Yoga helps us to think on our feet -- and fast. The irony in the preceding sentence is that the best thing you can do when thinking critically is to slow down for a moment to clear your mind and regain mental control. This provides the clarity necessary to think critically/analytically and/or problem solve on the fly when stuck by an unforeseen problem. The problem may be professional or personal -- for example, when a friend is seeking help or advice (or when we could use some ourselves), or when we find ourselves facing criticism in the workplace. Our inborn, natural instincts (the autonomic nervous system's flight or fight response) gives the body two options when faced with a negative situation or anything perceived as a threat: fight it physically (a childish, irrational choice), or run away from the situation as fast as you can (again, a rather naiive and irratiional decision). The flight or fight response is triggered by the stress-inducing sympathetic nervous system. After you fight or flee, the body soothes itself naturally via the restorative parasympathetic nervous system's "rest and digest" response.
Many children and teens are immature because they cannot handle stressful situations gracefully. That's not an insult, it's a fact. As the body and mind mature, we develop the tools necessary to become a critical thinker and problem solver. Yoga and pranayamic breathing (aka deep breathing) are two of those tools that can improve cognitive function and thinking critically. This is one of the many reasons why yoga is great for kids and adolescence. Yoga practice teaches us to breathe deeply when we get stuck in a stressful state of affairs. Meditation is all about clearing the mind and developing situational awareness. Once we become aware of the true reality of the situation, our level of control over the issue at hand becomes crystal clear. In many cases, we have no control over the outcome, so we have to just let it go. No matter how much effort or thought we put into something, the end result may not be to our liking. This leads to depression, anxiety, and feelings of lost control. If we dethrone ourselves of power (when in reality you didn't have any to begin with), the less likely we are to have clouded judgement or irrational thoughts and mental anguish when things take a negative turn.
As our yoga practice deepens and matures, we learn to pause, take a deep breath, remove ourselves mentally (and physically if we can) for a few moments to check our emotions at the door, and then look at the problem at hand with a fresh pair of eyes and a clear head. The result? The whole flight or fight response system is skipped over, and our parasympathetic nervous system is activated -- causing a relaxed state of alertness (biologically). Finally, we are then provided with an improved, clearer answer or solution. Problem solved!
By: Amber Jennings (G+)