The smartest exercises to boost mental clarity
Sure exercise in general is proven to help boost mental clarity and fight stress, but sometimes you need a little extra help. Next time you find yourself in a tough spot and in need of a quick fix to clear your head, try one of these exercises tailor-made for tough days.
1. Warrior II
The Warrior II yoga pose is popular and easy, and is based on a fierce, mythological priestess who vanquishes her enemies. It's a nice, open pose that opens up the hips and lungs and encourages a long, gentle full-body stretch you need when it's time to clear your mind and focus. The pose is meant to honor our inner strength and restore a feeling of quiet power, and it requires you to gather your mind and become focused and clear on positive qualities and energies. After the exercise, you feel more present, alert, calm and ready to tackle the next challenge.
2. Walking meditation
Taking a walk is an easy way to get away from it all and clear your head, but with a few added techniques, you can turn your stroll into a stress-busting walking meditation. The practice is rooted in Buddhist tradition and requires that you focus on the moment and feeling as you walk to connect your mind and body. Buddha himself taught walking meditation as a way for monks to hone their concentration. Meditation, generally, works to clear your mind and even give you more power over your own emotions — including reducing stress and even chronic pain — because it helps you train your mind to focus on what you choose. Combining the practice of meditation with slow, mindful walking is a powerful way to train your brain to focus.
3. Dynamic prone plank
The dynamic prone plank is a full-body exercise you can do anywhere you feel comfortable enough to lie down. On your hands and toes, lift your rear to the ceiling to form a pike position. Return to plank position, then lower your torso to the floor and push your head and chest upwards towards the ceiling. Push your body back into plank position and repeat five to 10 times.
Planks are a quick and easy exercise to clear your head because they're a great way to tense — and ultimately relax — large muscle groups quickly to reduce all-over tension from prolonged sitting. Quickly lifting tension from all over your body can do wonders for your mood, and focus, in short order.
4. Deep, mindful breathing
There are many breathing techniques and variations, but the Stimulating Breath, also known as Bellows Breathing, will help you focus and clear your head. With your mouth closed, breathe short, quick breaths through your nose as quickly as possible. There are some guidelines for rookies, but the result should be similar to after working out.
Controlled breathing, according to experts, triggers something called the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps relax us and shut down the "fight or flight" physiological response to everyday stressors and regain focus in stressful situations.
Cycling, thanks to its fast pace, requires constant adjustment and attention to keep you in the moment, rather than giving you too much time to let your mind wander. Cycling also gets your legs and heart pumping with cardiovascular-friendly bursts of activity. Whether in a spin class or on your way to work, the world looks better — and clearer — from a bike seat.
Studies show cycling has specific benefits for our brains over other exercises. One Harvard researcher is calling for more study into the links between brain health and cycling after incredible successes in treating chronic conditions like ADHD and depression. Even Parkinson's disease patients have seen improvements in their brains' gray matter after an eight-week cycling regimen. Although doctors aren't quite sure why yet, cycling does amazing things for your brain chemistry.
6. Fire Log Pose
Stretching is a great mental break to calm your mind and get the blood flowing. Specifically, this Fire Log Pose will help you get centered and really stretch out your hips, where yogis say we store our emotion. If you're looking to shed some stress, try the fire log stretch by "stacking" your legs on top of each other. If you want to deepen the stretch, walk your hands as far out in front of you as you can. Hold for at least 30 seconds while breathing deeply and then switch legs.
Everything about tai chi is good for your brain and helps you cope with stress. It also improves memory and thinking. Pouring is a basic tai chi move that is simple and can be done absolutely anywhere (e.g. in line at the grocery store) to regain your calm. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly shift (or pour) your weight first to the right side, letting the one side empty completely of weight and rest. Hold. Then gently pour the weight to the other side.
8. Mountain Pose
Mountain Pose is the foundation of all yoga poses and can be worked into all sorts of everyday activities, much like pouring. Mountain Pose is good for focus and posture and is a common transition pose in yoga. The pose is meant to help you stand still and become aware of your mind and body, boosting mental clarity. To practice the Mountain Pose, stand and press into the four corners of your feet by lifting your toes. Lift your kneecaps, tuck your tailbone and tighten your core.
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