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Memory Tricks - can Yoga help you find your car keys?




Introduction

 

We’ve all done it. Putting down our car keys and forgetting where. Trying to remember whether we locked the door, picked up our phone, switched the iron off. The everyday normal activities that we don’t give much thought to, simply because they are everyday. But that may be our mistake.

 

All memories are not created equal

 

Imagine your memories are like a pack of cards, scattered across a table top. With all of the cards face down, it’s tricky to remember exactly where the card that you’re looking for is laid down. However, if you noticed that the card you were hunting for was placed down next to your coffee cup, you will be able to find it immediately.


Dr. Ranganath, in his book ‘Why We Remember’ describes our memory facility as working in a similar way - the experiences that are the most distinctive are the ones that we find easiest to remember.

 

This is one of the reasons why it can be tricky to remember just where those car keys are hiding. An action that we perform regularly, thoughtlessly, is far less likely to stand out in our memory. It’s just another face down, anonymous card in the pack. We need to find a way to make it more memorable, more distinctive, if we want to easily find those keys.

 

 

Making memorable memories

 

Memory is designed to forget, just as much as it is designed to remember. Think about it. If we remembered absolutely everything that we had ever done, the task of sifting through it all would be incredibly time-consuming, not allowing us to react almost instantaneously. To remember the stuff that we need to remember, like those car keys, Dr.Raganath suggests that we need to use attention and intention.

 

 

Attention

 

Attention is our brain’s way of prioritising what is going on around us. As we throw the car keys into the fruit bowl, our attention may be grabbed by our child demanding to go to the toilet, the dog barking to be let out, the phone ringing. We are paying attention to all of these things at the same time as paying attention to where we have thrown our keys. The memory of where you left the keys can get subsumed by all the other stuff going on. To avoid this happening, add intention to the attention factor.

 

 

Intention

 

To create a memory that you can more readily locate later on, you need to use intention to guide your attention to lock onto something specific. Going back to the deck of cards strewn on the table, by intentionally noticing that the card you want to retrieve is situated next to your coffee cup, you will find it easier to locate again.

 

In the same way, if when you throw your keys into the fruit bowl you intentionally take a moment to focus on something that is unique to that time and place, such as the colours of the bowl and how it looks sitting next to today’s newspaper that’s lying on the counter top, you are far more likely to go straight to your keys when you need them again.

 

With a little mindful intention, we can combat the brain’s natural inclination to tune out those things that we do routinely, and build more distinctive memories that will stand out.

 

 

The brain’s overseer

 

The prefrontal cortex, sitting just behind your forehead, takes up about a third of the brain, and one of it’s many roles is to help us to learn with intention. The prefrontal cortex acts as overseer, co-ordinating activities across the different regions of the brain. It is one of the last areas of the brain to mature, which can explain why children find it harder to focus, and are easily distracted. Dr. Ranganath says that is also one of the first areas to decline as we move into old age, leading to changes in how we remember, which may make us feel that we are becoming more forgetful.

 

The prefrontal cortex helps us to focus on what we need to do to achieve our goals (such as remembering where we put those car keys), but this ability can be diluted by our predilection for media multi-tasking (Uncapher M. 2016) Factors such as poor sleep patterns, alcohol consumption, and unwanted stress can also negatively impact the prefrontal cortex. On the positive side, healthy lifestyle factors such as nutritious diet, good sleep patterns, exercise and reducing stress are all beneficial in preserving our memory capabilities.

 

 

Can Yoga improve our memory?

 

An online article by Harvard Health (2024) cites Yoga as helping your brain to develop new connections, with changes occurring in brain structure as well as function, resulting in improved cognitive skills such as learning and memory.

 

The prefrontal cortex covers the front part of the frontal lobe of the cerebral cortex and studies using MRI scans and other brain imaging technology have shown that people who practice Yoga regularly have a thicker cerebral cortex. This is the area of the brain responsible for information processing. The hippocampus (the area of the brain involved in learning and memory) is also thicker, when compared to non-practitioners. These areas of the brain typically shrink with aging, but older yoga practitioners show less shrinkage than those who did no yoga.


This suggests that yoga may counteract age-related declines in memory, as well as improving cognitive skills in all yoga practitioners.

 

We can posit that singular focus yoga activities (for example, breath practices that combine attention with intention) can help to counteract the negative impacts of media multitasking, while the benefits of combining mindful movement with breath focus appear to be confirmed by a number of studies comparing yoga practitioners to non-yoga participants, as highlighted by ‘Yoga Effects on Brain Health’ a meta study by Gothe et al:

 

‘Findings that link the pattern of brain functioning

observed in yoga practitioners

to performance or health outcomes

offer support for the

beneficial influence of yoga on brain function’

(Gothe et al, 2019)

 

 

Conclusion

 

Yoga practitioners do undergo changes in the physical appearance of the brain - changes that appear to enhance memory capabilities, particularly as we enter older age.

 

Dru Yoga, with an emphasis on combining mindful breathing with rhythmic movements, is well placed to offer these benefits to anyone who is interested in a wholistic practice. The old adage ‘practise makes perfect’ is embodied within the ritual attention paid to keeping our mind and attention anchored in the present moment.

 

This continual drawing of our awareness back to what we are doing when we are doing it, is an active manifestation of Dru Yoga’s role in potentially enhancing our brain’s processing abilities as we seek to navigate life’s journey with positivity.

 

And while we would all like to remember everything, its equally important to forget. As Dr. Charman Ranganath states:

 

‘Forgetting isn’t a failure of memory;

it’s a consequence of processes that

allow our brains to prioritise information

that helps us navigate and make sense of the world.

We can play an active part in managing forgetting

by making mindful choices in the present in order to

curate a rich set of memories to take with us into the future’

(Ranganath, 2024)

 

I hope that your Dru Yoga practice will enable you to ‘curate a rich set of memories’ - and to find your car keys!

 

Namaste


 Michelle


Michelle Helstrip

Founder, Druva Yoga Therapy & Wellbeing

Dru Yoga Therapist

 

 

Further Information:

 

Book

Dr. Charman Ranganath ‘Why we remember - the science of memory and how it shapes us’

(2024) Faber & Faber; London

 

 

Online Article, National Library of Medicine

Melina R Uncapher et al. ‘Media multitasking and memory: Differences in working memory and long-term memory’ (2016) PubMed; online

 

 

Online Article, Harvard Medical School

‘Yoga for better mental health’; Harvard Health Publishing (29 April 2024); online

 

 

Online Article, National Library of Medicine

Neha P. Gothe et al. ‘Yoga Effects on Brain Health: A Systematic Review of the Current Literature’ (26 Dec 2019) PubMed Central; online

 

Website, Dru Yoga benefits

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