Yoga and Yogic Practice for Increasing Memory Retention and Improving Concentration
Yogic Practice: One of the powers that ancient ascetics gained through the practice of yoga was impressive mental capacity. They had unbelievable memory, cognition, perception, intuition, intelligence, will, concentration and awareness. They had heightened senses and reflexes. Moreover, they were capable of manipulating their faculties to be able to forego food, sleep and thirst for days. They could effectively channel their energies for specific effects. Most of these were a result of rigorous yogic practices. Some people even go far enough to claim established yogis had powers of levitation, telekinesis and energy kinesis.
While these are myths whose truth is hard to verify, we cannot deny that yoga can greatly enhance the mental faculties of anyone who practises it correctly. Anyone who practises yoga religiously will notice a positive effect on memory retention and concentration. Here, we will be discussing some practices that directly or indirectly help to enhance memory and concentration abilities.
Asanas are great ways to stimulate your brain in various ways through Yogic Practice. There are two kinds of asanas that mainly aid in memory retention and concentration. The first is the inversion poses. These poses somehow invert the usual alignment of the body, causing the head to be proximal to the ground. This results in increased blood flow to the brain that reinvigorates it. Some examples are the Sirsasana, Adho Mukha Svanasana, Sarvangasana, Halasana, Uttanasana, Padahastasana and Chakrasana.
The other category involves asanas that stretch the spine. The spinal movements fire up the sensory nerves to work in one direction only and help to produce focus and calm the mind. They also remove exhaustion and help bring balance in your body and mind. Examples are Vrikshasana, Tadasana, Paschimottanasana and Padmasana.
The main purpose of pranayama breathing techniques in Yogic Practice is to clear the nadis and guide the prana through the nadis to activate the chakras. When this happens unhindered, it stimulated the flow of energy through the Ida and Pingala nadis. This, in turn, activates the kundalini energy and helps it rise through the Sushumna nadi to the crown chakra or Sahasrara. This is the highest point in our body physically and energetically, which is the top of the head. Because of this phenomenon, enlightenment and transcendence occur. Needless to say, it has a part in activating dormant centres in the brain and nervous system, as the chakras and Sushumna lie on the spine.
Physiologically, they help to increase blood circulation and oxygen content in the body. As a result, brain activity increases. Bhramari pranayama, Bhastrika pranayama, Anulom Vilom or Nadi Shodhana, Kumbhaka and Ujjayi pranayama are some of these breathing techniques.
Kriyas and Bandhas
Kriyas and bandhas, along with pranayama and mudras in Yogic Practice, serve the purpose of redirection of life forces like prana, kundalini, bindu and amrta. All these primarily or secondarily help in the augmentation of neural activities. Of the six main kriyas, the two that are related to memory retention and concentration are the Kapalbhati and Trataka kriyas. Kapalbhati literally means “skull shining”. It helps in frontal brain stimulation. As many might know, the frontal brain plays a huge role in memory retention and the pre-frontal lobes in concentration. The Trataka kriya is designed to boost focus, as you have to concentrate at a point. One version of this is dhristi, the practice of looking at one point when performing asanas. Besides these, a minor kriya that you can use is the Agnisar kriya. Among the many benefits of Agnisar kriya are increased blood flow and alleviation of sleepiness, which helps one focus.
Similarly, the Uddiyana bandha helps stretch the diaphragm and increase lung capacity in conjunction with the Jalandhara bandha. Increased lung capacity and optimized oxygen absorption mean greater oxygen content in the body. As we mentioned before, this proportionally also means greater oxygen for the brain. In yogic principles, each of the bandhas is necessary to prevent the escape of the prana. Thus, they play a role in mental stimulation.
Meditation and Chanting
Yoga and meditation go hand in hand. Meditation directly forces you to focus your mind, get rid of distractions and calm a disturbed inner state. In other words, meditation helps you to look inside yourself and forget about the outside world. Now one of the major reasons for lack of memory retention is a diverted mind that tries to absorb as many stimuli as possible. Hence, the actual object you need to retain often gets lost in the process of reacting to every other thing. Practising will help you focus only on the object you need to, calm a distracted mind and make the memory efficient. It will also increase your mental capacity and memory, so you will be able to remember more.
Chanting mantras is an essential element of yoga. There are various mantras that you can choose to chant, but the most popular is Om. Om is the sound of the universe. It was the only thing that existed before Creation and the only thing that will exist after Destruction. Thus, chanting Om will help your mind establish continuity with the universe and tune out other unnecessary elements. Other than that, there are many other mantras, each of which has an empowering message to guide you, like the Gayatri mantra. They all help steel your mental strength to the point where you can will yourself to remember or focus.
One thing that every practiser of yoga must remember is that yoga is not a magic pill. It is not something you do for one day or one week and achieves savant-level memory. So, your concentration level will not increase overnight. Yoga is a practice. Therefore, it is needless to say that it will need practice for these benefits of yoga to manifest. Also, since these faculties would increase gradually and not just kick in one day, you may not notice the improvements just like that. To know for sure, you can always utilize memory and concentration tests to quantify the increase in your mental capacity.