Meditation is one of the approaches, gradually getting wide recognition as a common way to improve mental and physical health and general wellbeing. But is it effective in helping to prevent and combat disastrous effects of Alzheimer’s disease to the human brain? Could meditation substantially increase brain activity and improve memory and cognition in people who already have Alzheimer’s disease? People who practice mediation will ultimately affirm its healing effects. But is there are any scientific researches, which can confirm the statement as way?
In this post, we will review the result of several investigations on how Kirtan Kriya type of meditation can play a positive role in preventing, delaying, or even reversing Alzheimer’s disease.
What is meditation?
The word meditation is derived from two Latin words: meditari (to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind) and mederi (to heal). Its Sanskrit derivation 'medha' means wisdom.
Meditation is defined as an activity where one will "engage in contemplation or reflection; or to engage in mental exercise (as concentration on one’s breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness (Merriam-Webster, 2009)." This definition is technical; a more personal definition of meditation is to let the mind empty and rest, with a following centering exercise.
Meditation is not a technique but a way of life. Meditation means 'a cessation of the thought process’. It describes a state of consciousness, when the mind is free of scattered thoughts and various patterns. The observer (one who is doing meditation) realizes that all the activity of the mind is reduced to one.
Once, a Tibetan Lama was being monitored on a brain scan machine by a scientist wishing to test physiological functions during deep meditation. The scientist said - "Very good Sir. The machine shows that you are able to go very deep in brain relaxation, and that validates your meditation". "No", said the Lama, "This (pointing to his brain) validates the machine!”
What is Kirtan Kriya meditation?
Kirtan Kriya (pron. Keertun Kreea) is a type of meditation from the Kundalini yoga tradition, which has been practiced for thousands of years. This meditation is sometimes called a singing exercise, as it involves singing the sounds, Saa Taa Naa Maa along with repetitive finger movements, or mudras. This non-religious practice can be adapted to several lengths, but practicing it for just 12 minutes a day has been shown to reduce stress levels and increase activity in areas of the brain that are central to memory.
In Sanskrit, a kirtan is a song, and kriya refers to a specific set of movements. In the Eastern tradition, kriyas are used to help bring the body, mind and emotions into balance to enable healing.
The mantra that is repeated while practicing Kirtan Kriya is designed to be uplifting.
- Saa means birth or infinity
- Taa means life
- Naa means death or completion
- Maa means rebirth
From an Eastern perspective, it is believed that the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while making these sounds stimulates 84 acupuncture points on the upper palate. This causes a beneficial bio-chemical transformation in the brain. In addition, Western research has revealed that utilizing the fingertip position in conjunction with the sounds enhances blood flow to particular areas in the motor-sensory part of the brain.
Research findings: Kirtan Kriya meditation and Alzheimer’s
The recent decade of research has demonstrated the substantial positive impact of Kirtan Kriya meditation on the brain. Following are highlights from some of our recent and ongoing research:
foundation conducted the first-ever study on the impact of meditation on
people with memory loss, which was published in 2010 in the Journal of
Alzheimer's Disease. The study found that Kirtan Kriya, performed 12
minutes a day for eight weeks, increased brain activity in areas central
to memory and improved cognition and wellbeing in patients with memory
study, which was published in 2009 in the journal Nuclear Medicine
Communications, examined 11 healthy individuals in both a resting and
meditative state. The study found that Kirtan Kriya causes significant
increases in brain activity especially in the posterior cingulate gyrus
(PCG) compared to baseline. Both of these areas of the brain are central
to memory. The PCG is a critically important anatomical area, because it
is the first part of the brain to decrease in function when a person
develops Alzheimer's disease. Perhaps it's possible, therefore, that if
everyone did Kirtan Kriya and activated their PCG on a regular basis, the
number of people who develop Alzheimer's would diminish.
- In the
December 2010 issue of Consciousness and Cognition, a study was
published comparing cerebral blood flow (CBF) in 12 advanced meditators
with that of 14 non-meditators. The study findings support the notion that
long-term meditation is associated with higher activity in the frontal areas
of the brain, which help mediate attention, emotions and memory.
- In the January 2011 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, another ground-breaking study was published. It revealed that different meditation practices actually changed brain blood flow in different brain areas. It was also the first study to show that there are blood flow changes correlated with the personal experience of the practitioner. This study highlighted that this practice can be used as meditation as medicine. This means that the study showed that different techniques may be prescribed for separate health conditions, from trauma to depression, to anxiety or depression.
- In a groundbreaking study completed in January 2011, in collaboration with UCLA, we investigated the effects of meditation in caregivers of people with dementia. Results indicate that, compared to study participants who listened to relaxation tapes daily for eight weeks, those who practiced Kirtan Kriya improved significantly in measures of perceived support, physical suffering, energy, emotional well-being, cognitive tests of memory and executive function. Beyond that, this study revealed that Kirtan Kriya increased telomerase, an exquisite bio marker of health and longevity. In this study, we showed that mood, spirituality, and well-being; all markers of improved memory health and longevity, can be increased by Kirtan Kriya in only 12 minutes a day for 12 weeks.
How to practice Kirtan Kriya?
A good thing that the exercise is short, simple, and you can do at convenience of your home. Definitely, you may want to contact specialists first, if you never practiced any kind of meditation before, to get understanding and feeling for the basic concepts and techniques. But then you can do it yourself, which offers you the great flexibility and convenience.
- Sit in an upright position on the floor or in a straight backed chair. Rest your hands on your knees with palms facing upwards.
- Learn to chant. Put your index finger at the top of your head...the part called the crown. Now put another finger between your two eyes...the point that is sometimes called the Third Eye. Remember those two spots. Now imagine the Sound SA coming in at the crown of your head and then traveling down until it is opposite your 'third eye' and it makes a 90 degree turn and comes out the third eye point. It is sort of like a large L - It comes in at the crown and then makes a right angle out at the point between your eyes. As you chant each sound Sa, Ta, Na, Ma - see each of them coming in at the crown, travel down till opposite your 'third eye' make a 90 degree angle turn and exit at the point between your eyes. This step is important for beginners, but you will see that after a while, your body will perform the required actions with no mental efforts automatically.
- Repeat the Saa Taa Naa Maa sounds (or mantra) while sitting with your spine straight. Your focus of concentration is the L form (as explained above), while your eyes are closed. With each syllable, imagine the sound flowing in through the top of your head and out the middle of your forehead (your third eye point).
- For two minutes, sing in your normal voice.
- For the next two minutes, sing in a whisper.
- For the next four minutes, say the sound silently to yourself.
- Then reverse the order, whispering for two minutes, and then out loud for two minutes, for a total of twelve minutes.
- To come out of the exercise, inhale very deeply, stretch your hands above your head, and then bring them down slowly in a sweeping motion as you exhale.
The mudras, or finger positions, are very important in this kriya (see illustration below).
- On Saa, touch the index fingers of each hand to your thumbs.
- On Taa, touch your middle fingers to your thumbs.
- On Naa, touch your ring fingers to your thumbs.
- On Maa, touch your little fingers to your thumbs.
The Jupiter finger brings in knowledge, expands our field of possibilities and releases us from limitations. The Saturn finger gives us patience, wisdom and purity. The Sun finger gives us vitality and aliveness. The Mercury finger aids clear communication. Each time you close a mudra by joining the thumb with a finger, your ego "seals" its effect in your consciousness.
Visualize or feel each individual sound come in the crown chakra at the top of the head, down through the middle of the head and out to infinity through the third eye. This is very important and must be done with each sound. It is an essential part of the cleansing process. If this part of the meditation is not done, you may experience a headache.
While doing the meditation, you may experience pictures of the past come up like on a movie screen in your mind. Let them dance in front of your eyes and release them with the mantra. This is part of the cleansing of the subconscious mind. If emotions come up, you can also incorporate them in the chanting, i.e. if you feel anger then chant out the anger. Whatever you experience is OK. Do not try to avoid or control your experiences. Simply be with what is going on and go through it. It is all part of the cleansing process.
To help you understand the technique, please review a brief video presentation:
Sources and Additional Information: