Under the Bohdi Tree - Yoga and Memory
My Grandmother was instrumental in my upbringing. A spitfire, funny, go-getter she only has a 2nd grade education; yet, she taught me many things about my culture and history. She educated me in the ancient ways of the Taino & African Spiritualist healers through oral tradition. Now at 89 ½ the strong woman, who reared an entire neighborhood, spends her days in a senior home fighting a disease that is eating her memories. Alzheimer’s disease steals your memories, and erases your ability to complete small yet vital tasks like eating, talking and walking. For the aging, the issue of memory loss is one that predominates their thinking, however memory loss is something that can affect any of us at any time. When confronted with the truth of aging and memory loss the question becomes: “Is there any way to help fortify our brains so that we can minimize memory loss, even if we are diagnosed with Cognitive function disease like Alzhiemer’s?” Countless studies have discovered that Yoga may be the answer.
3 key aspects of Yoga known as Pranayama (mindful breathing), Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation) can be instrumental in the fight against memory loss. Used in combination, the 3 afore mentioned aspects of yoga have been proven to increase brain health, cognitive function and memory retention at any age.
There is one exercise that utilizes Pranyama, Dharana and Dhyana that has been widely studied over the last decade. The “Sa Ta Na Ma” chant brings our awareness to the truth of who we really are, that is what Sa Ta Na Ma means. Studies have shown that spending 8-12 minutes reciting the “Sa Ta Na Ma” chant while touching thumb to index, middle, ring and pinky fingers, respectively, produces measurable benefits in the human brain. The act of touching the thumb to the each fingertip stimulates energetic pathways to the brain which when activated bring the biorhythms of the brain into balance.
Practicing the Sa Ta Na Ma chant has been proven to improve the mental function of individuals with Alzheimer’s as well as those without the disease. One group of Scientists found that individuals who were effected by Alzheimer’s and performed the SA TA NA MA chant for 12 minutes using the corresponding finger positions experienced “positive changes in mood, anxiety, and other neuropsychological parameters, and these changes correlated with changes in cerebral blood flow” . These findings directly contradict the widely held belief that there is nothing that can be done to improve the brain function or memory of someone living with Alzheimer’s.
It's important to note that a cognitive function disease diagnosis is not the only cause of memory loss. Doctors at the Calm Clinic highlight the correlation between stress, anxiety and memory loss noting that while they seem unrelated memory loss and anxiety go hand in hand. Anxiety and stress cause the release of Cortisol which is a toxin to the brain that has been directly linked to short term memory loss.
Working with Pranayama, Dharana & Dhyana will inevitably increase an individual’s mindfulness. The truth is that "[b]y simply becoming more aware of what you think, feel, say and do, you train your brain to become more organized and calm,…Stress diminishes, and life begins to feel more pleasant and rich." On a biological level the combination of focusing on your breath, concentrating and meditating will help not only improve cognitive brain function but also increases brain size, reduces stress, improves brain chemistry, and improves blood flow to the brain. Luckily 8-12 minutes of the secular practice detailed below, can really save your brain. I have incorporated this practice into my life, and use it often. I have seen a change in my stress levels, memory recall, and overall well being. Don’t take my word for it, try it yourself!
“Sa Ta Na Ma” Exercise:
First Round – Using your normal speaking voice for 2 minutes
Touch your thumbs to index fingers when you say “SA”
Touch your thumbs to your middle fingers when you say “TA”
Touch your thumbs to your ring fingers when you “NA”
Touch your thumbs to your pinky fingers when you say “MA”
Second Round – Using a whisper tone repeat the steps above for 2 minutes
Third Round – Void of vocalization, silently intone the sounds and repeat the steps from round 1 for 2 minutes
Fourth Round – for 2 minutes repeat round 2
Fifth Round – for 2 minutes repeat round 1