Meditation is a way of relaxing the mind and bringing it into a calm and peaceful state. A specific type of meditation is known as Kirtan Kriya which originated in India. Kundalini yoga uses Kirtan Kriya meditation as it focuses on breathing and relaxation. According to Berkeley University, “kundalini can described as a great reservoir of creative energy at the base of the spine”. Berkeley university explains that from a psychological perspective, kundalini is a source of energy residing in our unconscious mind. The purpose of Kirtan Kriya yoga is to “heal the whole brain”. It focuses specifically on stress relief, mental pain relief, helps change bad habits and form more productive ones, and forms effective brain patterns. This technique of meditation requires singing or “chanting” the primal sounds (Saa, Taa, Naa, Maa), with repeated hand movements, and visualization of light. According to the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation, each primal sound comes from the mantra “Sat Nam which means ‘my true essence’”. Each sound is held for the same duration of time and is chanted in a consistent manner with smooth tone. You can sit with your feet flat on the floor and spine straight when performing this exercise or in a cross-legged position (Sukhasana). The purpose of the chant is to focus the mind on the present moment rather than all the wandering thoughts that occur in the brain.
Kirtan Kriya activates the part of the brain which is associated with our five senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, and hearing. The Brain and Spine Foundation connects each of these five senses to a specific location in the brain. The occipital lobe is located in the back-mid section of the head and controls sight and helps us distinguish certain shapes, colors, and objects from one another. The two temporal lobes are located behind each ear and process all the sounds that we hear, it also controls our sense of smell and short-term memory. Taste and touch are controlled by the parietal lobe which is located at the top back part of the brain. The parietal lobe also receives all of the messages from the five sense and makes sense of what is happening in the outside world.
A study conducted by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) neuroscientists had 25 participants who were 55 years and older to measure changes in brain activity. 11 participants got 1 hour a week of memory enhancement training(sudoku, word searches, crosswords) while the other 14 participants practiced Kirtan Kriya meditation for 20 minutes each day. Each participant partook in memory tests and magnetic resonance imaging(MRI) at both the beginning and finish point of the study. The study lasted for three months and the results were that meditation helped minimize cognitive problems and was more effective than memory training. From MRI scans, it was seen that Kirtan Kriya improved connectivity of the brain thus improving memory, one of the key components of dementia. The test group which practiced Kirtan Kriya showed much greater response in activity in the regions of the brain involved in multitasking and focusing(the prefrontal cortex). It was also shown from qualitative observations that the participants who practiced Kirtan Kriya reduced their depression and had acquired better coping skills to their stress, a key piece of ammunition when dealing with dementia. Developing dementia can cause anxiety and depression, but by practicing Kirtan Kriya individuals can help manage that stress and stay relaxed.