Have you ever walked purposefully into a room and then forgotten why you went there? Have you run into an old friend but couldn’t place her name? Memory can be fickle!
Occasional forgetfulness happens to everyone. But if you’re looking for natural strategies to support your mind and memory as you age, Ayurveda can be helpful. In this article, we’ve compiled some of our top suggestions for supporting a youthful mind at any age.
What is memory?
Memory is the multifaceted ability to keep a mental record of earlier experiences. Memory can be verbal (as in being able to name the presidents of the United States), emotional (as with fear of heights), or skill oriented (as with riding a bicycle). People tend to forget verbal memories more easily than emotional memories or learned skills.
Experts divide memory into short-term (involving recent events) and long-term (involving events from the more distant past). As we age, our short-term memory tends to fade; recent events don't seem as important and we start repeating ourselves.
On the other hand, long-term memory seems to expand with age, leading to long storytelling—sometimes with elaborate embellishments. Different people remember different things differently.
Ayurveda, the doshas and memory
From the perspective of Ayurveda, a person’s doshic balance (mind-body type) often plays a role with their memory patterns. There are three different mind-body types in Ayurveda, and each one is associated with natural elements: Vata (air/ether), Pitta (fire/water), and Kapha (earth/water).
Vata predominant folks learn quickly but tend to forget quickly also. They tend to be good crammers in school, but may have trouble with the final exam.
Pitta people have selective memory. They are very practical and remember what is useful and forget that which is not.
Kapha people may take three or four times to learn something, but once they've got it, they never forget. They tend to be good trivia players, remembering random facts for years and years.
Don’t know your Ayurvedic mind-body type? Take our free Dosha Quiz and find out.
How the subdoshas influence memory
Each of the three doshas has, in turn, five different subdoshas—subtle energies that govern different facets of your health.
Prana Vata, a subdosha of Vata, governs mental functions. According to the Ayurvedic texts, the overuse or misuse of the mind can lead to an imbalance in Prana Vata. Things like overwork and—though it wasn’t covered in the ancient texts!—excessive screen time can tax the mind and memory.
When Prana gets disturbed, the coordination between dhi (the power of acquisition or learning), dhriti (the power of retention and processing) and smriti (the ability to recall) breaks down, causing mental stress.
Vyana Vata is another relevant subdosha, as it supports circulation. When both Prana Vata and Vyana Vata are disturbed, this can lead to disruptions in communication between the heart and the mind—leading, in turn, to an imbalance in Sadhaka Pitta, the subdosha of Vata that governs emotional balance. When all three—Prana Vata, Vyana Vata, and Sadhaka Pitta—are all out of balance, you might find yourself blaming others for your problems. But the real issue is the imbalance of the mental functions of dhi, dhriti and smriti, and lack of coordination between the mind and heart.
Ayurvedic tips for nourishing the mind
Nourishing the mind naturally begins with a good daily routine that balances the doshas and subdoshas.
Wake up before the sun rises and start the day with an abhyanga, or Ayurvedic oil massage. Abhyanga helps remove toxins from the body, stimulates the organs and enlivens the flow of intelligence in the body. By the time you finish your oil massage and bathe, your mind will feel energized and awake.
Abhyanga is especially helpful for relieving mental stress caused by an imbalance in Prana Vata and Vyana Vata. The skin is one of the seats of Vata. By massaging the skin with gentle pressure and warm herbalized oil you balance all five subdoshas of Vata.
Practice for yoga
The practice of Yoga asanas also balances mind and body, as does pranayama (alternate nostril breathing). The Transcendental Meditation program and a light breakfast complete the Ayurvedic morning routine.
Drink herbal tea
Throughout the day you can sip Worry Free Tea to help keep the connection between dhi, dhriti and smriti open. Dehydration can make it hard to think clearly. Also, remember to breathe. The brain needs oxygen to do its job!
Cleanse the air around you
If you work in a building that has poor ventilation, indoor plants can increase the oxygen level and cleanse the air of toxins. Take frequent breaks, going outside to breathe deeply and stretch if possible. Leave your desk for lunch and go outside to breathe fresh air. On the weekend, spend time outdoors to counteract the effects of working indoors without sunshine and good air.
When you get home from work or school, begin your evening routine with Yoga asanas, pranayama and the Transcendental Meditation® program, followed by a light supper and pleasant, relaxing activity before an early bedtime.
Eat intelligent foods
Nourish your mind with intelligent foods! If you eat old, packaged, canned or frozen foods, the brain cells can't metabolize the food completely, which can lead to the production of ama (digestive toxins). If ama increases over time, the more reactive toxin called amavisha can form, which can lead to a loss of smriti. Here are some tips:
- Ideally food should be fresh, cooked, organic, non-GMO and wholesome, prepared by someone who loves you.
- Avoid carbonated beverages, preservatives, junk food and leftovers.
- Include all six tastes, favoring the three that pacify whatever dosha you need to balance. You can do this easily by using the appropriate MAPI churna or spice mixture (Vata, Pitta and Kapha Churnas).
- Sit down to enjoy your meals with full attention, instead of distracting yourself with TV or reading.
Soaked walnuts, soaked almonds and sweet, juicy fruits are foods that are medhya, or enlivening to the connection between dhi, dhriti and smriti. Milk also is medhya, as are ghee and freshly-made dark grape juice.
These foods supply the brain with intelligent, easily-digestible protein and glucose, the brain's basic fuel. To nourish the brain, it's important to combine the best-quality glucose and protein together in a balanced way.
TIP: You can soak nuts and seeds overnight (which makes them more digestible), rinse them thoroughly and then put them in a blender with soaked dates and raisins, cooked with their soaking water in milk that contains some butterfat. This provides a balance between glucose and protein. If you can't digest milk, add a little ghee to hot rice or almond milk for this brain-boosting "date shake."
Panir (a fresh cheese made from milk), lentils, dhal and other split beans and peas are also excellent sources of protein for the brain. As they are heavier, they should be cooked with spices to make them more easily digestible.
Incorporate spices into your diet
Four common spices help nourish the brain and fortify it against stress. Turmeric, India’s golden spice, has been found to support brain health.
Black pepper enhances the ability to absorb more nutrients from food. Black pepper also has the property of increasing medhya agni, the digestive principle in the gap between dhi, dhriti and smriti, which enhances the transformation of thought.
Cumin opens the shrotas (channels) of the brain. Ginger helps the brain absorb nutrients by purifying the digestive tract. Lightly sauté spices in ghee or olive oil to increase the bioavailability of the fat-soluble portion of the spices, especially important to the nervous system.
Try medhya rasayanas: Herbs for the mind
Maharishi AyurVeda has a series of precise formulas for the mind that incorporate a class of herbs called medhya rasayanas—rejuvenatives for the mind. These include Brahmi (Bacopa) and Shankapushpi (Aloe Weed) and are known to nurture dhi, dhriti and smriti individually as well as to aid coordination among them. Other brain-enhancing herbs include Indian valerian, Shatavari, Ashwagandha, fennel and cardamom.
Mind Plus is a sweet, delicious liquid that supports long-term memory.
Mind Flex supports learning, retention and recall.
Organic Youthful Mind aids mental functioning as one ages.
Intelligence Plus, formerly known as Study Power, promotes natural intelligence.
For fortifying the mind against mental stress, take Worry Free tablets or Worry Free Tea. In a double blind study, 80% of patients reported fewer incidents of occasional anxiousness after three months of taking Worry Free tablets.
Stress Free Mind supports natural resistance to stress and also helps alertness and mental sharpness while reducing worry and fatigue. As do all the MAPI products for the mind, it promotes dhi, dhriti and smriti (learning, retention and long-term memory).
Blissful Joy improves the coordination of heart and mind by balancing Sadhaka Pitta, the subdosha of Pitta that supports the emotions and is seated in the heart.
- Calcium Support contains pearl bhasma (powder) and a blend of ayurvedic herbs that help your body to absorb calcium from the foods you eat. Calcium helps nourish the brain and fortify it against stress.
Restore wholeness with meditation
Sometimes, memory issues arise from pragya-aparadh, which means “mistake of the intellect” in Sanskrit. In these instances, health issues can originate when the heart, mind, or body loses connection with nature's intelligence and we lose the memory (smriti) of bliss. At the level of the intellect, through our five senses, we get enchanted or drawn into the material outer world. We forget or become separated from the Samhita level of the universe: the unified field of creation, the source of healing and bliss.
Maharishi AyurVeda’s founder—Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—revived the ancient knowledge of Ayurveda to help people regain their memory of wholeness (Samhita). He recommended restoring the memory (Smriti) of Samhita — the wholeness value of life — through the regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation® technique, and through a balancing daily routine, diet, and herbs.
There are numerous scientific research studies on the benefit of regular practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique for learning, creativity, the ability to focus and both long- and short-term memory.
More nourishing tips for the whole family
Tips for parents
If you are a parent and want information about supporting your children or grandchildren as they grow and develop their mental potential, you can read Super Healthy Kids: A Parent's Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda, by Kumuda Reddy, M.D., and Linda Egenes, published by MUM Press.
This book teaches you how to give babies their daily oil massage and has many useful tips for real-world parents who want their kids to have a balanced life. That means going to bed early and following a balanced routine. Help your children avoid too much television, video games, computers, and texting. Make a soothing ritual out of bath time and bedtime. And remember: kids need to exercise at least 30-60 minutes each day.
Other Ayurvedic recommendations to brighten children's minds include having a tidy room and avoiding dark clothing and surroundings. As they get older, children can incorporate the Transcendental Meditation technique, asanas and pranayama into their routine.
Tips for the elderly
Elderly patients with memory problems need loving attention by family, friends and caregivers and a regular daily routine with an early bedtime. Regular asanas, pranayama and Transcendental Meditation are wonderful, if they are able to do them.
Regular exercise and bathing are important. Help them keep their living space neat and tidy. Avoid dark clothing. Encourage them to use an east or north entrance to their home and move the bed so that they sleep with their head to the east or the south. Increase creative mental gymnastics.
Playing or listening to music revitalizes the mind: you can play Maharishi Gandharva Veda music, jazz, classical music (especially Mozart!) and familiar music that brings back pleasant memories.
For more helpful tips on self-care practices that help you de-stress naturally, check out our Stress & Emotions Wellness Hub.
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