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Meditation Improves Stress and Anxiety in Adults with Memory Loss

Meditation, Kirtan Kriya, Alzheimer's disease

Stress and anxiety have a negative impact on the brain which is linked to memory loss and other neurological changes that are seen in Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital have found that mantra-based meditation can help increase cerebral blood flow and ultimately improve patients’ emotional state.

Mantra meditation is an ancient technique which involves repeating a sentence or group of words that have a phonetic significance. Kirtan Kriya (KK) is a specific type of mantra-based meditation based on the Kundalini yoga tradition that is being researched at several centers through the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation that appears to have the potential to slow or prevent memory loss.

Andrew Newberg MD, director of research at the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine, and colleagues placed 15 older adults with memory problems ranging from mild age-associated memory impairment to mild impairment with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. They randomly assigned into groups that either practiced KK for 12 minutes a day for eight weeks or listened to classical music for the same period of time. The study was built on the premise that increases in blood flow in the prefrontal, superior frontal, and superior parietal cortices of the brain would improve emotional state, feelings of spirituality, and improvements in memory.

Those who performed the mantra meditation practice reported improvement in depression, anger and confusion, and significantly less tension. The group also had improvements in fatigue levels. The team did not find any significant change in spirituality scores.

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The subjects also underwent single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) scans which measured activity of certain “regions of interest” in the brain during their meditation practices. There were significant changes noted in the amygdala in those who reported improved mood. This area of the brain plays a role in the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. Changes in the caudate, involved in learning and memory, correlated with lower depression scores.

Dr. Newberg notes that previous studies have found that mood disorders can aggravate the process of cognitive decline. This study seemed to positively find as well that when patients had improvement in their feelings of confusion and depression, they also had improvements in verbal memory.

“This study is one of a growing body of neuroimaging studies to illustrate the neurological and biological impact of meditation, highlighting brain regions that regulate attention control, emotional states, and memory. It is a first step in understanding the neurophysiologic impact of this and similar meditative practices,” says Dr. Newberg.

In Sanskrit, a kirtan is a song and kriya refers to a specific set of movements that help bring the body, mind and emotions into balance. It is believed that the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth during the making of certain sounds stimulates 84 acupuncture points on the upper palate, causing a brain transformation that results in uplifting mood. Instructions on the practice of Kirtan Kriya can be found on the website of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation website, which helped to fund the current study.

Effects of an 8-Week Meditation Program on Mood and Anxiety in Patients with Memory Loss
Aleezé Sattar Moss, Nancy Wintering, Hannah Roggenkamp, Dharma Singh Khalsa, Mark R. Waldman, Daniel Monti, Andrew B. Newberg. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. January 2012, 18(1): 48-53.



I am both intrigued and tuoeblrd by the article.1) I'm intrigued because I think this type of study could confirm some classic observations about the connections between religious faith and human flourishing. 2) But I think it may also be used to set up some sort of pseudo-scientific measure of the validity or utility of religious experience. i.e., saying to a conscientious objector "you're brain regions didn't light up right! so you can't be sincere.)3) Moreover, it participates in a general cultural trend toward reductionism. Consider this quote: "I often get asked, could we just develop a drug that makes people spiritual? Well, that already exists. If you look at shamanic cultures throughout the world, many use different substances that don't diminish their experiences at all. It doesn't become just a drug-induced state that affects their physiology. It's their way of opening up their brain as a window into the spiritual realm."It's easy to see how that kind of reasoning could lead into a popular misconception of religion as opiate of the people....much as sloppy sociobiology is sometimes invoked by promiscuous men who claim to be programmed for unfaithfulness.