Meditation for a Sharper Brain

by Mary Beth Janssen

Kirtan Kriya meditation and how it improves brain fitness
Dharma Singh Khalsa, MD, is the president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research & Prevention Foundation (ARPF). He’s a leading researcher in the study of meditation and memory, and the author of the best-selling Brain Longevity and Meditation as Medicine.
According to Dr. Khalsa, current research supports a disturbing theory: Ongoing elevated levels of cortisol (the “stress” hormone) can destroy optimal brain function and block memory, which can be the precursor to diagnosis of early onset dementia. “This is why I believe that the inability to recall names, numbers and memories is increasing,” Dr. Khalsa says. “While I used to see patients in their 60s or 70s, now folks as young as 50 are requesting to work with me.”
Many people with early onset are in their 40s and 50s. They have families, careers or are even caregivers themselves, when dementia or Alzheimer’s disease strikes. Perhaps you have seen Still Alice with Julianne Moore’s brilliant Oscar-winning turn as a 50-year-old linguistics professor whose bouts of forgetfulness are devastatingly diagnosed as early onset Alzheimer’s?
This high-profile movie, along with Dr. Khalsa’s (and other renowned researchers) work, is creating a groundswell of awareness and interest around modalities that can help keep our brains sharp.
Enter Kirtan Kriya (pronounced KEER-tun KREE-a), a meditation from the Kundalini yoga tradition. It’s been vigorously studied by the ARPF along with scientists from top medical schools such as UCLA, USCF and the University of Pennsylvania, with findings published in prestigious medical journals such as the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry and The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.
“Kirtan Kriya is scientifically proven to work in eight weeks,” explains Dr. Khalsa. Why does it seem to help? ‘’I use the analogy of going to the gym and lifting weights for eight weeks,” Khalsa says. “You’re definitely stronger. I think we see this in the brain. It’s like training the brain. You are somehow improving the chemical milieu of the brain. Blood flow improves the anatomy of the brain and it functions better,” he adds. “The exercise increases brain blood flow to critically important areas and promotes greater attention, concentration, focus, improved short term memory and better mood.”
The practice involves chanting/singing the sounds Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa along with repetitive finger movements, or mudras. The mantra that is repeated while practicing Kirtan Kriya is designed to be uplifting. The sounds come from the mantra “Sat Nam,” which means “my true essence.”
This non-religious practice can be adapted to several lengths, however, the 12-minute version, done once a day, is the practice shown in research studies to reduce stress levels and increase activity in areas of the brain central to memory retention.
It’s also believed that while chanting the sounds, 84 acupuncture points are being stimulated on the upper palate, believed to cause a beneficial biochemical transformation in the brain. “Research also revealed a reduction in inflammation, less depression and a 44 percent increase in the enzyme known as telomerase, which is a breakthrough anti-aging discovery,” explains Dr. Khalsa. “Essentially when you have more telomerase, you live longer in better health and with an improved memory.”
According to Dr. Khalsa, “It is important that people understand that by taking preventative measures and making lifestyle changes, such as incorporating Kirtan Kriya into a daily routine, we can reduce the number of people developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 50 percent.”
How to Practice Kirtan Kriya
Sit in an upright position with spine reasonably straight. Rest hands on knees with palms facing upward. Chant the syllables Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa and slightly lengthen the ending of each sound as you repeat them (aaaah). With each syllable, imagine the sound flowing in an “L” formation through the top of your head (crown chakra), and out the middle of your forehead (third eye or brow chakra).
With both hands, in the following order:

  • Touch index fingertip to tip of your thumb as you chant Saa.
  • Touch middle fingertip to tip of your thumb as you chant Taa.
  • Touch ring fingertip to tip of your thumb as chant Naa.
  • Touch pinkie fingertip to tip of your thumb as you chant Maa.

As for timing (peek at a clock if need be, but trust that you will get to know the timing):

  • Chant/sing along with mudras in normal voice for two minutes.
  • Chant along with mudras in whisper for two minutes.
  • Chant along with mudras silently to yourself for four minutes.
  • Then reverse the order, whispering for two minutes, then out loud for two minutes, for total of 12 minutes

Now, take a deep breath while stretching your arms above your head (gently shake your hands if desired), and then bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you exhale. Repeat a few more times. Visit Dr. Khalsa’s website at alzheimersprevention.org.
MARY BETH JANSSEN is a certified mind-body health educator for the Chopra Center for Well-Being and author of five books. Send questions to marybeth@organicspamagazine.com. marybethjanssen.com

Connect with Mary Beth @cosmicdenmother

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