Friday, August 11, 2006

Sri Aurobindo's "sunlit path"

Gentle reminders Bharat Savur Business Line Friday, Aug 11, 2006 Getting forgetful is not an indication of ageing, but a sure sign of living edgily. Jog your memory: Exercise helps boost brain power- N. SRIDHARAN
Do you feel you are becoming a tad too forgetful for comfort? Not getting the right word — mot juste — when required, for example. Or worrying whether you switched off the geyser on your way to the workplace. The first thought that leaps to mind normally is a fretful "I must be getting old" or fearful "I'm losing it." Not at all! What you could be doing is living edgily, and engaging the body's coping mechanism continuously where it keeps secreting excess cortisol, the deadly stress hormone. Apart from hastening our heartbeats, elevating our blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and lowering our immunity, cortisol depresses us, disallows sleep, clouds our ability to think, remember and reason clearly, and even destroys brain cells. The first thing to do is:
Stop worrying about being forgetful: Worrying pushes you into a hole. Relax. And I really mean r-e-l-a-x. I advocate Sri Aurobindo's "sunlit path". Face the sun, he advises. Have a natural spirit of faith and surrender. If you forget something, say cheerfully, "Well, that was pretty odd!" Dismiss it. Know that you've remembered nine things and forgotten one. Such awareness creates a positive space in your mind for encoding and storing data more efficiently. List for confidence: Making a list is not the mark of a forgetful person but the mark of a diligent, efficient executive. A list lifts all anxiety of forgetting from your mind and liberates it from its undeserving yoke.
Read to refresh: If you can't find the right words, it's because you aren't exposed to them anymore. Technical texts, marketing manuals, magazines, spiritual books et al are not exactly vocabulary-enhancers. The best reading is classical stuff or literature — Somerset Maugham, Charles Dickens, James Michener, Louisa M. Alcott to name a few masters of the mot juste. Talk to your doc: Certain drugs — blood pressure pills, antihistamines, etc — can bring on a subtle dullness where you feel more like a patient and less like a person. Check with your doctor about possible dose-reductions or change in medicine.
Reduce or renounce booze: Don't think of yourself as an `alcoholic' if you drink regularly. Such labels give you a false identity and make you cling on to bad habits. However, there's no getting away from the fact that alcohol does make you forgetful — it cuts into your short-term memory. So, reduce or renounce booze. Even just cutting down three pegs to two pegs can clear the fog from the brain and make you feel more alert and alive.
Try ashwagandh: Check with an ayurvedic vaidya whether you can have ashwagandh. It's a herb that contains withanolides and antioxidants that prevent and repair brain damage. Research has shown that ashwagandh increases acetylcholine-receptor — the brain's neurotransmitter in charge of memory and cognition-activity. The advantage of ashwagandh is that it is an anxiety-buster as well. The normal recommended dosage is 2-4 grams per day with milk.
Sleep like a log: According to sleep specialists, if you sit in the morning sun for 20 minutes, you correct the sleep cycle and fall asleep quicker at night. Deep sleep is a must for mood and memory. When in bed, take five deep breaths. Relax and loosen your legs, arms and shoulders. Raise your eyebrows to relax your forehead and scalp. Inhale... exhale... drift off into a soft slumber...
Exercise for life: It is said that up to age 35, your brain helps you remember; after 35, you should help your brain to remember! Exercise greatly boosts brain-power. It induces brain-capillaries to grow, more nutrients to reach neurons and more oxygen to reach the brain's cells. Exercise stimulates neurotransmitters, which in turn enhance both memory and your immunity system. Walk, cycle, garden, dance, gym... just keep moving!
Grow your dendrites: Dendrites, those fine tendrils that connect neurons, regulate our memory and intelligence. The more active our mind and brain, the greater the growth of the learned dendrites. However, brain fitness and health does not come just from filling it with information. As important are an inner quietude, self-trust, the will to be strong, healthy, alert and present-minded (not absent-minded).
Eat satvic: My definition of satvic food is: hygienic, low-fat and fresh. Cut out refined flour and sugar, and processed foods. Eat moderate quantities of whole grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables. Liberally garnish your salads with tulsi leaves (basil). They lower cortisol levels and help you de-stress. Never fast if you are nervous, hyper, tense, or hostile by temperament. Lack of nutrients make you more jittery and, yes, forgetful.
Finally, a bit of voluntary forgetfulness is not a bad thing. You can forget grudges, fights, nastiness, and past negative influences... Simultaneously, remember to walk the sunlit path to health, happiness, laughter, lovingness and a luminous memory. (The writer is co-author of the book, `Fitness for Life'.)

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