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How Swimming Changes Your Brain And Makes You Mentally Healthier

How Swimming Changes Your Brain And Makes You Mentally Healthier

We all know how relaxing a good swim can be. It allows more oxygen to flow to the muscles and forces you to regulate your breathing. Swimming is also a great way to reduce stress. Swimming underwater is like being in another world. The water distorts the sky above, casting the sun’s reflection into an almost ethereal pattern on the bottom of the pool. It’s no wonder swimming can put you into an ideal mental space.

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    How does the brain react while swimming?

    Swimming is a meditative exercise. Your brain function improves via a process known as hippocampal neurogenesis, where your brain replaces lost cells resulting from stress. When you hit the water, your mood is lifted immediately from the coolness of the water, leaving you free from tiredness and depression.

    A recent study by Dr. Howard Carter of University of Western Australia, School of Sport Science shows how the brain reacts during swimming. The team of scientists, led by Carter , hypothesized that water immersion to the level of the right atrium in the heart would increase the delivery of blood within the brain. The right atrium is located on the upper right hand side of the heart and is one of four hollow chambers of the heart. The right atrium receives blood from two large veins: the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava. The job of both of these veins is to return blood that has provided oxygen to various sites in the body; the returning blood, then, is low in oxygen. The coronary sinus, which is a smaller vein in the wall of the heart, also drains blood into the right atrium.

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    We found that brain blood flow is higher when subjects were immersed in water up to the level of the heart compared to on land — laying the ground work for further investigation of its effects on cerebrovascular health,” said Dr. Howard Carter in The American Journal of Physiology.

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      While the participants were immersed in water, blood flow to their middle cerebral arteries increased by 14 percent while blood flow to their posterior cerebral arteries increased by nine percent.

      “As with land-based exercise, different types of water-based activities, such as water aerobics and swimming, have slightly different effects on heart function and cerebral blood flow,” said Carter.

      Moreover, swimming can improve your mental well-being…

      • It can help you to shut out external stimuli: Once you immerse yourself into the water, outside sounds are cut off. The only thing you feel is the water against your skin. You focus on your breathing, the bottom of the pool, and the ease of the water. Things are simplified when you’re swimming. It’s a form of moving mediation.
      • It’s a great form of low impact exercise: Gliding through the water gets your heart pumping. It’s also great for your muscles and lungs, as well as having low impact on your joints. When you take care of your body, your emotional well-being is greatly improved. Swimming a few times a week is a great way to exercise and improve your mood.
      • It releases endorphins: A good swim workout releases natural feel good compounds called endorphins. It can also convert excess fight-or-flight stress hormones into muscle relaxation. New brain cell growth is promoted as a result of releasing the stress.

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      Melissa Atkinson

      Freelance writer

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      Published on January 17, 2020

      How to Learn Yoga (The Beginner’s Guide)

      How to Learn Yoga (The Beginner’s Guide)

      If you think yoga can be learned on the mat, you’re wrong! To learn yoga is to learn yourself, your life and the world around you, which happens mostly off the mat.

      Since 2000, I study, practice, teach and live yoga – I grow with it from year to year – hence life becomes more interesting and more meaningful from year to year, too. Through all these years, I observe the evolution of yoga in the western culture and see, how (mostly) wrongly, has been interpreted, taught and practiced. Little is known about how to learn yoga – about its practice, its effect and its application. Yoga is all about finding the simplicity and the meaning in the complexity of life.

      But when we look around us, it doesn’t seem so simple, even for those who practice it, and for the most who teach it. Everything about yoga begins in its definition from the original yogic scripture Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.[1]

      And the value for how to learn yoga, is in this article – showing the value of the above definition and how to practice it in the simplest way, effectively and efficiently.

      What is Yoga?

      Yoga-Citta-Vrtti-Hirodhah — and its translation is: Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations arising within consciousness.

      The 195 Sutras, that the original yoga scripture consists of, are written in a strongly compressed manner with the idea to deliver a profound meaning and a lot of space for interpretation. However, the interpreter must be highly serious and competent, otherwise the interpretation will drastically deviate from what the message conveys.

      When the definition about yoga is interpreted and applied the right way, it tells us how yoga is to be practiced and explored. To start the right way, we must know the right destination of yoga, which is Kaivalya:[2] The union between you, the other and the world.

      Let’s see how to do that:

      Beginning with the famous mainstream slogan “Union of Body, Mind and Soul”, brings up the question, “How to reunite the body, mind and soul?”

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      Your feelings – created by outside stimuli result in the creation of thoughts, hence there’s connection between your body and mind. That’s easy to understand, right?

      Now this connection and the thoughts must serve and improve the mind, making it capable to 1) understand the soul and 2) to unite it with the body and mind. That’s where our journey towards the goal of yoga (Samadhi) is interrupted – making the main part of the union not easy to understand, even less so to accomplish.

      Yoga is More Spiritual than Physical

      This is what makes yoga more spiritual than physical. To put it in numbers, yoga is 97% of psychological, philosophical and spiritual nature and only some 3% of physiological, considering that there are only seven out of 195 Sutras referring physiologically to sitting and breathing, of which I talked in my earlier post on Yoga For men.

      But before experiencing any spirituality from yoga, there is the mental (emotional) part that needs to be mastered and that part is to establish a connection between the body and mind. How?

      The simple thought and realization that you are conscious of how you feel within your body (cold, warm, relaxed, depressed, anxious, happy and so on), means that you have made the union between your body and mind. (below the step by step exercise for that).

      But to establish a connection to your soul – to the finest part of yourself – the Self:

      You must find out (through thinking) what is the subtlest thing that drives your body and mind – yourself as an individual and use that driver to go pass beyond your physicality and mentality.

      It is right here that you use the definition about yoga and the realization – the moment, where you are not analyzing any thoughts or feelings. This is a state of Yoga – a state of union between body, mind and soul, in which your consciousness has ceased to identify with its fluctuations.

      Yoga as Creativity and Expertise of the Individual

      In such a case, there is no specific (like beginners, intermediate or advanced) technique for learning yoga. The moment of the state of yoga arises for everyone of us in an individual way as everybody’s physique and mental content are different. You might be very well advanced in performing the most difficult asanas for decades but still unable and incompetent to be in a state of union with your body, mind and soul. Whereas, if you are a beginner and possess the grace and other virtues, than it’s easier and quicker to establish that connection.

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      As yoga is an inherent part of the human being, firstly, in order to pave the yoga path successfully and effectively, you must understand that yoga is not a technique for performance, but rather a creativity and expertise of yourself.

      Your learning process cannot be focused on, nor conditioned by a certain handbook, someone’s instructions or some specific school.

      Learning yoga requires your creativity to look within yourself and learn from yourself, become the expert of your feelings, emotions and desires. You, as a beginner might already possess many qualities and prerequisites for creating the union between your body, mind and soul, but your knowledge requires creativity for your growth to reach the state of union and then reap the fruits of that union. Once this happens there is no turning back – you’ll be pulled by the beauty and energy of your on being.

      Be Fast Mentally and Slow Physically

      As already mentioned, you don’t need to do physical performances like the split or the headstand to be able to immerse in a deep meditation or Samadhi. But you do need enough creativity for your self-inquiry.

      Many of my students start working directly with meditation – attending the complexities of the mind, because that’s where the hindrances lie. There, the meditator is able to work on the cessation of identifying with the fluctuations of the consciousness – where intelligence expands, adversity ends and the individual is ready to pass through its physicality and mentality in order to reach the union with the soul.

      But if you’re really a beginner and cannot start with that, then you can start enhancing your creativity on the body-mind level. The exercise follows in the next paragraph.

      The greater your creativity, the better your expertise about yourself – the deeper your competence to inquire further into the union with your soul. Sure enough that a more pliable and healthy physical body has some advantages and better preconditions for that, but don’t get discouraged because your body-mind union will open up the way.

      So here we are, you are at the moment to enhance your creativity upon that union. Please, take this as a very serious part of the practice as it is crucial for learning yoga – for learning yourself.

      The Beginner’s Exercise – Creativity upon Body-Mind Union

      The first and most important element to learn and practice yoga is of physiological and psychological nature: Stillness:

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      1. Make sure your body is still and comfortable.
      2. Focus on breathing to initiate observing.
      3. Observe your body and identify the first feeling that occurs to you.
      4. Keep identifying feelings and emotions, but without getting involved with them.
      5. Now create feelings and emotions as you please and let them go.

      That’s it! That’s the creativity upon the body-mind union. The validity of this creativity lies in the stillness and observance of that union. In this practice you can learn to understand and catch the moment – the main ingredient of life.

      Life is a sequence of moments and knowing that you’re able to manage that sequence is a new level of living life, called dharma – the practical and skillful way of living. An essential character develops as a result of practicing this discipline.

      However, be aware that we are still talking about outward elements of yoga – the gross levels (from Yama to Pratyahara) whereas the subtle, inward elements (Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi) are yet to be approached, learned and implemented. It is on these subtle levels that you can realize the depth of spirituality and the essence of yoga.

      It is remarkable how the science of yoga can take you in such heights and depths of exploring life and being. Little is known about the essence and the right practice of yoga in the west. There is a huge knowledge gap between how yoga should be learned and how it is practiced today in the west. You can bridge this gap by practicing the above exercise.

      Know that yoga is of a very subtle nature – operating on a subtle energetic level – the level of your mental energies, your thoughts. That means that it is to be learned at that level and not on any other. A body posture alone cannot take you to that level if you don’t apply your creativity and self-inquiry.

      Prerequisite for Yogic Success – Union between You and the Other

      Yoga is nothing, if our relationships with others are not managed harmonically.

      Learning yoga is also learning connecting with the other – with the stranger who’s not you but carries the same “core”, the same heart as you. We as individuals, possess the inborn feature of Ego – the “I-consciousness” that makes us feel separate from the rest of what makes the wholeness.

      This separation is the second of the the five “klesah” afflictions[3] – that stand as major hindrance against the union (Yoga) – called “asmita” or I-am-ness / Egoism (Y.S. II.6.), and has to be cultivated and brought to a level of discernment that will lessen our disturbance that comes out the fragmentation between the “I-am-ness” and the “Other-ness”.

      This is a crucial concept in Yoga and it is inevitable to be worked upon this hindrance in order to reach the inner “psychological” freedom or the ultimate liberation “Kaivalya” for which Yoga stands for. But, again, if you are beginner in this part, you want to know how to start dealing with all this. Here is the exercise:

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      1. Practice observance from the first exercise.
      2. Realize that the structure of your feelings, emotions, etc. is identical with the one of the other individuals.
      3. Practice witnessing, tolerating and gradually accepting the diversity between yourself and the other individuals.
      4. Observe for so long with equanimity, until you see the uniformity in that diversity.

      This is one of the greatest accomplishments a human being can achieve. To be, means, to be in relationship – internally, as well as externally.

      Yogic Lifestyle – Union Between You, The Other and The World

      Here comes the last piece of the puzzle – the union – on the highest level of worldly existence – between you, the other and the world. This means that Yoga is also worthless if practiced only on the mat. So when learning yoga, especially when practicing the body-mind union, consider if:

      You speak the language of nature and how you’re connected to nature and its basic elements? Do you complicate your existence by thinking that you are in the center of the world and require extra attention and acknowledgement?

      Thinking this way interferes with the practice of yoga. And surely, you might wonder, what should be done here in order to create that harmony in union? You’d be amazed to know that there is one important yogic movement that needs to be done. That is:

      The action of not doing anything but contemplating! Then yoga happens.

      Yes, this goes beyond the physicality and mentality of your being. As our bodies play just a tiny part of the evolution of existence, we must not attach to the world in that sense – clinging to worldly life with that insatiable urge that generates worries and anxiety – but rather grow through life with detachment and the attitude that life has been gifted to us with the purpose to realize that gift and attain the wisdom of life.

      Go Beyond Your Physicality and Mentality

      Attaining greatness like connecting to the world and to your soul, we must pass beyond the thoughts, feelings and emotions, and the influence they have on us. Hence we want to make the mental fluctuations to cease and let yoga shine its light through this yogic movement:

      The stillness and the watching within.

      Can yoga be understood and achieved in one single session and then practiced continuously, productively and effectively? Of course it can. Your union within yourself, the other and the world is lot simpler and easier than you think. Practice these simple yogic movements diligently, seriously but also effortlessly and your yoga will be flourishing and fruitful. I salute the spirit in you!

      More About Yoga

      Featured photo credit: Avrielle Suleiman via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
      [2] Wikipedia: Kaivalya
      [3] Plato Stanford: Klesah

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