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Yoga, Meditation Improve Memory Better Than Brain Games, Study Finds

in YD News

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This is some much-needed fantastic news you can share with all your friends and family…and, no, it has nothing to do with putting your feet over your head, Uncle Charlie. A recent study found that yoga, yes yoga, is better at keeping your memory sharp than all those puzzles and brain training apps you download to try and “exercise” the old noodle. In the “more good news” department, yoga was also found to relieve depression and anxiety in people who practiced regularly.

The study, which was funded by the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tuscon, Arizona, involved 25 participants over the age of 55, 11 of whom had weekly hour-long memory training sessions with things like crossword puzzles and computer games, and the other 14 of whom were given weekly hour-long yoga sessions and a 20-minute Kirtan Kriya meditation to practice at home every day over the course of 12 weeks.

After the 12 weeks? Participants showed similar verbal memory improvements, but the yoga group improved the most with visual-spatial memory. Through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans the researchers saw changes in the way the brain cells connect with each other changed in both groups, but they were only statistically significant in the people practicing yoga.

Science seems to be catching up to what a lot of us have been experiencing anecdotally. “Historically and anecdotally, yoga has been thought to be beneficial in aging well, but this is the scientific demonstration of that benefit,” said lead researcher Harris Eyre, of the University of Adelaide. “We’re converting historical wisdom into the high level of evidence required for doctors to recommend therapy to their patients.”

What’s maybe a most interesting part of this study is the type of yoga they chose. Kundalini yoga incorporates movement, breath, sound (mantra) and meditation and is not your typical asana or vinyasa practice, but rather a series of invigorating kriyas that will sometimes have you flapping your arms or donkey-kicking your feet for several minutes at a time to stir the Kundalini energy, the primal serpent energy, at the base of our spine.

The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation also recommends Kirtan Kriya—chanting the sounds Sa, Ta, Na, Ma—for better memory. “Clinical research has shown that practicing Kirtan Kriya for just 12 minutes a day can improve cognition and activate parts of the brain that are central to memory,” their website states.

For participants of the study, this regular practice not only improved memory capabilities, it improved mood and helped them better cope with stress, depression and anxiety, which is important for the emotional components of aging, or managing symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

“When you have memory loss, you can get quite anxious about that and it can lead to depression,” said Professor Helen Lavretsky of the University of California at Los Angeles, a co-author of the study.

“If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness,” Lavretsky said.

The study was published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
Want to give Kirtan Kriya a go yourself? Here’s one you can sing along to:

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60 comments… add one
  • k4k

    Unfortunately, I don’t think I could chant Sa, Ta, Na, Ma for 20 minutes a day. That would be really hard. Hopefully focusing on the breath is just as good.

    • Karen

      I thought so, too, until I tried it. There are lots of moving parts: in the standard form, you’re touching each fingertip to the thumb in time with the mantra (sa = index, ta = middle, na = 3rd finger, ma = little finger); you’re visualising an L-shaped flow of energy in from the crown and out through the 3rd eye; and you’re varying the volume of chant in segments (for 12 minutes, 2 minutes of normal volume singing, 2 minutes of whispered singing, 3 minutes of silent singing, then 2 minutes of whispered singing before 2 minutes of normal volume again + a minute or so of centring before and after).

      It turns out that this is plenty to keep the mind occupied, and I believe it’s the combination of moving mudra, singing with a shifting volume, and visualisation that’s the key here – there just isn’t an opportunity to get distracted by anything outside the practice, because all the sensory pathways are filled up with movement, sound and imagery.

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  • When I was a kid, I was bored. REALLY bored. Most of the time.

    When I was a teenager, I discovered that I could recall tiny details about everything I’d seen the previous day. Because there was so little incoming information, I had no trouble keeping track of it all.

    As an adult, I started working 60 hour weeks, watching tv, surfing the net, etc etc etc… Always busy. Never taking a break. Never resting and recharging except sleep. Result? Memory went to hell. I can’t remember what someone told me 5 minutes ago, let alone what I ate for breakfast yesterday.

    I think this could be part of the equation. An over-stimulated mind actively rejects SO much information constantly and ultimately just shuts off after awhile. And we live in that state all day now. As a kid growing up in the country with no internet and little to no tv, I had tons of brain capacity. Meditation could simply be replacing that silence we need to recharge our minds.

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