This is the ninth of a series of articles on how to practise yoga, in consultation with Ayurvedic and Yoga Consultant Dr Pushpika Attanayake. This week’s discussion is on utilizing the benefits of yoga for improvement of memory and concentration.
There can be many causes for memory loss. One of the common causes is chronic stress where, over time brain loses cells and finds it difficult to create neurons. “Sleep deprivation, depression, nutritional deficiency, age, use of alcohol, tobacco, drugs and some diseases, as well as medications, result in memory-loss and difficulty in concentration,” says Dr. Attanayake.
Yoga stimulates both mind and body and thus improves the overall memory power and concentration. “The practice of concentration is referred to as Dharana. This is the process of focusing the mind on a single point, without letting it run free. Dharana, in turn reduces stress and promotes memory functions.” However, beginners should consult a yoga specialist before carrying out these postures.
Full yogic breathing Pranayama helps focus your mind on the breathing pattern as you inhale and exhale. This helps increase the oxygen flow to the body, which in turn improves concentration and focus. It corrects the breathing pattern which contributes to improving the oxygen flow to the brain. In addition, it clears any blockages in the system and helps to restore the energy flow so the prana or the life energy flows freely through the system. This deeply nourishes the brain and thus helps improve concentration and memory.
1. Sit in any meditative posture or comfortable position or sit on a chair.
2. Close eyes and relax the whole body. Focus on your breath and allow the breathing to become slow and rhythmic.
3. Exhale completely and empty the lungs.
4. Start inhaling slowly with awareness through both nostrils with the glottis partially closed. Due to this partial closure of the glottis, air flows in and out with friction thereby creating a sound in the throat which is similar to hissing of a snake.
5. After completing the slow inhalation, look at the tip of the nose with both eyes (nasika mudra) and close the right nostril with the thumb and exhale through the left nostril very slowly making the same hissing sound. Exhalation should be longer than inhalation. Please note that inhalation is through both the nostrils and exhalation should be through the left nostril only. Maintain the hissing sound at the throat while inhalation and exhalation. Inhalation and exhalation should be long, slow and continuous.
6. This is one round. Practise for nine more rounds.
This breathing exercise helps relieve insomnia and calms the mind. It also regulates the metabolic rate and improves concentration.
“This asana boosts the function of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, and improves functions of brain and spine by increasing blood flow to the scalp and brain. This pose has been clinically observed to promote vitality, as well as increase memory and IQ,” says Dr Attanayake.
1. Lie on the ground, with the arms stretched above the head.
2. Raise both legs together slowly, without bending at knees to form a 45 -degree angle with the ground.
3. Then, raise legs up to 90 degrees.
4. Now raise the buttocks and the trunk, taking support of arms and elbows. Do not lift the head. Rest the elbows on the ground firmly and support the back with both palms. Straighten the trunk with the hands till the chin is well set. Bring the legs parallel to the ground.
5. Keep the body erect, stretching it up vertically supporting on the shoulders. Do not stress. Hold the position up to three minutes. Avoid jerks and keep the head on the ground.
6. Return to 1 thorough 5 to 2.
“This posture helps utilize all areas of the lungs in a balanced and controlled manner, while energizing whole body with healing pranic energy.”
1. Sit in Vajrasana.
2. Keep a distance of one arm between the knees and lean forward. Press the palms on the ground and stand on your knees. Keep the arms and thighs straight and firmly on the ground.
3. While inhaling, see that your spine is in a concave shape and at the same time raise the head and look up.
4. While exhaling, arch the spine upwards and slowly bend the head down. Try to bring the chin closer to the chest.
5. Repeat for five rounds.
People with severe back problems, injury in hips and knees should avoid this.
Urdhva prasarita padasana
This pose boosts circulation of blood from heart to head.
1. First, lie on your back, either with your arms raised above you alongside your ears or down along the sides of your body.
2. Now tighten the core muscles of your abdomen. Draw the navel down to the spine and press the sides of your waist down to the floor.
3. Exhale slowly as you raise both your legs off the floor.
4. While doing this make sure that your spine is straight and pressed down on the floor.
5. Swing your legs up to a vertical position
6. Stretch through your inner thighs and toes and hold the pose at this stage.
7. Slowly lower your legs about a third way down. Hold on to the pose. At this point your lower back may come off the floor slightly. This is normal and acceptable.
8. Now lower your legs few inches off the floor and continue to be in this pose for a few seconds.
9. Depending on your abdominal strength, you can then either swing your legs back up to vertical immediately or rest them on the floor for a few seconds before repeating the exercise.
10. As a beginner, you can hold each stage of the pose for five to ten seconds. Gradually build up the time in ten second increments until you can hold each stage for a minute. Also in the beginning, it is possible to use the support of a wall to practise this pose. Try extending one leg at a time with the other bent at the knee and on the floor.
Dr. Attanayake advises not to practise this position if you suffer from lower back injuries, back pain, if you are pregnant or in the event that you are menstruating.