Spring Term 2014

Welcome back!

The winter holiday started as always with a rush to get everything done before Christmas.

I often try to get away at this time of year because I find the crowds and traffic quite stressful and ideally prefer to go somewhere quiet and peaceful.

After Christmas things gradually calm down and it can be a nice time to reflect on the year that is coming to an end and the new one that is beginning. Moving from one year into the next in some ways reminds me of moving home. It is important to think about what to take with you and what to shed or throw out.

I like to use this time also to plan for the new term and think about what we have done so far and what we need to focus on in our quest for a holistic Yoga experience.

Taking a break from teaching even for just a few weeks gives me the time to think about the questions that have been asked in class and the health concerns that some of you have expressed confidentially in private discussions or emails.

 It always strikes me that whilst our emphasis in class is in recognising the physical hurdles that we face and finding creative ways to achieve empathetic solutions to attain balance, we can sometimes neglect some of the psychological and spiritual contributions that Yoga offers to achieve integral health.

In recent months I have heard from several members of the class that they are concerned about their memory and ability to retain and recall information. These concerns have led me to do some reading and studies on memory and to link some of the latest research with the Yogic perspective and management of the mind.


Many of the meditative practices of Yoga not only offer effective ways of managing stress but are also being increasingly used to facilitate learning and improve memory function.

It is common to associate difficulties with memory and recall with older people and yet there are many younger people who struggle to remember information when learning new skills and taking exams.

It seems we could all use some of the wisdom of Yoga to overcome these problems.

Memory and Learning are the most intensively studied subjects in the field of neuroscience.

Without memory we are capable of nothing but simple reflexes and stereotypical behaviours.

Our ability to carry out the simplest tasks from beginning to end requires short-term memory, which gives us cohesion. Without that cohesive quality we would get distracted and forget what we set out to achieve.

Without wishing to produce an academic document it can be helpful to know that studies show that there are many different kinds of memory.

Some memories such as those concerning events and facts are available to our consciousness these are often referred to as “declarative memory” whilst another type of memory known as “procedural memory” which is the memory we use to perform a previously learnt skill is more often unconscious.

Yoga embraces scientific knowledge and is forever evolving as we ourselves evolve so it is important to extract what is helpful from the research and findings of the scientists whilst still maintaining a holistic perspective on things.

So whilst the scientists are looking at the different areas of the brain that are used to create and recall memory, the yogic approach would be to look at the interconnectedness of the different areas of the brain and how they work together.

In “procedural memory” activities for example, the Yogic concept of Mindfulness requires that we bring consciousness into our unconscious activities and thus perform a previously learnt skill with attention and enquiry as to how we might perform that skill differently.

Knowing how we as individuals access memories and which of our senses are more likely to help us is important.

The senses provide us with direct links to memory, as many of us are aware of how a scent or a taste will conjure up memories of events and places from our past.

Mental exercise and attention, physical exercise and diet are all well documented in maintaining mental health.

I think most of us are very aware of how diet affects our mental health.

 It is no surprise to know that diet affects how our brains perform.

A diet rich in anti-oxidants is essential to the healthy functioning of the brain.

Vitamin A and beta-carotene: Carrots, spinach, winter squash, and beetroot.

Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, broccoli, berries, tomatoes…

Vitamin E: Nuts, seeds, vegetable oil and wheat germ…

Oily fish contains the polyunsaturated fatty acid DHA that is known to increase IQ.

Vegetarians may wish to consider supplementing Omega 3 also contained in fish and, which open up new communication centres in the brain’s neurons.

Managing and reducing stress in our lives will also directly influence our cognitive abilities.

It is now known that stress impairs cognitive skills and memory.

The stress hormones cortisol and especially corticotrophin disrupts how our brains collect and store memories.

Increased CRH (corticotrophin releasing hormone) production has been observed to be associated with Alzheimer's disease and major depression.

Though long-term stress impairs learning, memory and other cognitive skills, its effects are greatly reduced when we use effective stress management techniques.

In class we employ these techniques throughout our practices in differing ways.

The Yoga Nidra practice at the end of class has been found to produce some of the benefits of sound sleep. Research carried out by the Yoga Biomedical Trust into the brain waves produced during Yoga Nidra and Meditation found similarities in brain wave patterns with deep sleep.

It is thought that sleep plays an important role in memory consolidation, especially the deep, slow wave (non-REM) sleep.

Researchers have identified three stages of memory: stabilization, consolidation and re-consolidation. Stabilization occurs when the memory is being stored, somewhat like saving a document on your hard drive. Consolidation occurs during sleep and is the editing that takes place so that the memory is compacted into its basic components and this is similar to defragmenting your computer.

It has also been suspected that neuronal connections are remodelled during sleep, allowing new pathways to connect up to different areas of the brain when damage has occurred.

If we understand some of these facts, we can begin to appreciate the value of some of the Yoga practices.

I know most of you love Yoga Nidra and with increased knowledge of the benefits relating to memory I intend to include it at the end of each class. (Hopefully the heating will behave this term).

I will also prepare a recording of a Yoga Nidra session for you to download from the website’s media audio section.

During the term I will also introduce some ideas and practices for improving memory, which will hopefully be beneficial for you all, and as always I would love it if you provide some insights and experiences to share for the benefit of all.

Please remember that learning is a two way process and I am learning from you all, just as I hope you are learning from the experience of the classes.

The website format has changed and is much easier for me to update and for you to post your views and comments.

In the past we had to block new posts because people were using the forum for marketing purposes with little interest in Yoga.

The new format means anyone can comment provided they can be legitimately identified and have a Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail account, so please feel free to join in.

As always I am always available for you to discuss your concerns at the start and end of class and by email. (See contact details on website)

I will post up any thoughts that may be helpful in those discussions.

May I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy, Healthy and Joyful New Year from us all at Agewellyoga.

Hari Om


Published by liz on Thursday, 2 January 2014, last updated on Sunday, 3 January 2016 at 3:51PM
Categories: yoga times archive

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