Have Brain Fog Like Me? Breathe
I don't have Covid (at least, not yet) but I do have brain fog. Sometimes I sit and stare at the computer screen or in front of the TV or side by side with a friend. Without warning and for no obvious reason I don't remember what I was thinking or saying. The synapses in my brain go haywire like a pinball machine on speed.
Whenever I express my concern about these lapses, other seniors throw cold water at my fears. "That's just the way it is," they say. "It happens to all of us when we age."
I did hear from someone but I'll be damned if I know who: He or she or they said:
If you stand in front of your refrigerator and can't remember why you are there, no reason to worry. But if you stand in front of the refrigerator and don't remember what's it's called or what it is for, then you're in trouble..
I hate my refrigerator with its fake stainless steel front, its handle that never gets clean, the spoiled kale at the bottom of the vegetable bin, the all-too-small side freezer that never seems to hold enough. No chance that I'll forget this inadequate, built-to-fall-apart piece of junk that will blow up just around the time the warranty is up. Planned obsolescence. The American way.
But I digress which is one more signal that part of the brain fog keeps jumbling my thoughts and, frankly, freaking me out. Am I one step away from a descent into dementia of Alzheimer's? "Not to worry," other seniors say. "We're all headed there sooner or later." I choose later.
RELIEVE BRAIN FOG
Of course, we all breathe, but few of us take 5 to 10 minutes of quiet, deliberate breathing every day.
I've been taking yoga for many years. Now more than ever with the Pandemic closing in on two years and with the shuttered dance studios, gyms, and other exercise venues, I've turned my office into a makeshift yoga room. I remove the hand vac in the corner, the plastic turquoise chair (too much of a distraction), and the dead plant that I can't bring myself to toss.
Give This A Try
Find a comfortable spot on a rug or on a padded yoga mat. Lie down on your back, legs straight, feet apart. Put your arms out to your sides like an airplane, palms up. Wee!
Once you're settled in, breathe normally and take stock of your body. Scan from your head to your toes. Does the back of your head touch the floor? What about the crink in your neck? Is the curve in your back flat or is there room where you can place a hand? What about the curve on your lower spine? The back of your hands? The back of your thighs? Go all the way down to your tippy toes and take stock of your body and how it relates to the floor.
Then notice your breath. Do you breathe from your stomach or from your chest? Is it regular or are your inhales longer or shorter than your exhales? Do you inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth or inhale and exhale through your nose? (If I were a betting woman, I'd put my money on the nose/mouth routine. And if I were to tell you to try inhaling and exhaling through your nose, you might roll up your mat and stomp out of the room.) Hang in there.
Forget the Image of a Warm, Cozy, Peaceful Spot
Here's another wager: I bet that most of you who have taken a yoga class or listened to a meditative app have been encouraged to imagine a warm, cozy, peaceful place and to put yourself there. That's one way I suppose of getting out of yourself and eliminating brain fog, but I propose another way.
Concentrate on your breathing. Begin by inhaling and exhaling through your nose maybe three or four times. Then inhale for say three counts and exhale for four. Now try maybe four counts inhale, pause, and then take five or six counts to exhale.
Return to your normal breath. Shut your eyes, if you haven't done so already. How are you feeling? Relaxed? Out of your head and into your body where physical sensations take a front seat and your thoughts, plans, worries seem a million miles away, at least for the minutes after conscious breathing?
Nothing Lasts Forever
Conscious breathing doesn't cure all ills; the clarity may last for a few minutes, a few hours, maybe for an entire day. The more you practice--and conscious breathing does take practice-- the better the results.
Spoiler alert: I don't take ten minutes out of every day for conscious breathing. It's much easier to have a teacher guide me. But if you're not lucky enough to have a teacher or a guru-in-the-making, or a tape or app.
Bogus or Fact?
Recent research has even found that a regular mindfulness meditation practice can help boost the body’s immune function and improve the function of the brain as well. Scientific studies have also revealed that specific parts of the brain change, specifically the gray matter, with developing a meditation practice. The gray matter of the brain controls movement, memories, and emotions. We seniors can sure need to keep the gray matter healthy.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn, scientist (PhD in molecular biology), writer, and meditation teacher says, “As long as you are breathing, there is more right with you than wrong, no matter what is wrong”