Supporting Memory, Recovering Wholeness
Have you experienced walking purposefully into a room and then forgetting why you are there or what you were looking for? Have you run into an old friend you talked to a few days before but now you can't remember her name? Do you worry that as you get older you might be having early symptoms of Alzheimer's? Memory is fickle, and for many people it seems to decline as we get older.
We are all concerned with Alzheimer's disease, a degenerative organic mental disease, characterized by progressive memory loss and dementia, usually occurring after age 65. It involves toxic beta amyloid deposits in neuritic plaques and arteriolar walls in the brain. Genetics and smoking play a definite role. The cost to society is huge, along with suffering for both the patient and the family and friends. Long-term costs to the nation are over $100 billion per year.
Memory is the ability to keep a mental record of earlier experiences. Memory can be verbal (as in being able to name the presidents of the United States), emotional (as with fear of heights) or skill oriented (as with riding a bicycle). Verbal memories are usually forgotten more easily than are emotional memories or learned skills.
Doctors divide memory into short-term, involving recent events, and long-term, involving events in the more distant past. As we age, short-term memory tends to fade; recent events don't seem as important and we start repeating ourselves.
On the other hand, long-term memory seems to expand with age, resulting in long storytelling, sometimes with elaborate embellishments. I recently published a collection of stories about my rock-and-roll days. My wife says the stories are great, but that things didn't necessarily happen quite the way I'd described them. Different people remember different things, in different ways.
Our doshic balance (mind body type) tends to play a role with our memory patterns. Vata-predominant folks learn quickly but tend to forget quickly also. They tend to be good crammers in school, but may have trouble with the final exam. Pitta people have selective memory. They are very practical and remember what is useful and forget that which is not. Kapha people may take three or four times to learn something, but once they've got it, they never forget. They tend to be good trivia players, remembering meaningless facts for years and years.
Ayurvedic texts describe three aspects of learning and memory:
- Dhi, the power of acquisition or learning
- Dhriti, the power of retention and processing and
- Smriti, the ability to recall.
Maharishi takes the idea of Smriti a step further. In his analysis of the pathogenesis of disease and suffering, he describes the phenomenon of Pragya-aparadh, the mistake of the intellect. At the level of the intellect, through our five senses, we get enchanted or drawn into the material outer world. We forget or become separated from the Samhita level of the universe: the unified field of creation, the source of healing and bliss. He recommends restoring the memory (Smriti) of Samhita — the wholeness value of life — through the regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique, and through correct daily routine, diet and herbs.
There are numerous scientific research studies on the benefit of regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique for learning, creativity, the ability to focus and both long- and short-term memory.
Nourishing the mind begins with a good daily routine. Wake up before the sun rises and start the day with an abhyanga, or ayurvedic oil massage. Abhyanga removes toxins from the body, stimulates the organs and enlivens the flow of intelligence in the body. By the time you finish your oil massage and bathe, your mind will feel energized and awake.
Abhyanga is especially helpful for relieving mental stress caused by an imbalance in Prana Vata (which is concerned with mental functions) and Vyana Vata (which is concerned with circulation). The skin is one of the seats of Vata. By massaging the skin with gentle pressure and warm herbalized oil you balance all five subdoshas of Vata.
The practice of yoga asanas also balances mind and body, as do the deep breathing exercises known as pranayama. The Transcendental Meditation® program and a light breakfast complete the ayurvedic morning routine.
During the day you can sip Worry Free Tea to help keep the connection between Dhi, Dhriti and Smriti open. Dehydration can make it hard to think clearly. Also, remember to breathe. The brain needs oxygen to do its job!
If you work in a building that is toxic or has poor ventilation, indoor plants can increase the oxygen level and cleanse the air of toxins. Take frequent breaks, going outside to breathe deeply and stretch if possible. Leave your desk for lunch and go outside to breathe fresh air. On the weekend, spend time outdoors to counteract the toxic effects of working indoors without sunshine and good air.
When you get home from work or school, begin your evening routine with asanas, pranayama and the Transcendental Meditation® program, followed by a light supper and pleasant, relaxing activity before an early bedtime.
Nourish the mind with intelligent foods! If you eat old, packaged, canned or frozen foods, the brain cells can't metabolize the food completely, creating ama. If ama increases over time, the more reactive toxin called amavisha can form. From the ayurvedic perspective, Alzheimer's is an amavisha condition, with loss of Smriti.
Ideally food should be fresh, cooked, organic, non-GMO and wholesome, prepared by someone who loves you. Avoid carbonated beverages, preservatives, junk food and leftovers. Include all six tastes, favoring the three that pacify whatever dosha you need to balance. You can do this easily by using the appropriate MAPI churna or spice mixture (Vata, Pitta and Kapha Churnas). Sit down to enjoy your meals with full attention, instead of distracting yourself with TV or reading.
Soaked walnuts, soaked almonds and sweet, juicy fruits are foods that are Medhya, or enlivening to the connection between Dhi, Dhriti and Smriti. Milk also is Medhya, as are ghee and freshly-made dark grape juice.
These foods supply the brain with intelligent, easily-digestible protein and glucose, the brain's basic fuel. To nourish the brain, it's important to combine the best quality glucose and protein together in a balanced way. You can soak nuts and seeds overnight (which makes them more digestible), rinse them thoroughly and then put them in a blender with soaked dates and raisins, cooked with their soaking water in milk that contains some butterfat. This provides a balance between glucose and protein. If you can't digest milk, add a little ghee to hot rice or almond milk for this brain boosting "date shake."
Panir (a fresh cheese made from milk), lentils, dhal and other split beans and peas are also excellent sources of protein for the brain. As they are heavier, they should be cooked with spices to make them more easily digestible. Four common spices help nourish the brain and fortify it against stress. Turmeric has been found to help prevent Alzheimer's and other degenerative brain diseases. Black pepper enhances the ability to absorb more nutrients from food. Black pepper also has the property of increasing Medhya agni, the digestive principle in the gap between Dhi, Dhriti and Smriti, which enhances the transformation of thought. Cumin opens the shrotas (channels) of the brain. Ginger helps the brain absorb nutrients by purifying the digestive tract. Lightly sauté spices in ghee or olive oil to increase the bioavailability of the fat-soluble portion of the spices, especially important to the nervous system.
If you are a parent and want information about helping your children or grandchildren to have a good daily routine, you can read the new book, Super Healthy Kids: A Parent's Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes, just released by MUM Press. This book teaches you how to give babies their daily oil massage and has many useful tips for real world parents who want their kids to have a balanced life. That means going to bed earlier than most of their classmates! Help your children avoid too much television, video games, computers and texting. Make a soothing ritual out of bath time and bedtime. Kids need to exercise at least 30-60 minutes each day. Other ayurvedic recommendations to brighten children's minds include having a tidy room and avoiding dark clothing and surroundings. As they get older, children can incorporate the Transcendental Meditation® technique, asanas and pranayama into their routine.
Elderly patients with memory problems need loving attention by family, friends and caregivers and a regular daily routine with an early bedtime. Regular asanas, pranayama and Transcendental Meditation® are wonderful, if they are able to do them. Regular exercise and bathing are important. Help them keep their living space neat and tidy. Avoid dark clothing. Encourage them to use an east or north entrance to their home and move the bed so that they sleep with their head to the east or the south. Increase creative mental gymnastics. Playing or listening to music revitalizes the mind: you can play Maharishi Gandharva Veda music, jazz, classical music (especially Mozart!) and familiar music that brings back pleasant memories.
Maharishi Ayurveda has a series of products for the mind that incorporate a class of herbs called Medhya Rasayanas. These include Brahmi (Gotu Kola) and Shankapushpi (Aloe Weed) and are known to nurture Dhi, Dhriti and Smriti individually as well as to aid coordination among them. Other brain enhancing herbs include Indian valerian, Shatavari, Ashwagandha, fennel and cardamom.
Mind Plus is a sweet, good-tasting liquid that supports long-term memory. Mind Flex enhances learning, retention and recall. Organic Youthful Mind improves mental functioning as one ages. Intelligence Plus, formerly known as Study Power, increases intelligence. For fortifying the mind against mental stress, take Worry Free tablets or Worry Free Tea. In a double blind study, 80% of patients with Generalized Anxiety Disorder no longer were anxious after three months of taking Worry Free tablets. Stress Free Mind supports natural resistance to stress and also increases alertness and mental sharpness while reducing anxiety and fatigue. As do all the MAPI products for the mind, it enhances Dhi, Dhriti and Smriti (learning, retention and long-term memory). Blissful Joy improves the coordination of heart and mind by balancing Sadhaka Pitta, the subdosha of Pitta that supports the emotions and is seated in the heart. Calcium Support contains pearl bhasma (powder) and a blend of ayurvedic herbs that help your body to absorb calcium from the foods you eat. Calcium helps nourish the brain and fortify it against stress.
Overuse or misuse of the mind creates an imbalance in Prana Vata, the subdosha of Vata involved with mental functions. When Prana gets disturbed, the coordination between Dhi, Dhriti and Smriti breaks down, causing mental stress.
When both Prana and Vyana Vata (the Vata subdosha that supports circulation) are disturbed, it affects the communication between the heart and the mind, creating an imbalance in Sadhaka Pitta. If Prana and Vyana Vata and Sadhaka Pitta are all out of balance, you might find yourself blaming others for your problems. But the real problem is the imbalance of the mental functions of Dhi, Dhriti and Smriti, and lack of coordination between the mind and heart.
If life doesn't seem blissful to you, that is an indication of Pragya-aparadh. Disease originates when the heart, mind or body loses connection with nature's intelligence and we lose the memory of bliss. Maharishi revived the ancient knowledge of ayurveda to help us regain our memory of wholeness (Samhita).
My new granddaughter, Ayla Rose, doesn't seem to have lost her memory of bliss! Maybe that's why ayurveda considers grandchildren to be rasayanas.
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.