Science is finally catching up to what we’ve known for thousands of years.
If you haven’t heard that yoga is good for you by now, you’re one of the few who are living in your own little world. But don’t worry, it’s not too late to find your way to a yoga class, or click on some free yoga videos on youtube. Millions of people are doing it and they’re all standing on rooftops screaming about the great benefits. Before you chalk this one up to another fad, the science community has come to the rescue. That’s right, it’s official, yoga not only helps you improve your memory, but it also helps improve your mood as well! Yay!
A recent study published by the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, researchers at UCLA, my alma mater, brought together two groups of people, both with mild cognitive impairment or beginning memory problems. One group did common memory exercises while the other was prescribed a gentle yoga practice along with some meditation. The yoga practice itself was not too vigorous in this case because the scientists wanted to make sure it was accessible to everyone. Participants of the yoga group practiced one hour per week and were taught a meditation they were to do for 15 minutes everyday.
After 12 weeks of the memory exercises and 12 weeks of yoga and meditation, both groups had improved memory function. The yoga group, however, also showed improvement in their moods and better results from a potential depression assessment. Hmmm… Ok, so you’re telling me, I can move my body and do a little meditation, then my memory will improve and I’ll feel better? Where do I sign up, right?!
I’ve been practicing yoga almost 20 years and I continue to be amazed at how I feel after every single class. It doesn’t matter the teacher, the level, or the length of the class. Without exception, I always feel better after every class. Sometimes I prefer a longer practice, other times a specific teacher, and sometimes a stronger practice while other times an easy restorative practice. All of these options are just one of the things that makes yoga so wonderfully versatile.
When I first started practicing yoga I smoked cigarettes, was addicted to coffee, was a heavy meat eater and consumed way too much sugar. All that changed, but it wasn’t over night. I felt so good after my first yoga class that I started practicing 3-5 days a week and completely stopped going to the gym, running, lifting weights and doing anything else besides yoga. I became more and more sensitive to what I was putting in my body. I no longer wanted to smoke. I was feeling so great from the yoga that I began to refrain from using outside substances to soothe myself. That path only continued to increase. Now by the way, I was sore for 4 days after my first class and continued to be sore for the following 10 years! But it was that good kind of sore when you know you worked out. Letting go of the harmful foods and beverages I was taking in seemed like a slow yet totally positive move in the right direction.
Every yoga class has changed my perspective. Whether I practice first thing in the morning or after a long day of work, my yoga practice continues to feel like a big sigh of relief. Even when I’m not stressed, when I end up in savasana, the final resting pose, and I take that deep breath, it just feels like everything is right with the world. I don’t have any worries. It doesn’t mean the things I worry about during the day go away, but my perspective has shifted. Things are okay and I look at life from a different angle. I see things as they are and I no longer worry about forcing them to be the way I want them to be. I no longer attach an emotional charge to certain situations. I’m not perfect by any means, just ask my wife, but for the most part, my yoga practice has allowed me to peacefully handle situations with grace. This is something I wouldn’t have been able to do many years ago.
I know it might seem repetitive, but yoga is a pretty darn good way to start living a better life, gaining a better perspective, and ultimately enjoying the rest of the time you have left. And as always, I’m here to help you get started if you need. Find me @teddymcdonald — Namaste.