As summer ends and kids go back to school, it’s a good time to boost your brain power. Here are six ways to get back on track.
It has long been known that eating lots of fruits and vegetables is good for you. In recent years, research has focused on phytochemicals, the biologically active compounds naturally found in plants that have a positive impact on your health.
Foods that boost memory are walnuts, cashews, sunflower seeds, almonds, turmeric, and blueberries, to name a few. Walnuts contain polyunsaturated, omega-3 fatty acids that are good for the brain and have been shown to aid brain development in infants.
Researchers at UCLA found that curcumin in turmeric protects the brain against plaques in the synapses of rats, indicating the plaques found in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients also respond to turmeric. Interestingly enough, India, a country where turmeric is widely used, has very little Alzheimer’s disease.
Black pepper has also been shown to enhance the power of memory. An easy way to include these spices in your diet is to sauté Worry Free Spice Mixture or Vata, Pitta or Kapha Churna in ghee and add it to your cooked vegetables.
A 1999 Tufts University study of 40 fruits and vegetables found that raw blueberries contained the highest level of antioxidants. Animals fed a blueberry extract diet outperformed other animals in memory tests, and showed less degeneration of motor skills due to aging.
To gain the most memory power from food, eat a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet, along with healthy proteins such as walnuts, almonds, milk, panir (a fresh cheese made from milk) and split beans and pulses.
2. Enliven Memory with Herbs
Phytochemicals are even more concentrated in herbs. Ayurvedic herbs that are traditionally known to improve memory are Brahmi and Gotu Kola. Brahmi and Gotu Kola are medhya herbs, which means that they improve the coordination between dhi (learning), dhriti (retention) and smriti (long-term memory). Shankapushpi is another medhya herb that is revered in the ayurvedic tradition.
Worry Free and Stress Free Mind both contain these herbs. Worry Free helps reduce mental anxiety while at the same time making the mind clearer. This is an extraordinary combination–to simultaneously relax the mind and sharpen the memory. Stress Free Mind has a similar effect as Worry Free, only stronger. If you are experiencing some unusual mental stress, such as exams or starting a new job, or if you have tried Worry Free but need even more support, try Stress Free Mind.
While modern researchers usually extract the active ingredients from plants and put them in pill form, recent studies show that the whole plants contain a synergistic combination of phytochemicals. For instance, a study reported in Nature found that eating 100 grams of fresh apple with skins provided the total antioxidant activity equal to 1,500 milligrams of isolated vitamin C. A single carrot contains more than 100 phytochemicals, which would not be available in a pill that only contained isolated beta-carotene.
This finding verifies what Maharishi Ayurveda has known for thousands of years–the benefit comes from using the whole plant, not just an isolated ingredient. By including the whole herb or fruit, M.A.P.I. herbal formulas are safer and much more effective.
3. Say Yes to Good Fats
In the past 20 years we have been told over and over that fat is bad for you. Not only is this fat-free diet impossible to sustain for more than a week, it is actually damaging to the brain and body. Fat is necessary for memory to function.
It is important is to eat high-quality fats. The brain can only use the most intelligent of foods. Maharishi Ayurveda recommends ghee, which contains brain-healthy Omega 3 fatty acids and other good fats. It is not only medhya, nourishing to the mind and memory, but is called smritida, which means memory-giving.
Olive oil is a healthy monounsaturated fat that is also nourishing to the brain. Olive oil should never be heated to high temperatures, as that destroys its beneficial qualities.
Fats to avoid: hydrogenated fats, which raise bad cholesterol, are found in most packaged foods today and are not digestible by the body; polyunsaturated fats such as corn oil or safflower oil as these are unstable and create excessive free radicals; and canola oil, which is often genetically engineered and should only be eaten if organic.
4. Be Sure to Get Your Zzzzzs
Exciting new research shows that sleep improves memory. In fact, it is while the brain is sleeping that it works the hardest–rehearing newly learned information, storing memory files, converting information to long-term memory.
In one Canada study, students who slept the night before the exam significantly out-performed students who stayed awake and crammed. So important is sleep that researchers at Harvard Medical School now suggest that after learning a new skill, it’s best to sleep on it. Sleeping for six to eight hours after learning apparently helps the brain transfer new skills and information to its permanent memory banks.
5. Exercise and Breathe Deeply
While a good night’s sleep helps us retain what we learn, it’s equally important to get physical exercise during the day. Exercise oxygenates the brain and sharpens memory. If you’ve ever sat around for a day or two with very little activity, you’ve probably noticed that your brain turns into a wet noodle.
Exercise also helps us to breathe deeply, which is another way to oxygenate brain cells and flush out toxins. You can stop and take deep breaths throughout the day, or practice Vedic breathing exercises called Pranayama to re-charge your memory.
Like all recommendations from Maharishi Ayurveda, how much exercise you do depends on your constitution and imbalances. Kapha types, especially, need more intense exercise than others to keep their mind and body at peak performance. For most people, a brisk walk once a day is a good place to start. Breathe through your nose to direct the oxygen to your brain. Always stay in your comfort zone, stopping or slowing down when you feel the need to breathe through your mouth, or start to sweat on your forehead or tip of your nose.
Yoga asanas are an excellent way to tone the memory. These gentle stretches direct the blood to the brain and cleanse the organs and channels of toxins, helping to increase communication between the mind and body.
6. Exercise Your Mind, Too
We all know that when it comes to muscles, you have to use it or lose it. This is equally true of the brain.
According to Maharishi Ayurveda, there are three causes of memory problems: overuse (such as working too long hours), misuse (such as doing mental work that is too difficult, or that we feel is morally wrong), and underuse. Underuse means never stimulating your mind with meaningful activities.
If your job doesn’t involve much mental work, or is boring to you, it’s especially important that you spend some of your free time each day exercising your memory and brain. Take a course at your local college, read a good book, write in your journal, practice memorizing poetry or your favorite sayings, practice playing a musical instrument or learn to sing some new songs.
By stimulating new areas of the brain, you’ll enliven new brain connections and spark your memory skills. And you just might prolong your life, as well. It turns out that people who are mentally active live longer and enjoy life more, too.
Photos by Linda Egenes