Making Positive Changes in Your Life

By Maitri Jones, R.N., Registered Yoga Teacher, Level 2

We all know that exercise and yoga are helpful for those with neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease, but many people have difficulty actually making time for exercise or yoga. Why is it challenging to incorporate new routines into our lives, even when we know that doing so will result in great benefits?

We face an initial inertia that resists change, as well as not knowing how to get started to create a new habit. Getting out of our present comfortable, established routines takes effort and willingness.

Our environment strongly influences our motivation, and also the effectiveness of our efforts. When people and events around us support the changes we want to make, it is much easier to break new ground. If you can put yourself in a supportive environment for a significant period of time—with a schedule that allows time for you to learn, and other people doing the same practices—you will find it much easier to jump-start new changes.

The Expanding Light Retreat, about 90 minutes from Sacramento, is a perfect environment to help you get started enjoying the healthy benefits of yoga. The Ananda style of yoga taught at The Expanding Light gives you even more than the great benefits of physical exercise. Ananda Yoga shows you how the postures can help create an uplifted, meditative state of mind. At The Expanding Light, you will also learn a technique of meditation that works hand in hand with yoga postures. Meditation and yoga postures together help to train the brain to support mental and emotional health as well.

Meditation activates the prefrontal lobes in the front of the brain right behind the forehead. The prefrontal lobes are associated with mood, concentration, self-directed will, creativity, and inspiration. MRI studies of the brains of long-time meditators show that their brain activity is especially high in the prefrontal lobes. Interestingly, people with Parkinson’s disease have been shown to have under-active prefrontal lobes.

Brain research has pinpointed the left prefrontal lobe as a brain region associated with happiness and positive thoughts and emotions. People with Parkinson’s disease are more susceptible to depression and have trouble activating this center of positive thinking.

Fortunately, our brains can change. The study of neuroplasticity, or brain changeability, shows that the good habits we create now will be supported by changes in the brain. Our brain will create new neurons and new neurological connections, as well as recruit existing neurons to participate in new functions. Scientists have shown that the brain is capable of being trained and physically modified in ways few people can imagine. For instance, the portion of the brain that corresponds to a string musician's fingering hand grows larger with practice, even in musicians who start playing as adults.

If you do any new activity regularly for 6 weeks, you are well on your way to making it a habit. In those short 6 weeks you begin to create pathways to, and enhance, the area of your brain used in your new activity or way of thinking. Specifically, if you begin a practice of yoga and meditation, you can increase the activity in your prefrontal lobes.

Taking a retreat at The Expanding Light can be your first step to making lasting, beneficial changes in your life—in habits of movement, breathing, and thinking. You will learn to do yoga postures in a gentle, mindful way that leads you naturally into meditation. You will gain physical benefits and, at the same time, will train your brain to activate the prefrontal lobes, to help you feel mental and emotional upliftment as well. You will learn simple ways to take the practices of yoga postures and meditation home with you to reap lifelong benefits.


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