These long months of uncertainty have left me feeling stressed and often unrested, even after a decent night’s sleep. How’s our current state of semi-normality impacting you? Reconnecting with life as much as we can, while knowing that it’s not the same, creates a constant, low thrum of stress. Everybody is facing uncertainty and challenge – and we have no choice but to move through it as best we can. And read on because I’ve found an incredible way to deal with stress which I’m excited to share with you.
It didn’t help my anxiety levels this week to read a detailed article on the number of research papers linking stress to Alzheimer’s disease (you can read that article here) . The news that while rates of dementia worldwide have fallen by an estimated 22% in the last decade for men, for women they remain the same didn’t help either. The good news from this Harvard University report, however, is that overall the risk of developing dementia has been dropping by 13% a decade for nearly 30 years.
The report is authored by many of the biggest names in dementia research, including Professor Carol Brayne, who I interviewed for The Age-Well Plan. It reveals that the more rapid decline in risk for men is linked to a sharp drop in the number of smokers and healthier lifestyles. More evidence, if it were needed, that quitting the cigs, exercising regularly and following a nutritious diet makes a huge impact on health outcomes. But dementia remains a greater risk for women. I’ve blogged about that before and we’ll write about Lisa Mosconi’s brilliant new book, The XX Brain: The Groundbreaking Science Empowering Women to Prevent Dementia in a future post.
KEEPING OUR BRAINS ‘PLASTIC’
The best way to keep our brains free of both stress and dementia is to keep them ‘plastic’ ie able to develop new synapses. To do that we need to keep them stimulated and engaged, to rest them well and manage stress. This means pressing the pause button on our hectic daily lives. We rewire our brains, processing what we’ve learnt during the day, in deep sleep and other forms of rest – which is why they are so vital.
Annabel and I are both big fans of Dr Andrew Huberman, a neuroscientist at Stanford University whose work focusses on neuroplasticity and neural regeneration. He regularly delivers short videos on Instagram (@hubermanlab) and guests on podcasts. We like the fact that he’s not afraid (unlike some other doctors and academics) to mix the holistic with the medical, integrating alternative therapies with his work in the lab.
Dr Huberman uses daily sessions of yoga nidra to help him relax, destress and keep his brain plastic. He believes that cognitive function can be enhanced and even restored by the deep rest that comes from this conscious relaxation technique. Research shows that yoga nidra improves sleep, alleviates stress and helps pain management. A study in Brazil found that the practice of yoga nidra reduced anxiety in college lecturers. Nidra works on the brain by regulating levels of our ‘happy hormones’, the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin.
WHAT IS YOGA NIDRA?
Yoga nidra is, essentially the lying down bit of a yoga practice where you consciously relax your mind. No downward dog or stretchy lycra required! It uses guided visualisation, allowing the body to slumber whilst the mind stays awake. It’s the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done! The practice engages the left and right side of the brain which aids creativity, reduces stress and builds neuroplasticity. A 45-minute session has the same impact on the brain as two hours of deep sleep.
I started practising yoga nidra last year, when I met the wonderfully charismatic teacher Kanan Thakerar. I was struck by the incredible transformation she had made in her own wellbeing, from debilitating illness to complete health using yoga nidra and slow living techniques. You can read more about Kanan on her website.
Just one session with her took me into the deepest state of relaxation I’ve ever known and left me feeling both calm and energised. I sleep incredibly well after each session too. It’s become an important part of my Age-Well lifestyle and I’m excited to share the practice with you. Kanan has taken her practice online in recent months and has kindly offered a FREE yoga nidra session for followers of The Age-Well Project via Zoom.
YOUR INVITATION TO A FREE YOGA NIDRA SESSION
Please do join Kanan and me for a 45-minute yoga nidra session on Thursday August 20th at 7pm via Zoom. All you need to do is email email@example.com with the words ‘yoga nidra’ to reserve your slot. Kanan will email you the link to the Zoom call for the event (so please note I’ll be passing on your email address to her for this purpose).
It’s honestly the most relaxing thing you’ll do this year. And no need to wear yoga pants or roll out a mat (although you can if you want). You just need to be warm and comfortable and have space to lie down. It will do amazing things for your stress levels and neuroplasticity, and I can’t wait to see you there.