It is so interesting to note that today you don’t need to remember a lot of important stuff—computers, smart phones, Alexa, Google, and all that modern technology do most of that work for us. Humans in ancient cultures relied on their brain not only to store and retrieve important information needed for learning, action, and daily living, but they were known to have an almost eidetic memory, needed for passing on oral traditions, knowledge of life, and literary culture. Thanks to all this technology created to improve human functionality—we need to make an additional effort to retain more and exercise our memory.
You might be surprised to learn that the ancient classical texts of Ayurveda, a 5000-year-old healing system, dive deeply into the science of memory and memory enhancement.
Why do we need good memory?
Wouldn’t it make you happy to remember recipes and songs that only your grandma knew or stories that were told in your household when you were a child? These are details you cannot Google, you can only access them in your memory. Apart from this, good memory also helps you focus and learn better and faster. You also need memory
- To be fully creative in any pursuit
- For learning and focus in a rather distracted world
- To be able to think, analyze, come up with opinions, you need information stored in your memory to work with
- Good memory nourishes your understanding of things
- Because not everything important is a click away.
Why do we not remember enough?
Ayurveda mentions the following as the most important functions of the mind: Buddhi (intellect), Dhi (perception), Dhriti (retention), and Smriti (memory). Apart from not practicing to commit a lot of information to memory, some other reasons why our memory remains foggy and full of missing pieces are
- Not enough nutrients reaching the brain
- Use of certain medications, drugs, and intoxicants
- Addiction and lack of prana
- Build-up of stress and emotional toxins in the mind
- Age; can be a natural cause of weak memory, also known as age-associated memory impairment
- Aggravated kapha; can lead to dullness in the mind and inability to retain information
- Vitiated vata; can cause restlessness and attention deficit hindering memory function.
Herbs to Aid Memory
Ayurveda recommends specific herbs that can aid memory and improve overall brain function and sharpen the intellect.
Brahmi (Bacopa monniera). Ayurveda recommends Brahmi as a brain tonic for its rejuvenating properties for the brain. It is not toxic and suits every body constitution. Some of its benefits include
- Used for treating learning disabilities and improve cognitive function
- Reduces stress, which translates to better focus and a clear mind that naturally helps you remember better
- Counters and delays the onset of age-related disorders like dementia and Alzheimer’s disease
- Enhances memory in children
- Useful in the treatment of epilepsy and seizures
- Can also be used for improving memory and retention in general.
Medhya Rasayana. One of the most popular Ayurvedic formulations, it’s made to improve medha (intelligence or mental faculty), using eight essential herbs—Brahmi, Shankh Pushpi, Vacha, Jatamansi, Guduchi, Ashwagandha, Shatavari, and Yashtimadhu. The collective benefits of these herbs are remarkable. Medhya Rasayana works on balancing all the three doshas involved in brain function. For example, pitta dosha is known to maintain intelligence, and sadhak pitta is what helps you discriminate right from wrong. Kapha dosha governs bodily intelligence and stability. Prana vata and vata dosha in general are responsible for intellectual function including memory and understanding.
Studies show, the herbs improve learning by
- Managing the dopamine levels in the system
- Reducing stress to aid in better concentration
- Increasing antioxidant action in the body
- Aiding in better sleep
- Helping to overcome anxiety
- Shankhapushpi present in the rasayana, is specifically useful in boosting memory, calming the mind, and reducing worry and anxiety. It also helps improve the circadian rhythm that is needed for the brain to function better.
Multiple studies have concluded that roots of ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) have constituents like Withanoside IV that help manage symptoms of degenerative neurological disorders by reducing memory impairment, managing neural pathways and synaptic loss in the cerebral cortex in the brain. Synaptic loss may interrupt neural communication. It helps regenerate axons and dendrites that wear out in patients with neurodegenerative diseases and so prevent the development of the symptoms.
If you are used to cold, sugary, carb-only meals and snacks and only occasionally eating well, it is likely that you are not getting the complete nutrition you need to be an ace memory keeper. You need some course correction at this point. Start by shifting to a high-protein breakfast; a lunch consisting of whole grains, greens, and fresh fruits; and end the day with a light dinner that can include soups, broths, and some cottage cheese.
The ideal diet may change based on your Prakruti, but having a diet that is light to digest, fresh, and cleanses your system well can help improve digestive fire, which is related to medha or intelligence, in Ayurveda. In general,
- Avoid cheese and meats; they can cause kapha imbalance
- Incorporate more carrots and beetroots in your diet; they are loaded in B vitamins.
- Cut down on (or eliminate!) sugars, carbohydrates, prepackaged foods. Elevated glucose in the bloodstream can compromise cognitive function and affect memory. Not just that, the dopamine hits you get from eating sugary foods can lead to sugar dependence; you will need more and more sugar to satisfy the previous levels of craving for sweets, leading to a vicious loop.
- Opt for occasional fasting, if your body permits. It helps de-clog the body systems of the toxic built-up and improves digestive fire.
Regular Abhyanga (warm oil massage) helps bring vata dosha, which is responsible for all mental functions, into balance. Warm oil massages for the scalp accompanied with shirodhara can help deeply calm the mind and balance the doshas.
Any asanas you choose should be new and slightly challenging. Sun salutations help improve the supply of blood to various parts of the body and brain. Inverted poses like the camel pose, plow pose, shoulder stands, and head stands are also good for increasing blood flow to the brain. Taking brisk walks every evening are also incredibly useful in memory enhancement and better circulation, apart from reducing stress and filing your lungs with more oxygen.
Try this for an experiment—when you are trying to remember something hard, it is bound to escape your mind. Once you relax, and let go of the obsession of trying to remember the specific thing, you will find that out of nowhere you will recall the information you were seeking to remember.
According to preliminary studies, meditation is known to help reverse memory loss in senior patients, with regular practice.
Another UCLA study showed, meditation helped preserve brains better, as we aged, by increasing the grey matter volume. And a Harvard study found that practicing meditation for 8 weeks could actually change the structure of the brain. It helped increase cortical thickness in part of the brain responsible for memory and learning- the hippocampus.
Meditation is a way to take a mini-vacation from all of life’s stressors and your personal responsibilities. It is a way to get in touch with your purest essence and be fully present. Your mind has the ability to observe your thoughts and emotions. Simply observing your thinking without judgment gives you the space to practice compassion and brings a clear, quiet mind. Finding a bit of peace each day will give your nervous system a rest.
Home Remedies for Better Memory
- Soak 7–8 almonds every water overnight (this helps the nutrients be easily absorbed by the body). The next morning you can eat them alone on an empty stomach or blend them with milk.
- A few drops of almond oil in the nose, can lubricate nasal channels, help you sleep better, and aid memory.
- Drinking a cup of ash gourd juice every morning is a lesser-known memory-booster.
- Adding black sesame to your salads and veggies can also go a long way in improving brain function.