I was not surprised when I recently read the New York Times article, “Yoga May be Good for the Brain.” Gretchen Reynolds highlighted a newsworthy UCLA study touting the possible mental rewards of a meditation that I routinely teach to my clients and yoga students. I became a Kundalini Yoga and Meditation teacher because the practice is experiential and participants often feel the immediate benefits of the exercises. For instance, an elevation in mood or greater mental clarity. With functional MRIs science can now reinforce what yogis have been advocating for hundreds of years.
The study tested two groups. One group used a respected memory enhancing program that included a weekly 1 hour class and 15 minutes a day of home exercises. The second group attended a weekly 1 hour yoga class and practiced a 15 minute meditation called the Kirtan Kriya every day. Each study took the same amount of time. Brains scans of the 29 middle-aged participants were taken before and after the study. All the participants suffered from a “mild cognitive impairment” that might be an indicator for dementia. The study found that the participants who had engaged in yoga met or surpassed the recorded attributes of the other memory training program. Specifically the yoga group reported improved mood and ranked higher in memory skills.
The Kirtan Kriya holds a special place in my heart because it is effective and simple. It is the perfect meditation for beginners or those with a restless mind— pretty much all of us. Children particularly enjoy this meditation. Singing the sounds together, for instance, when buckling the carseat can help calm them down. Sometimes while waiting in line at the market I will silently say the meditation syllable sounds and discreetly dance the finger movements. I feel more relaxed when I do this. It turns out I might be giving my brain a mental boost too.
The Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, which contributed funding for this study, recommends the Kirtan Kriya meditation to decrease stress and strengthen your brain and your memory. Many of us know how devastating it can be if a loved one suffers from memory loss. This meditation might be able to help improve mental acumen.
As well as being a Kundalini Yoga and Meditation teacher, I’m also a licensed marriage and family therapist. Yogis also advocate doing this meditation with your partner if you are having a difficult time communicating. Try sitting back to back, spine to spine, with your partner and follow the directions below. I also included a Kirtan Kriya video for your reference and to share with your family and friends. Let me know what you experience from practicing the meditation.
- Begin in a seated position in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Place your hands, palms facing up, on your knees. Your eyes will be closed. Your attention is a L shape. Imagine the sound you make coming down from the top of your head and out from the point between the eyebrows, your third eye.
- Bring the tips of your thumb and index finger together as you say Sa. Extending the aaaa sound at the end.
- Bring the tips of your thumb and middle finger together as you say Ta (Taaaaah).
- Bring the tips of your thumb and ring finger together as you say Na (Naaaaah).
- Bring the tips of your pinky and thumb together as you say Ma (Maaaaah).
- Always start the finger pattern connecting the thumb and index finger. Say the syllable sounds out loud for 2 minutes, then in a whisper for 2 minutes, then silently to yourself for 4 minutes, then a whisper for 2 minutes and then speaking the syllable sounds for 2 minutes for a total of 12 minutes. (Insight Timer is a great meditation app to create timed intervals).
- At the end inhale and stretch your arms overhead. Exhale and allow the hands to again rest gently on the knees for a breath. Relax, and notice how you feel.