As life expectancy continues to increase, older population quality of life is receiving more attention. Ageing process goes along with abilities, such as struggling with everyday tasks, memory loss, difficulty with words or numbers, or confusion in familiar environments. Yoga, however, could be an inexpensive way to look at dealing with the natural cognitive decline related to aging.
The Ageing Population
The science of living longer has been a point of interest for centuries, and with ever improving advances in health sciences and technology, the life expectancy is continuously increasing worldwide.
For example, the World Health Organization found that in 2020, people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children below 5 years.
Unfortunately, in human nature, we know that memory and certain levels of reasoning naturally decline with age.
Memory is a complex process continuously happening in multiple parts of the brain.
Short term memory will last between 15-30 seconds. Long term memory, on the other hand, is understood to have a limitless capacity and can last for a few days or the rest of your life, depending on how often you review and retrieve the information.
Explicit memory is a subset of long-term memory is generated in the hippocampus, an area in the middle of the brain equivalent to a ‘save’ button, and is where the brain processes short-term memories into long-term memories, making them available for retrieval in the future. Given the ageing population, it is more important than ever before to understand that this cognitive decline can be halted or reduced.
Yoga and Pranayama
A study conducted over 5 years looked at the impact of a customized yoga education program on memory. Yoga practice, the results was effective in enhancing memory and cognitive functions of the older adults.
The review compared the effect of Kundalini Yoga to memory enhancement training shown to improve verbal and visuospatial memory by using chanting components (Kirtan Kriya). It helps to increase neural connectivity within the parts of the brain associated with social working memory and verbal memory. Kirtan was also associated with enhanced neural activity and structural changes in parts of the brain associated with executive function.
Yoga tones the ‘Vagus’ nerve (the 10th cranial nerve) through the compressing and twisting of the body as performed in asana, and the focused breathing occurring along the center of the body.
Because 80% of the PNS (Parasympathetic Nervous Systems) is controlled by the ‘Vagus Nerve’, toning the ‘Vagus’ nerve correlates to increasing activity in the PNS. The other 20% of the PNS is distributed throughout the face and mouth. Increased activity in the PNS is linked to,
Reduction of stress and anxiety
Better sleep quality
Stronger immune system.
How yoga tones the ‘Vagus nerve’ is an example of mind-body therapies, through which we can activate the PNS, generate the restoration necessary to prevent memory loss and improve memory.
Self-practice develope a positive relationship between yoga and memory, the asana sequence should be manageable in terms of the time and strength of the asanas. It would also be beneficial to explain and explore the third Niyama, Tapas, or self-discipline.
Components that should be included in a sequence include:
chanting or kirtan kriya
Breath focused asana
Minimum 8-10 minute savasana
The ujjayi breath should be stressed, specifically during twisting or compressing postures to stimulate blood flow in the vagus nerve, Padangustasana, Janu Sirsasana, Marichyasana.
Through a combination of channeling the breath, chanting, meditation and toning the ‘Vagus Nerve’, we are better able to access the digestive state which supports brain health and encourages the memory encoding process.
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