Self-Care Guide: Mind
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Seven Keys to Unlock Your Brain Power
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there are three equally important aspects to mental performance: dhi — learning and comprehension, governed by Vata dosha; dhriti — processing and retention of knowledge, the realm of Pitta dosha; and smriti — memory or recall, controlled by Kapha dosha.
For the best mental performance and realization of the fullest mental potential, each of these three factors individually needs to be at its peak and, more important, the coordination among the three factors also needs to be optimal. The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians recommends paying attention to the three fundamental pillars of good health — diet, sleep and lifestyle — to achieve this state of mental wholeness and balance.
Here are some tips from The Council to help boost brainpower:
Eat pure, "intelligent" foods
According to ayurveda, it is very important to eat foods that are natural and pure for their full benefit to be absorbed by the body. When foods are as close to their state in nature as possible, that's when they deliver the most potent nutrition. Foods that have been genetically altered, processed or refined have much of their natural intelligence stripped from them. They disturb the intellect and the coordination among the three aspects of mental prowess.
Also taboo are foods that are canned or preserved with artificial additives and preservatives, or foods with artificial colors and flavors. Cooking with fresh, organic ingredients can take a little more time and effort. But your brain, and indeed your entire physiology, will thank you for it and repay the effort with accelerated performance.
Make shopping for food fun. Visit farmers' markets in your area for the freshest produce and to try exotic new vegetables and fruits. Or grow your own in season.
Maintain a supply of balanced nutrition
The recommended ayurvedic diet is vegetarian. Grains, beans and legumes provide nutrients for the brain. Be sure to include plenty of cooked leafy greens. Several helpings of fruit and vegetables are recommended. Sweet juicy fruits are excellent cleansers — they help flush toxins out of the body. Freshly-squeezed fruit juices deliver nutrients quickly to your mind and body.
Don't count fat out entirely — fat performs some essential functions in the body, including the brain. The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians recommends ghee, which is valued for its ability to transport the benefits of herbs and spices to the brain and to other parts of the body. Eat ghee in moderation. Include some dairy if you are not lactose-intolerant, such as whole organic milk and fresh yogurt. Almonds and walnuts are also excellent brain foods.
Cut down on "empty" junk foods and sugared drinks that interfere with the absorption of nutrients by the body. Sweet fruits, raisins and dates are a much better option when you need something sweet.
Spices are crucial additions to a brainpower-enhancing diet. Many spices enhance digestion and facilitate the clearing of toxins from the body. This means that the channels of the body, including those that serve the brain, will be clear. Black pepper in small quantities is particularly recommended for clearing the channels of the brain and promoting the free flow of oxygen to the brain.
Exposure to heavy metals such as lead and aluminum has been shown to be damaging for the brain. Also avoid alcohol and caffeine.
According to ayurveda, good eating habits are as important as what you eat. Sitting down to eat, focusing on the food rather than on work or other activities, and savoring the meal are important. Ice-cold drinks disrupt digestion and impair the assimilation of nutrients by the body, and should therefore be avoided.
Harness the power of antioxidants
The hundred billion cells in your brain continuously use oxygen to stoke the mental fire. But because the brain is such a heavy user of oxygen, it is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage. Free radicals — reactive oxygen-based chemicals that thrive on stress, pollution and chemicals in your food — can build up, damaging cells and brain function over time.
Antioxidants are therefore crucial for continued effective functioning of the brain. Recent research showed that blueberries are powerful brain food, primarily because of their antioxidant value. Amrit, the powerful broad-spectrum antioxidant from Maharishi Ayurveda, contains Amalaki (Amla), the Indian gooseberry, considered the richest natural source of vitamin C, along with a rich balance of other herbs. In published research, Amrit has been shown to be 1,000 times more potent as a free radical scavenger than vitamin C or E.
Isolating an active substance from a food or a plant and taking it in the form of a pill or a capsule can sometimes do more harm than good. For example, beta-carotene, an antioxidant, taken as a supplement, was shown in research to actually increase the risk of some forms of cancer. It is best to take your antioxidants the way nature intended — in foods, where they occur in a balanced form. Amrit is a natural potent mix of 38 whole herbs, fruits and spices — a balanced formulation that creates no potentially harmful side effects.
Use herbs and aromas to enhance mental potential
Ayurveda talks about a special class of herbs called medhya herbs — herbs especially useful for the mind. These herbs individually enhance learning, retention and recall and also promote the coordination among the three factors. They provide powerful nourishment for the brain.
Shankhapushpi or aloeweed (dwarf morning glory), the authentic brahmi or herpestis monniera and Indian pennywort or centella asiatica, also known as gotu kola, are some well-known ayurvedic herbs known to promote the health and functioning of the mind. Aloeweed, for example, enhances memory and problem-solving ability even under situations of day-to-day stress. Gotu kola is a memory-enhancer with vayasthapana, or age-inhibiting, qualities.
Synergistic formulas that contain not only these herbs but other supporting and balancing herbs such as Ashwagandha (Winter Cherry) to help boost resistance to stress are ideal, especially for individuals in high-stress job environments who need to be at the peak of their mental potential on a consistent basis.
Maharishi Ayurveda offers a wide range of mind supplements. Intelligence Plus (formerly Study Power) has been shown in research to increase intelligence. It is useful for anyone who has to learn new information. Mind Plus enhances problem-solving ability, and is available in syrup form for faster assimilation. Organic Youthful Mind helps maintain mental clarity and memory no matter what your age. Some essential oils are excellent aromatherapy for the mind. Try rosemary for mental clarity and alertness, or basil oil to help dispel mental fatigue and enhance your mind's innate ability to focus. Peppermint oil and lemon oil are also effective pick-me-ups for the mind.
Manage stress levels
We live in difficult times. Stress and anxiety, whether caused by time pressures or difficult work relationships or worrying about losing a job, can have a significant negative impact on mental performance. A calm mind, serene and centered in its equilibrium, is unquestionably superior in terms of focus, attention span, retention of knowledge and problem-solving ability. It is important to manage stress before it becomes a severe problem, because stress has been known to damage or destroy brain cells, and many prescription pills for anxiety can have side effects that can further erode mental performance.
Planning tasks ahead and managing timelines, taking occasional short (even five minute) breaks during periods of intense mental activity, and maintaining a healthy balance between work and relaxation can all help. The Transcendental Meditation® technique, practiced twice a day for 20 minutes, has been shown to be extremely effective for managing stress. Listening to relaxing music; diffusing aromas that help relax you, such as sandalwood or lavender; or a quiet evening stroll, alone or with a nurturing companion, can all help balance the mind and emotions.
The daily morning ayurvedic self-massage (abhyanga) is excellent for both mind and body. It is a cleansing, toning, rejuvenating experience that can charge you up to meet a full day head-on.
Get adequate, quality sleep
Related to stress is the other plague of modern society — lack of deep, restful sleep. Along with diet and lifestyle, sleep is a fundamental pillar of ayurveda. Optimal physical and mental performance is impossible if all three of these factors are not addressed.
Getting eight hours of sleep is less important than striving for quality sleep, which, according to ayurveda, occurs when the mind is totally disconnected from the senses. Quality sleep recharges and rejuvenates the mind, improving both short-term and long-term mental prowess. How much or how little you need is an individual matter — go by what your body and mind tell you.
The Council of Maharishi Ayurveda Physicians advises a daily warm oil full-body massage to increase stamina during the day and promote quality sleep at night. Cutting down on stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol and nicotine; making work-related materials taboo in the bedroom; and winding down the evening with calming activities, instead of stimulating ones, to help prepare the mind for restful sleep, are key to getting your zzz's. Aromatherapy can also help — try a blend of lavender, chamomile, jasmine and sweet orange, or just plain lavender. The Slumber Time Tea and Aroma Oil can help you ease into restful sleep.
Use it or lose it!
No matter what your age or your occupation, your brain needs to be constantly challenged to be at its peak in terms of performance. Whether it's doing logic puzzles, memorizing lines from Shakespeare, or learning a new skill, keep your brain busy if you don't want it to rust away like a car in a junkyard.
Shop by Health Goal: Mind System
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.