Smart move

Smart move

New year, new brain cells! How yoga and other movement can get your grey matter going. By Gopala Amir Yaffa

Humans have been observing the cycles of nature for millennia now. We have built into them countless ceremonies and opportunities to reset and make a fresh start.

We mess up, life gets messy…but we don’t want to stay stuck there. We want to be able to learn lessons, let go, move on and start afresh.

Is it even possible to have a fresh start this year after two years of the uncertainty caused by Covid-19? Yes, it is possible! We need to focus our minds and get out of ‘Covid mode’. Enough of that already. A fresh start can guide us to look outside our lifestyles and start reigniting ourselves.

We have faced so many changes so quickly and on so many fronts and more changes are to come. Change is the only constant in life. Oh! And it was so constant in the last two years!

And when dealing with change, the most important element is our attitude. How do we choose to look at the situation?

And how do we choose to respond to it?

We can respond with panic, freeze and do nothing about it. This will probably make us end up in a worse place than we started when the crisis is over.

We can respond in survival mode, trying to put out fires and caring for any emergency that arises. This will carry us through the difficult times but is bound to leave us depleted and unsatisfied. We can be proactive in our response and plan for a brighter future. If we are smart about it, if we use our time to gain the skills we need and take the steps required to find ourselves in a better position than we started despite and even because of the challenges around us, our chances for growth and success are much higher.

This is all true on the personal, family, and business levels.

Even though starting anew sounds like it could be some kind of a magic pill or magic wand and happen at a specific auspicious moment when the years switch, it’s not like that. Rather, it is a process.

Smart move

Change in attitude, in perspective, in the way we perceive the world around us can be an enlightening, big revelation that happens. But, usually, it is a process that may take a lot of effort. And in this, a proactive attitude is most likely to prove most valuable in making this coming year positively different.

Surviving is not enough; we want to thrive. But working too hard is not thriving either, so a balance needs to be struck here between the effort we put in to proactively making a difference on the one hand and on the other hand, going with the flow.

And let’s not look for perfection; even at the best of times, life can be challenging, so while you do your very best, take it easy on yourself.

Many of us have a lot to juggle between family duties (which now may also include home schooling), financial security and our own mental health. One step at a time, one kind choice at a time, a few minutes of focused effort at a time, is all that’s needed.

Let’s do the best we can with what we have and see this situation as an opportunity!

It is not happening to us, but for us! Let’s make a one awesome lemonade with whatever lemons we’ve got!

But where do we start?
In yoga, we like to start with the body because it is easier than dealing with our mind and all of its complicated thought patterns and emotions. Because of the body/ mind connection, when we work with the body, change also occurs in the mind. This is the magic of yoga!

So starting the process of changing our outlook and giving this year the best chance and the best attitude it deserves, can be done with our body first.

Lockdowns and general Covid-19 fears have kept us more isolated and sedentary than usual. This has resulted in weight gain, fatigue and depression. Physical activity is just the right way to initiate a new start.

It seems that we have certain DNA passed down to us from our prehistoric ancestors. They were wired to move. That was a necessity for survival – if you stopped you were eaten!

In fact, when you stop moving you give the body a message that you don’t want to live and as a consequence, your body and your mind start shutting down.

So here we are with this brain wiring to move and we are languishing away in front of a computer or a TV.

How do we get back to leading our lives with natural movement? Are we even doing enough during the day to classify it as physical activity? That is the first thing we need to look at.

How can we incorporate more movement into our day?
Habits. We got into sedentary habits, now we need to develop new habits of moving.

For me, I made the decision many years ago to never pass on an opportunity to move, even if it is just the simple act of taking the rubbish out. It benefits everyone, it feels good in my body and it keeps me just a bit more fit.

Take on 5-10 opportunities like that a day and you’ll soon find that movement is a part of your life again. Add to it yoga or any form of exercise and even better! Every day, you are taking steps to make both your body and your brain stronger and healthier.

Why is physical exercise so important to brain health?
As mentioned before, we are hardwired to move. When we exercise, we are making our hearts beat harder and faster. This drives more oxygen, carbohydrates and blood to the brain.

Our prefrontal cortex (the executive function centre of the brain) is an energy cannibal. It requires 20% of the oxygen, carbohydrates, and blood from each and every heartbeat in order to function.

When we are lying around doing nothing our brain is doing nothing too. In order to have the energy it needs to function, we have to be up and moving. Instead of the fog, forgetfulness and frustration we feel when we can’t remember something, our brain will surprise us with how agile it can be.

There is another function that physical exercise has for the brain. When we are sending more blood, oxygen and carbohydrates to the brain we are releasing BDNF – Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor. BDNF acts as a fertiliser and stimulates new brain cells to bud from brain stem cells. We grow new brain cells when we exercise. This is neurogenesis – the growth of new brain cells!

Up until a number of years ago, it was not believed that we were capable of growing new brain cells. The belief was that we would lose cells until we died. The discovery of neurogenesis was a game-changer. And the simple act of moving makes that happen. Wow!

Yoga is the perfect way to restart your new year. You grow new brain cells, think clearer and feel better! It is just such an easy way to create your fresh start.

Make an intention that 2022 will support you in your efforts to lead a brain-healthy and brain-growing lifestyle. Enough brain talk…let’s get moving!

Gopala Amir Yaffa is the founder of Rainbow Yoga Training (

Smart move

Om Magazine

First published in November 2009, OM Yoga magazine has become the most popular yoga title in the UK. Available from all major supermarkets, independents and newsstands across the UK. Also available on all digital platforms.