents improve better cognitive abilities in type 2 diabetic population rather than administration of oral hypoglycemic agents alone (Nagothu, 2015).
Yoga module can improve attention and remembrance which may positively affect on academic performance of students (Ramkumar, 2014). Yoga practices are correlated to neurophysiological system that increases in associative attention and positive affective valence (Mackenzie, 2014). Regular practiced of yoga module yielded higher concentration levels and exhibited better short term memory (Kauts, 2012). Yoga has a beneficial effect on P300 wave and thus can be incorporated along with the conventional medical therapy for improving cognitive brain functions in diabetes (Kyizom, 2010). 8 weeks sahaj yoga practice improve neurocognitive function and it can lead to additional improvement in executive functions like manipulation of information in the verbal working memory and added improvement in attention span and visuomotor speed of the depressives (Sharma, 2006).
Pranayama and yoga-asana practice on P300 wave latency and amplitude in type 2 Alzheimer patients have beneficial effect on reduction of Alzheimer and thus can be incorporated along with the conventional medical therapy for improving cognitive brain functions (Tripathi). Yoga practice supported by a common paralimbic brain network which linked to awareness, attention and emotion in order to support memory dependent self reference (Lou, 2011). Combined yoga practice reduces the comorbid anxiety and depression (Forbes, 2008). Yogic education system enhances visual and verbal memory scores
Yoga based stress management programme on brain wave coherence recorded with brain master EEG 2 channel and found that the delta, theta, alpha gamma wave coherence increases 19.31 %, 5.04 %, 15.40 %, 18.68 % respectively and 1.67 % decrease in beta wave coherence between pre and post intervention measurements (Ganpat, 2011). Yogic intervention improve alpha-EEG level of working women which causes brain come in relax and cool state (Bharadwaj, 2013). 40 days pranakarshan pranayama and yoga nidra practice improve the pranic energy level and change alpha dominance in the brain which influences the mental relaxation, reduce anxiety and stress (Kumar, 2009). Regular yogic intervention improves delta, theta, alpha and beta brain waves which improve overall brain function with emphasis on attention and concentration (Boonjaksilp). Combined yoga practice improve various cognitive behavior in terms of physiological parameters by using EEG and ECG analysis, where indicates improvement in parasympathetic activity and decrease in sympathetic activity. Yoga modifies the sympathovagal balance towards parasympathetic activation, improved the heart rate variability, and enhanced sense of wellbeing (Nagendra, 2015). Five weeks of brain waves vibration training, Iyengar yoga and mindfulness programme improve sleep latency, absorption, memory, salivery cortisol, mood, mindfulness and reduce overall stress (Bowden, 2012). Breathing, meditation, and posture-based yoga progamme increased overall brain wave activity, increases gray matter along with amygdala and activate the frontal cortex
MRI and voxel-based morphometry analysis observed three years combined yoga meditation practice improve gray matter volume in frontal, limbic, temporal, occipital, and cerebellar regions of the brain of 18–55 years people (Froeliger, 2012). Combined yoga meditation practice may be associated with the promotion of neuroplastic changes in executive brain systems and using by fMRI, which may confer therapeutic benefits that accrue with repeated practice (Froeliger, 2012). Fluid intelligence declined with age as a natural process and it have a negative impact on brain function. Fluid intelligence declined slowly than the natural process with combination yoga and meditation practice (Gard, 2014). 12 weeks yogic intervention increase serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and maintenance of serum serotonin level in premenopausal women (Lee, 2014). Yoga stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system and increase the inhibitory action of a hypoactive GABA system in brain pathways and structures that are critical for threat perception, emotion regulation, and stress reactivity (Streeter, 2012). 12 weeks yoga practices improve yaminobutyric acid (GABA) which also helps to reduce the mood and anxiety disorder (Streeter, 2010). Regular 60 minutes yogasana and breathing exercise practices improve 27 % brain GABA level
Regular practices of yoga have beneficial effects on both phases of parasympatho-dominance and psychological well-being probably by balancing neuro-endocrinal axis (Kanojia, 2013). Yoga and meditation should be recommended as an adjuvant therapy along with medication to tilt the autonomic balance to parasympathetic dominance to get relieved from hypertensive symptoms (Sharma, 2013). Yoga practice decreases sympathetic activity and causes a shift in the autonomic balance towards parasympathetic dominance and indicates helps to reduce stress by optimizing the autonomic functions (Patil, 2012). 12 weeks yoga training program can changes in the brain’s baseline and activated cerebral blood flow, dorsal medial cortex, and right sensorimotor area and greater impact found in right hemispheric function, particularly in the frontal lobes (Cohen, 2009). Yoga enhanced the vagal activity and reduced cortisol in turn may contribute to positive effects such as enhanced immune function and lower prematurity rate.
Improvement of brain functions through meditation
Effect of yoga meditation practice and EEG wave was analyzed and it was observed that immediate yoga meditators have greater source of activity in low frequencies particularly theta and alpha wave during mental calculation. Advance yoga meditators showed greater activity in high frequencies (beta and gamma) in all conditions (Thomas, 2014). Other researcher reported that EEG based improvements in cognitive abilities like attention and working memory with meditation practice (Singh, 2014).
Two years meditation experience activates the bilateral hippocampi which are related to memory consolidation (Engstrom, 2009). Long term meditation practices positively improve in gray matter atrophy (Luders, 2014). Regular meditation practice positively affect on frontal region, anterior cingulated, limbic system and parietal lobes of the brain. Strong correlation was found between depth of meditation and neural activity in the left inferior forebrain areas including the insula, inferior frontal cortex and temporal lobe (Wang, 2011).
Long term meditation practice improves over all cognitive functions (memory, attention, perception, observation ability, processing speed, neural activity, intelligence executive function etc.) which energies brain to focus on its task (Singh, 2012; Khalsa, 2004; Prakash, 2011). Meditation technique may be able to offset age related cognitive decline and perhaps even increase cognitive capabilities (Gard, 2014). Meditative practices can be used as leveraged in the prevention and intervention of mental illness.
Improvement of brain functions through Pranayama
Two months Sheetali and Sheethkari pranayama practice improve in the delta and alpha band power in the frontal and occipital regions and an increase in theta band power in the frontal region with a marked decrease in beta band power almost throughout the entire hemisphere which keeps brain calm and quiet with less anxiety (Thanalakshmi, (2014).
Bhramari pranayama practice can generate controlled high-frequency gamma waves by using EEG signals which is contributed to improve the active thought (Vialatte, 2008). 20 minutes Nadi-Shodhana pranayama practice advocated improving cardio-respiratory efficiency as well as higher functions of brain in healthy individuals. Pranayama practice may be applied as alternative therapy or as adjunct to conventional therapy in stress related diseases (Gupta, 2014). If a person is breathing predominately with the left nostril, that person’s right hemisphere of the brain will be more active and putting out a greater electrical signal than the left hemisphere.
Brain and neuro psychological profile decreases with age is a natural process and it have a negative impact on brain function. Yoga could be considered as a precious tool in the path of mind body medicine. Yoga have a potential benefits on brain health because this ancient Indian technique particularly trained the psycho-physical system. Combined yogic practices improve memory which can influence the academic performance of the students. Meditation practices improve higher level of concentration and consciousness which may reduce the psychic disorder.
Pranayama practice may be applied as alternative therapy for reducing stress related diseases such as essential hypertension, neuro degenerative and Parkinson diseases. So the yogic practices improve brain function in multiple pathways.
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