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Aqua Yoga, Cerebral Blood Flow and Cognitive Health

"According to the Alzheimer’s Association, over 15,000 Californians died from Alzheimer’s disease in 2015, an increase of 241% since the year 2000. The condition is the third leading cause of death in the state, and sixth in the nation as a whole. Currently, 650,000 California seniors are living with Alzheimer’s, and this figure is expected to increase by 29.2% by 2025. The CDC advises that the number of seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s and other dementias will reach almost 14 million nationwide by 2060." - Memory Care California

A persons brain cells are most vulnerable during fetal development and then during the aging process. Why do some people live to be 100 and have intact cognitive function when others develop dementia decades earlier? Researchers have discovered a gene regulator known as REST which protects aging neurons from various stresses but is lost in the critical brain regions of people with Alzheimer's.

Scientists at Harvard Medical School conclude that neural excitation is linked to shorter life span, while suppression of over activity appears to extend lifespan. Research findings raise the possibilities of behaviors like meditation could extend lifespan by improving modulating neural activity.

Yoga philosophy dating back thousands of years defines the science of yoga as 'reducing the excitation of the mind' (Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodha 1:2) Exploring restorative poses, pranayama and meditation allows the brain to become more introspective can also help modulate the metabolism and even curb overeating.

As the senior population gains in number, many of whom 'used to practice yoga', it is wonderful that submersion in the water makes hatha yoga accessible once again and due to the hydrostatic pressure and buoyancy, there is an increase in cerebral blood flow. Yay!, don't need to do inversions anymore!

Dr. Bruce Becker informs us that even just standing in water improves blood flow to the brain depending on the depth of water we stand in and a small study by Howard Carter of the University of Western Australia School of Sport Science suggests that immersing the body in water to the level of the heart increases blood flow through the brain's cerebral arteries, thus improving vascular health and cognitive function. Study results showed a 14 per cent blood flow increase to the middle cerebral artery and a nine per cent blood flow increase to the posterior cerebral artery when subjects were immersed in water.

Carter says findings point to potential benefits of aquatic-based activities and aqua yoga enthusiasts and advocates would love to see some research in this field.

Add the discipline of yoga poses and breath control and even in old age and with some pre-existing conditions, we can still work towards greater balance and equilibrium. The Instagram images of young and bendy pretzels, implying knowledge of yoga, has really damaged its ancient tradition which is so much more than just poses. In fact, it usually takes a lifetime of practice that eludes the naïve and young. Wisdom comes mostly with experience and discernment, and that takes time. Yoga in the water helps people remain cognitive and ambulatory to continue the deep inner searching one needs for enlightenment.

I spoke to my father a few weeks ago and inquired about mum's mental health and if he noticed any differences when they spent time together in their new hot tub. He told me that he was able to have long and detailed conversations with her about many of the wonderful trips they had together over the course of their long marriage. That gives me great joy on a personal level as she gave up yoga on land because it was no longer accessible for her and there are no aqua yoga classes for her to attend locally.

There are a lot of resources out there regarding mental health, especially in Santa Cruz California and here are a few links that may be useful to share.

Camella can be reached at Online teacher training continues through 2022.


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