You may think that bettering your brain requires conquering the New York Times’ crossword puzzle regularly, allocating hours to online brain training, or learning how to play the piano. While these activities are great for bettering and maintaining brain performance, you can improve clarity, memory, balance, and focus instantly with simple activities that easily pass for fun whenever you find yourself with a few free minutes.
In her book, Preserve Your Brain: Tools for Growing Mental Fitness, Ann Marina outlines, in easy-to-follow instructions and illustrations, gentle stretching, eye and hand motions, mindful breathing, and coordinated movements which activate the whole brain and tune up neural circuits. The exercises are neuroplastically based which means, with repetition over time, they can alter the physical workings of the brain. Neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to change its structure and function through thought and activity, is a discovery of the last decade allowing you to amazingly shape your brain. (See blog: The Play-Doh In Your Head)
Marina offers a variety of exercises, ranging from 30 seconds of conscious breathing, yoga postures, tai chi motions, hand and eye movements, and a 1-minute refresher, to a 5-minute brain builder. All activities are categorized as either activators (energizing) or refreshers (calming), but Marina encourages the reader to build their own workouts that feel good to them, suiting their own needs. She suggests:
For serious brain building, take at least 10 minutes a day, 5 days a week. If you’re already doing regular physical and mental workouts, just a few times a week will suffice to supplement your routine.
A few of my favorites are:
8’s and 0’s
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart. Raise your right arm chest high and draw a sideways figure 8 in the air continuously. Now, for the challenge, draw a circle in the air with your left hand while still drawing the 8 with your right. Do at least 4 times, then, switch and draw a circle with your right hand and figure 8 with your left. Not so easy, eh? While seated or lying on your back, try it with your feet.
Benefits: Improves focus and concentration. Synchronizes right and left hemispheres.
Drawing 8’s with the eyes
While seated or lying down, keep your eyes closed and draw sideways figure 8’s with your eyes. Draw 4 times then reverse the direction. Now, draw a figure eight with your right eye while drawing a circle with your left.
(Just kidding about that last part! 🙂 But, how many of you tried it?! Sorry, but it makes me burst out laughing just to think about….which is also good for your brain.)
Benefit: “Switches brain on” for energy and mental clarity as it stimulates messaging between hemispheres.
With eyes closed, picture two vertical columns. The left one has letters going down it: A, B, C, D, and E. The right column has numbers going down from 1 to 5. Visualize enough space between your columns so your eyes must move side to side in this exercise.
Keep your eyes closed and…
- Look back and forth from left to right counting A-1, B-2, C-3, D-4, and E-5.
- Reverse direction from right to left picturing 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, 4-D, and 5-E.
Rest your Eyes for a few breaths and repeat.
Benefits: “Switches brain on” for energy and mental clarity as it stimulates messaging between hemispheres. Research has shown that repeated horizontal eye movements can have a positive effect on memory.
Climbing Spider (like the Itsy-Bitsy Spider song)
Touch your right index finger to your left thumb. Keep them touching and bring your right thumb to touch your left index finger. Now, release contact and pivot or walk the hands around so that the right thumb and left index finger meet again. To create a “climbing” effect, keep pivoting your hands at the contact points.
Now, do the same thing using the thumb and middle finger, ring finger, and pinky. Then, go back up the line to the index finger again while singing the song, if you wish.
Benefits: Improves alertness and concentration. Makes you smile. Synchronizes left and right hemispheres.
Having had a brain injury six years ago and a regular yoga practice almost as long, I was pleasantly surprised to find many familiar yoga postures (for example, cat/cow, down dog, eagle) listed in the book as having brain benefits. Acupressure, Brain Gym ®, tai chi, writing/drawing, visualization, breathing, walking, and meditation exercises are also provided which have been used in classrooms, boardrooms, and therapy groups with positive results.
(The book explains and illustrates the activities much better than I have here.)
image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tara-leigh/