Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, the world’s leading open-access journal on Neuroscience.
The linked journal was compiled by researchers at St. Anne’s University Hospital in Brno, Czech Republic, Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm, Sweden, and Charles University in Prague and University Hospital Motol in Prague, Czech Republic. Researchers explored the results of seven different studies exploring the effects of meditation on attention, memory, executive functions, and various other measurable components in elderly adults suffering from neurodegenerative disease.
An estimated 36 million people are currently suffering from dementia with that number expected to double in the next 20 years. Though many different healing modalities have been studied in attempt to secure a prevention and cure for this looming disease, the short and long term affects of meditation are gaining popularity by the scientific community.
Meditation’s positive effects range from reductions in mental states such as stress, anxiety, depression, and addictions to physical improvements in blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, chronic pain, respiratory disease, and even the immune system.
While many competing types of meditation exist and have been studies, is is a general overlap in the physical asks and correlating benefits of the following styles referenced in this study.
Some Popular Styles of Meditation Include:
- Zen Meditation
- Transcendental Meditation (or TM)
- Vihangam Yoga
- Kundalini Yoga’s Kirtan Kriya
Kundalini Yoga’s Kirtan Kriya
For those new to the practice of Kundalini Yoga, each of it’s exercises or meditations is called a “kriya” (meaning “exercise set”). Like many Kundalini Yoga practices, this particular kriya uses mantra (chanting), mudra (hand positioning/posture), and meditation (focus). Kirtan Kriya has been more widely studied for its beneficial treatment and prevention of neurodegenerative diseases than most other forms of mediation. But its practice is similar to all, with involve some or all parts of Kundalini’s instructions of chanting, posture, and focus.
Kirtan Kriya Overview
Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, or sitting in a chair with feet on the ground and the spine long.
Rest the hands on the knees, palms up, elbows gently straightened. Touch the thumb to the first finger, then middle, then ring, then pinkie finger. As you press the thumb to each finger you will chant “Sa Ta Na Ma.” The eyes are closed and focused at the brow or third eye point. The mantra and mudra is repeated aloud for two minutes, in a whisper for two minutes, silently for four minutes, in a whisper for two minutes, and then aloud for two minutes. The time can be extended for a total length of 30 minutes (5, 5, 10, 5, 5) or in some very special cases is done for a total of two and a half hours.
Sa Ta Na Ma is the sound of the cycle of Creation, the cycle from infinite, to life, to death, to rebirth. It connects the individual’s finite consciousness to their infinite, creative consciousness.
Sa: means infinity, cosmos, beginning
Ta: means life, existence
Na: means death, change, transformation
Ma: means rebirth completing the cycle through the infinite
Repeating the mantra aloud is meant to vibrate the world, in a whisper with spirit, and silently with the Divine.
By pressing the pad of the thumb into the tip of the finger we create a finger mudra, this is an energetic lock to direct the flow of energy in the body, and aides this particular kriya in stimulating 84 different Acupuncture points in the body throughout the practices.
Each finger has meaning. So each mudra or joining of the thumb and finger correlates to that finger’s consciousness.
Ryan Mudra | First or Index Finger: Open Space for Change, Wisdom
Shuni Mudra | Middle Finger: Intelligence, Patience
Surya | Ring Finger: Physical Health and Vitality
Buddhi | Pinkie Finger: Communication
The eyes are closed and focused at the third eye or brow point. Return the focus to this point any time the mind wanders. Focusing on the brow point corresponds to the Sixth or Third Eye Chakra and stimulates the pituitary gland and sushmuna (the channel of energy running up the spine through the chakras).
It is also recommended to visualize energy or beaming light coming down from the Creative source in through the crown (top) of the head, then channeling out with the mantra through a beam of light at your third eye. So it will make an “L” shape coming in through the crown, and out through the third eye.
As with many Kundalini Yoga practices, it is recommended that a white, cotton head covering is worn during this mediation.
Above is a video of a 12 minute Kirtan Kriya for you to follow along with. Keep in mind, this is about intention, not perfection. Do not worry about singing out of tune, it’s not about the pitch, it’s about the vibration and your intention behind the practice.
“From a neuropsychological point of view the effect of this method is explained as the activation of the brain areas associated with attention and exclusive functions (frontal area, cingulate cortex), which takes places during the meditation (Newberg et al., 2010a).”
Meditation has been proven to have preventative effects against Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s Prevention and Research Foundation cites studies using Kirtan Kriya conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, UCLA, University of West Virginia, and University of California-San Francisco and proudly states: Perhaps most significantly, this technique activates the same area of the brain that goes down in function when a person actually loses their memory. Not unlike when you go to the gym and exercise for your bicep to make your arm stronger, when you exercise your mental muscle with Kirtan Kriya you strengthen your mind and memory. Moreover, our research has revealed a reversal of memory loss (published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease). – https://alzheimersprevention.org/research/discussion/
Some Proven Benefits of Kirtan Kriya:
- enhances attention
- improves verbal fluency
- recovers memory
- increases cognitive flexibility
From a physical perspective, improvement in the human brain processes included:
- increased cerebral perfusion in prefrontal, parietal, and auditory cortex
- a protective effect on gray matter thickness
- enhancement in attention driven areas of the brain
- potentially enhanced cognitive capacity and circuit power
- improved myelination of white-matter tracts
- Decrease in cortisol level
- Higher hippocampal volume
- Decrease in oxidative stress caused by irregular lipid levels in the brain