By Nishtha Shukla August 2003 Stop cursing your memory every time you are in desperate need of it. Treat it well at all times and it will not ditch you Poor thing is cursed time and again for no fault of its own. Like one hell of a careless boss, we don’t register what it has done, but clutch tightly to all that it hasn’t. And if that wasn’t enough, we even blame it for our faux pas. You don’t lack memory. Nobody does. It is how you manage your memory that makes you different from those who you think have been gifted memory by God himself. Information overload is said to be the biggest modern snag to a terrific memory. Right now, you are probably thinking of how much time you have before you go for the next appointment, what time you need to collect the kids from school, what is the best time to get to the doctor, how the government is eating into your hard earned money. And between all that, you have to squeeze out time to get to the bank before it shuts for the day. You can’t expect your memory to keep sane amidst such hullabaloo. The good news is that you don’t need to panic. Vedics, psychologists, ayurvedics say that to keep your memory going is only a matter of healthy habits and regular care. Just like your muscles can be trained to live healthier, so can your memory. Just spend some time with it. Begin here. Understanding memoryPhysiological studies say that the pituitary gland in the brain produces three kinds of hormones namely acetyl, colin and dopamine that are responsible for storing and controlling our memory. An imbalance of these hormones because of poor eating and lifestyle habits can cause a lack of constraint-ion, which is necessary for memory retention. Depending on the type of memory, there are different systems in the body. It could be semantic where you need to remember facts-names, numbers and the repulsive historical dates-or it could be episodic, that is, remembering past experiences of your first ride on the bike, of your child’s first step, or of the time when you met that interesting stranger on the train. The third is the priming memory, an unconscious recollection of visual or auditory cues, which facilitates performance on the basis of having a single prior exposure to stimuli that can enhance it. According to ayurveda, the vata-pitta-kapha are the three dynamic powers responsible for the functioning of the memory, and they function much like the working of an assembly-line production. The vata controls the nervous system, the pitta is essential for thinking and executing and the kapha is responsible for retaining the information. People with kapha might take time to understand something, but once they do, they have a good capacity to retain everything. Dr Dinesh Sharma, consultant ayurvedic physician with Aashlok Hospital in New Delhi, says that people with more kapha are soft and plump people and have a good memory, hence what they call an elephant’s memory. A good memory comes from the very conviction that you maintain. Ever wondered why things that impress us the most are the easiest to remember? That’s because in the process of coding and decoding of information, a lot of details are lost. So things that are prominent or that we really get interested in are the ones that we recall easily. A change of lifestyle is the primary must-do today since it helps you keep your mind fresh, and increasing and its retention capacity. We know that waking up early in the morning and leading a disciplinary life has helped people in evolving an alert mind. Stress is a household word these days because each of us is doing many things at the same time, a trend being termed as ‘multi-tasking’. This also hampers focussing on one thing because the attention keeps shifting. Arpita Anand, consultant psychologist at Max Healthcare Centre, says: “Between ages 25-45, poor memory has been related to a high degree of stress. The effect is changes in cognitive functions of attention, of trying to do too many things at the same time.” Diligently making lists, marking the calendar, writing things down and using Post-its are always helpful when you are caught up with too many tasks for your mind to manage them all by itself. ‘The faintest ink is more powerful than the strongest memory’ goes an old Chinese proverb. So if your boss has a habit of writing every single detail to explain things, it is not sissy. That will impress more things on your mind and for a longer period of time, easing out a lot of unnecessary tension. It is good to keep your mind engaged with mind tricks and mind games to regularly brush your memory. In her book Smart Memory Tanushree Podder explains that people get mentally out of shape when they stop challenging their minds, and this happens when they opt for habitual solutions rather than purposeful thought. Quizzes, jigsaw puzzles, EQ and IQ tests can be tried. Making it a habitEffective memory strategies can also be worked upon on a regular basis. These include attentiveness, understanding what you want to memorise, organising what your mind receives for easy remembrance, using mnemonics, asking yourself questions, cognitively monitoring your progress, and managing your time effectively. Cognitive monitoring involves taking stock of your progress in an activity like reading or studying. Things like summarising what you have read, re-reading, recalling what you need to do before you leave the house, making a checklist in your mind of all the items that you need to remember are all examples of the same. The Romans and the Greek gave the system of Mnemonics, a word derived from the goddess of memory Mnemosyne. Its techniques include things like using an acronym for the list you need to remember, breaking down a longer number into smaller, memorisable parts (543,986 becomes 54,39,86 and each number could be associated with something you can retrieve easily). Association and imagination are interesting ways to remember something. When trying to remember the name of a person, try to find an unusual feature of the person. Create an association between that characteristic, the face, and the name in your mind. The association may be of the person with someone you know (maybe of the same name), or may be to associate a rhyme or image from the name with the person’s face or defining feature. It might challenge your mind initially, but soon it will be a habit. Back to basicsMany yogic asanas can also be practised to keep the memory in shape. The head stand is said to ensure an increased flow of blood to brain cells, making the cells more healthy and active. Unless you have a heart and neck problem, you can easily learn it. Just like meditation, shavasana also helps to purge the brain. Pranayam and nadi shuddhi also convey more oxygen to the lungs, making the blood and the blood cells healthier. Poor posture habits have led many of us to the doctor. These habits have spoilt our nervous system and therefore our memory. “People today don’t know how to eat, drink, sit, excrete or even wash their face,” complains Acharya Keshav Dev, who has studied memory in detail from the Vedic point of view. He reminds us that ancient habits of sitting on the ground while eating or studying, of drinking slowly, of biting into a morsel 32 times, of clapping, of walking barefoot are habits that also influence our mind in one way or another. He says that children who twitch their bones are more prone to memory lapses than those who are more disciplined. Synesthesia is the ability to express a memory generated by one sense in terms of another, say expressing smell as touch. For this you need to keep alert. While recalling something this works because it is vivid and involves imagery with its innumerable associations. So when you want to recall someone’s name, you recall what the person smelled like, what colour was the person wearing, etc., and you can develop yourself to recall the name with all that information. Many of our ancient texts have come to us by word of mouth. So what was it that helped these students of the gurukuls memorise lengths of tables when it is difficult for us to memorise our shopping list? Lifestyle, habits, attitudes, all these have changed. To give an example, Keshav Dev points out the difference between sitting on the floor (as done earlier) and sitting on the table (as we do today) when studying. We know that the backbone, with its 32 pieces, is important in the functioning of the memory. “When you sit straight, you are alert. You get the memory power through prabhav (pressure). You remember what you have learnt. There is optimum utilisation of the mind,” points out the Acharya. Peep into any classroom, and you will notice that most students are slouching. That every primary teacher’s refrain is ‘sit straight’ goes to prove that we are near yet far from our basics. A little effort from our end can go a long way in helping us come back to that peaceful and attentive state. Meditation helpsThe relevance of meditation as part of our daily lives has also been stressed in, helping the proper functioning of the mind. It teaches one to concentrate and focus. By itself as well as in conjunction with asanas and pranayama, meditation rids the mind of unnecessary clutter by reducing excessive, irrelevant thinking. Meditation on the sixth chakra or the third eye where the pituitary gland is located will activate the brain as well as focus the mind. As Dr Sharma puts it: “Meditation purges, flushes useless information in the mind and creates a space for peace.” Maun (silence) and dhyana also help a person improve his memory, says Acharya Keshav Dev. Something like Transcendental Meditation, for instance, gives one a mental bath that releases the tensions of the day, making the mind calm and alert. Students have g
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