The Mind Goes Back to School

by John Peterson, M.D.

Were you one of the students who couldn't wait to go back to school after Labor Day? Remember the thrill of getting new pencils, crayons and notebooks and meeting your new teacher? In May we couldn't wait for summer vacation to start, but by mid-August we actually looked forward to beginning another school year.

It's good to take a break. Not just for a summer, but regularly, in big and small ways.

Recent research showed that subjects taking a complex mental test performed better after they had literally taken a physical step backwards. The mind makes new connections when we're resting from actively solving a problem. So push your chair back from the computer and look out the window. Stand up and stretch. Not just once, but every half hour that you are working online.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, founder of Maharishi Ayurveda Products International, often referred to the value of having a well-ordered cycle of rest and activity each day. Spend the night in restful sleep and practice the Transcendental Meditation® program in the morning to prepare for the day's activities. Then meditate again in the early evening before supper to prepare for the evening's activities.

We all want a mind that continues to work well, decade after decade. Most of us know someone who has been affected by some form of dementia. Dementia is defined as general mental deterioration. Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in the elderly, affecting 5 million persons in the U.S. Our aging population will increase its prevalence at huge financial and emotional cost.

Alzheimer's disease is associated with amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles in the neocortex and hippocampus, shrinkage of the cerebral cortex, loss of neurons and damage to the limbic system and association cortices. Memory loss is the result.

How can we prevent memory loss? How can we enhance our memory and mental clarity? Maharishi Ayurveda, the newly revised form of the most ancient health care system in the world, has a host of recommendations to improve mental clarity and memory, foremost of which is to reduce stress.

Because the brain is a heavy user of oxygen, it is susceptible to oxidative damage. Reactive oxygen-based chemicals called free radicals, derived from environmental pollution and chemicals in your food, can build up and damage brain cells and arteries. Maharishi Amrit Kalash is an antidote for this process. It is a potent mix of 38 whole herbs, fruits, and spices, with no harmful side effects. In published research Amrit Kalash has been shown to be 1,000 times more powerful as a free radical scavenger than vitamins C or E.

The intelligence of our neuronal tissues — lipid membranes, nerves, blood vessels and neuropeptides — are nourished by the intelligence of our food. It is important to eat foods that are pure, natural and of high quality. Food that has been genetically modified, processed, or refined has been stripped of much of its intelligence. According to some vaidyas (ayurvedic experts) these foods disturb the intellect. Fresh is best. Avoid food that is canned or preserved with artificial additives and preservatives, or food that contains artificial colors and flavors.

How we approach and eat our food affects the intelligence of digestion. It's better to sit to eat, paying attention to your food with all your senses. Sip on just enough warm or room-temperature liquid to meet your needs.

Eat more "brain foods" such as coconut milk, ghee, olive oil, walnuts, sweet and juicy fruits, soaked almonds, sunflower seeds, raisins and dates. Try fresh juices — especially dark grapes, apples, pears and mangos — made with a bit of fresh ginger, to deliver nutrients quickly to your mind and body. Green leafy vegetables are a terrific source of iron and fiber. For dessert, treat yourself to a date milk shake, milk-mango shake or rice pudding, as these help nourish the brain.

If you desire something sweet between meals, try sweet fruits, raisins and dates rather than soda pop or candy. The vaidyas consider diet sodas with artificial sweeteners to be especially harmful. Two dates with ghee twice a day energize, bring mental clarity and enhance ojas, the "stuff" of immunity and bliss.

Certain spices and herbs can enhance your brainpower. Black pepper helps to clear the shrotas, or channels of flow in your brain. In the early 1990s I was with a group of four or five vaidyas at a social gathering. Just for fun I asked them for their opinions on which herbs and spices would make you smart. The question created much excitement among the group. Among the recommended herbs were tulsi (holy basil), sarsaparilla, coriander, fennel, cumin and ginger. The idea was to "heat the body and cool the mind."

MAPI offers a wide variety of supplements that support the three aspects of mental ability: learning, retention, and recall (dhi, dhriti and smriti). They contain traditional ayurvedic herbs for the mind. For instance, Aloeweed (Brahmi) enhances memory and problem-solving abilities. Indian Pennywort (Gotu Kola) as a plant resembles the shape of the human brain. It enhances memory and slows down the negative aspects of aging.

MAPI supplements to try:

  • Intelligence Plus (formerly Study Power) is useful for anyone who has to learn new information.
  • Mind Plus syrup is said to "double the strength of the mind," by enhancing the ability to focus attention, improving patience and self-esteem, and supporting long-term memory.
  • Organic Youthful Mind maintains mental clarity and memory regardless of your age.
  • Mind Flex rejuvenates brain cells and helps stabilize the mind and emotions to enhance mental capability under day-to-day stress.
  • Stress Free Mind increases mental energy by supporting mental resistance to stress.

The sole purpose of these articles is to provide information about the tradition of ayurveda. This information is not intended for use in the diagnosis, treatment, cure or prevention of any disease. If you have any serious acute or chronic health concern, please consult a trained health professional who can fully assess your needs and address them effectively. If you are seeking the medical advice of a trained ayurvedic expert, call or e-mail us for the number of a physician in your area. Check with your doctor before taking herbs or using essential oils when pregnant or nursing.