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The Benefits of Yoga & Meditation



New research has shown that both yoga and meditation are more effective at boosting the memory than brain training games, such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku.  Scientists tested 25 people aged 55 years and older who had memory problems.  The participants were divided into two groups, 11 of them were given intense brain training sessions for an hour each week, and the other 14 practiced Kundalini yoga once a week and did a Kirtan Kriya style of meditation daily for twenty minutes.  This type of yoga originated in India hundreds of years ago.  It incorporates chanting, visualisation of light and various hand moments.  After 12 weeks there were comparable improvements in the two groups of volunteers in their verbal memory abilities.  However, the group who had meditated and performed yoga were calmer with a brighter mood, and their visual/spatial memory was substantially better than the other group. 

“Historically and anecdotally, yoga has been thought to be beneficial in ageing well, but this is the scientific demonstration of that benefit. We’re converting historical wisdom into the high level of evidence required for doctors to recommend therapy to their patients.” said lead researcher Harris Eyre, from the University of Adelaide in Australia.  US co-author Prof Helen Lavretsky, from the University of California at Los Angeles said “When you have memory loss, you can get quite anxious about that and it can lead to depression.” “If you or your relatives are trying to improve your memory or offset the risk for developing memory loss or dementia, a regular practice of yoga and meditation could be a simple, safe and low-cost solution to improving your brain fitness.”

Lecturers in neuroscience, neuropharmacology, neuropsychiatry and physiology in Trinity College, Dublin are exploring the different aspects of memory function this week.

Shane O’Mara, professor of experimental brain research, showed people items such as a €20 note and the Apple logo, and the majority of people failed to recognise these every day images. He said “This is just to show that our memories are fragile and attention saturation and learned irrelevance are factors. A feeling of familiarity is not the same as actually memorising something”. He added that “exposure to information doesn’t ensure learning”. Memorising information occurs by encoding, consolidating, and retrieving it. “Re-reading text and practising a skill or new knowledge are the preferred study practices, yet retrieval has a greater effect on learning than either encoding or consolidation.” “We all know this intuitively but studies show it too, so pulling an all-night study session is not as good as doing shorter bouts of study with breaks.”

“Education, mental stimulation, diet and social engagement are all important factors but it has now been found that physical activity has a profound effect on memory,” he said.

Dr Sabina Brennan, research assistant professor at the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience, spoke about dementia and what people can do to improve their brain.  She showed short animated films about the erroneous beliefs regarding dementia, and advised people to interact with those suffering from it. She said “There is a false belief that nothing can be done to reduce the risk of dementia and that memory is a unitary function. It’s important to remember that someone with dementia will still have emotional memory. Even if they forget your name, they still are happy to see you and will remember it on some level”.

Dr Brennan plans to create two new films and promote a social media awareness campaign regarding the role of the carer looking after the dementia sufferer.

Michael Rowan, professor of neuro-pharmacy said that clinical trials are continuously been carried out in order to discover a cure for the disease. He said that some ways of diagnosing dementia could be by noticing brain changes with MRI scans and testing the level of antibodies in the blood.

“There are ongoing clinical trials to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease but it’s at a very preliminary stage,” he said.


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