A recent study from the University of Illinois showed that practicing yoga for 20 minutes could actually improve brain function. The study, which had 30 people perform two tasks involving identifying shapes on a computer screen, found that yoga helped the subjects complete the exercises more than aerobic exercise or no exercise.
Here are a few poses and techniques to try whenever you need to re-center and re-focus:
Prayer Pose (hands to heart center): This variation of Tadasana is a great way to get in touch with your body and breath before moving on to other asanas.
To do the pose, stand up straight with your feet together or hips width apart, toes pointing straight ahead. Bring your hands to heart center in the Namaste position (Anjali Mudra). Check that your weight is evenly distributed through all four corners of your feet, that your calves and quads are engaged, your pelvis is in a neutral position, and your shoulders are relaxed. Breathe deeply through the nose, noticing any sensations in the body or breath.
Eagle Pose (Garudasana): That balancing postures can help with concentration seems obvious, but Eagle Pose is especially beneficial for creating a strong focus. In fact, the pose gets its name from the Hindu god Garuda, known for his power, strength and focus.
To do the pose, stand with your feet together and hands on your hips, and find a steady focal point in front of you. Bend your knees slightly, lift your right leg, and cross it over your left thigh. Try to hook your right foot behind your left calf. Then, release your hands from your hips and bring them out straight in front of you. Cross your arms in front of you, left over the right, and bend your elbows. Wrap your arms around each other and try to bring your palms together. Keep your back straight and gaze focused like an eagle as you breathe deeply through the nose.
Warrior 2 (Virabhadrasana 2): The posture requires your full body to be engaged, and your gaze, or ‘drishti,’ to be fixed on one place.
To do the pose, stand with your legs about 3-4 feet apart. Stretch your arms out away from you, so they’re parallel to the floor, hands active, and palms facing down. Turn your right foot so that it’s pointed toward the top of your mat, and your left foot so it's angled inward very slightly. Bend your right knee and shift it forward so it’s over your right ankle. Turn your head to the right, and place your gaze on your right middle finger. Keep your torso facing the side (not front) of your mat. Breathe.
Crow or Crane Pose (Bakasana): Arm balances are also excellent for cultivating focus and concentration, and crow pose is a great one to start with.
Here's an example of Crow Pose, and also a great example that yoga truly has no age! :)
To do this pose, start with your feet hips width apart in a squatting position, or for more experienced practitioners, in a forward bend. Place your hands on the floor, about 1 foot in front of your feet, shoulder-width apart, with your fingers spread. Fix your gaze on a point on the floor in front of you. Then, bring your knees to your armpits or triceps and slowly begin to shift your weight forward, lifting one foot off the ground, and then the other. Breathe deeply, staying focused.
Nadi Shoddana Pranayama (Alternate Nostril Breathing): Five minutes of Nadi Shoddana Pranayama always helps me reach a more calm, clear, and focused state of mind. In yoga therapy, this breathing practice is sometimes called a ‘cure all,’ as it can boost your energy when you’re feeling sluggish, as well as relax and center you when you’re feeling anxious or wound up.
To practice Nadi Shoddana, start by finding a relaxed, comfortable, seated position. Begin by pressing your right thumb against your right nostril and inhale deeply through your left nostril. At the end of your inhalation, close off the left nostril with the ring finger, then exhale through the right nostril. Continue with this pattern, inhaling through the right nostril, closing it off with the right thumb, and exhaling through the left nostril. Practice for at least 3 minutes. When you finish, take some time to allow your breath to return to normal, noticing the changes in your breath and mind.
Note: As you develop in your practice, you can try matching the length of the inhale and exhale by counting or inhaling to a count of 4 or 5, and then doubling the length of the exhale.