The lovely Shannon Mayhew makes meaning of her yoga practice at Inner Reaches.
Step onto your yoga mat and make something of yourself. That's right, it's easy, it's meaningful ... and it's good for your brain. Stand in Mountain Pose and BECOME the mountain ... majestic, intractable, beautiful, powerful, you name it. Balance in Tree Pose and consider the type of tree you are ... a redwood, a willow, a mighty oak, a flowering magnolia? What sort of soil do you grow in? Or, do you grow in water like the mangrove? Do you drop your leaves in the fall? How far do your roots stretch?
Albert Einstein was famous for saying, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” As it turns out, imagination also encircles the brain.
Neuroscientists describe "mental workspaces" in the brain which become active during imagining. These "workspaces" are widespread neural networks that coordinate activity across several regions in the brain and consciously manipulate symbols, images, ideas and theories (Medical News Today, Sept. 22, 2013.) This means that imagination exercises not just specific regions of the brain, as once believed, but many regions at once.
In my yoga classes I encourage students to embody their asanas. This is an act of imagination that stimulates the mental workspaces mentioned above. The more complex the mental image, the further reaching the neural network. In other words, when we "become" the mountain in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and we mentally conjure the image of a snow capped Mount Ranier, covered in pine forest, supporting wildlife of various kinds, sun shining down, light glinting off of flowing streams ... our brain is working to coordinate messages from visual, auditory, olfactory, and kinesthetic areas, plus engaging memory, and other forms of cognition. Our brains are making meaning of our yoga.
Vrksasana ... Tree Pose, anyone? How much more stimulating it is to our brains to reach our roots deep into the ground, searching through fertile soil for water, drinking nutrients provided by mother earth while stretching our limbs and branches high into the heavens, receiving nourishment in the form of sunlight, offering safe haven to colorful birds and busy squirrels.
So, if you want to exercise your brain while you exercise your body on your yoga mat, make meaning of the poses you practice. Embody the mountain, the tree, the fish, the cobra. Manifest the qualities inherent in the essence of the pose. Envision your surroundings. Smell the odors. Hear the sounds. Engage your imagination as fully as possible. The added plus ... you will have more fun ... and like Einstein, you will encircle the world.