It’s no secret that our society is experiencing a growing epidemic of neurodegenerative diseases.
In fact, the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that one person develops the disease every 65 seconds—and that’s in the U.S. alone!
It’s also estimated that every U.S. state will see, at minimum, a 14 percent rise in Alzheimer’s diagnoses over the next eight years.
These statistics are upsetting to say the least. But there is some hopeful news….
In a 2017 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, a team of researchers observed the effects of music and meditation on 60 adults exhibiting the beginning stages of memory loss.
The study subjects were split into two groups and participated in either a beginner-level meditation practice or a music listening program. They were then instructed to continue with their assigned interventions for 12 minutes a day for 12 weeks.
Both the meditation and music listening groups showed significant improvement in memory function and cognitive performance—particularly in areas most vulnerable to the early stages of dementia, such as:
Additionally, the research team encouraged participants to continue either meditating or listening to music at their own discretion following completion of the trial.
During participant follow-up, the researchers were encouraged to find that those initial improvements in the participants’ memory and cognition were either maintained or further enhanced at 6 months—especially in those who continued with the inventions.
But wait, it gets better…
In 2018, the team published a follow-up paper in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. They found that the meditation and music listening had improved brain health on a much deeper level. It actually changed biomarkers of cognitive decline and dementia in the participants’ blood.
Among the biomarkers they tested for is one known as plasma amyloid-β (Aβ). Low levels of this can indicate a higher risk of dementia.
Study results showed that the meditation practice did the best job of increasing plasma amyloid-β levels. This increase was linked to improvements in the participants’ cognitive function, sleep, mood, and quality of life.
This miraculous meditation technique is called “Kirtan Kriya” and was developed in India thousands of years ago. (I’ll teach you exactly how you can do it yourself in just a moment.)
This non-religious practice involves vocalization of a mantra made up of four simple sounds, along with repetitive finger movements known as “mudras.”
This combination of self-created sound paired with physical movement has been shown to improve blood flow to the brain. Specifically to a part called the “posterior cingulate gyrus”—a critical part of your memory retrieval system… and unfortunately one of the first areas affected by Alzheimer’s.
Doing Kirtan Kriya is really pretty simple. And not only does it help ward off cognitive decline, but I also find it to be very relaxing and a good way to clear the mind.
Let’s start with the mantra. It includes four simple syllables: Sa Ta Na Ma. (Fittingly, this meditative mantra roughly translates to mean “my true essence.”)
For the first phase, let’s work on mastering these meditative syllables themselves.
1. Take a slow, deep breath inward.
2. Then, while exhaling, vocalize the four syllables:
“Sa,” “Ta,” “Na,” and “Ma.”
Be sure to really draw out the “aah” sound at the end of each syllable. You should also aim to vocalize all four of the syllables within one exhalation.
Now let’s incorporate the mudras, or finger movements.
3. This time, as you vocalize each syllable, you’re going to touch each fingertip to the tip of your thumb—starting with your index finger and working your way to the outer edge of your hands.
Below are the respective finger and thumb positions that correspond with each sound:
Once you’ve mastered the syllables and finger movements, it’s time to put it all together.
4. Set a timer for two minutes and perform this sound and movement focused mantra.
As you get more comfortable with the exercise, increase its duration.
Work your way up to 12 minutes per day. This is the duration that the researchers found provided therapeutic brain benefits.
Mind-body practices like meditation have been used for centuries all over the world. And as we continue to research the benefits, we’re seeing more and more evidence that it is indeed possible to improve your brain function and prevent dementia—all without the harmful side effects or huge costs associated with prescription drugs!
But perhaps what I’m most excited about is that modern science is coming around to confirming what our ancestors have known for a very long time: sound heals.
Jim Donovan, M.Ed.