With our ageing population, it seems that declining mental faculties show up as the first health concern of becoming ‘old’. We all fear the words ‘Alzheimer’s and ‘Dementia’because we know that it does affect quite a large proportion of our population. Estimates are that 25 percent of people over eighty years of age suffer from Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Ayurveda and Mental Rejuvenation
Some very exciting research is now showing that Ayurveda therapies can actually support our mental faculties’ natural strengths.
The word Medhya is a concept in Ayurveda which implies wisdom or intellect. Medhya therapies act as mental rejuvenatives and support mental development: they promote a mind that is strong, vigorous, and pure. There are different methods of bringing Medhya into play: anything promoting sattva guna can help, and the niyamas and yamas of Patanjali are directed towards this aim.
A big role is also played by Ayurvedic herbal medicines. They encourage intelligence, mental perception, and memory: they prepare the mind for higher consciousness. Herbs and bitter foods open the mind, increase awareness, sensitivity, and mental functioning. Bitter taste comes from space and air energies, and these are predominate forces in the mind. We know that bitter herbs are calming and cooling and that they encourage mental alertness; so they allow us to reach our fullest potential.
There are many foods and herbs used as mind supplements, and these supplements are recommended to restore lubricating juices and rebuild body tissues. There is five mind-nourishing herbs that stand out above the rest as the most advantageous for an Ayurvedic lifestyle.
Often called Withania, or Winter Cherry, Ashwagandha is a fantastic mental rejuvenator. It’s often used in Ayurvedic therapies for the re-establishment of long-term sleep rhythms. Ashwagandha is also used in Ayurvedic therapies to provide strength and support during times of fatigue and exhaustion, to support the nervous system, and to promote healthy memory.
This tonic herb is a relative of potatoes and tomatoes. Because it’s relaxing and not stimulating, this means it can be used on a regular basis in larger amounts without having to be concerned about overstimulation; making it an ideal remedy for supporting the nervous system.
Numerous studies have confirmed the many benefits of this amazing herb on performance, stress tolerance, and endurance. In one study Ashwagandha was proven to support physical working capacity, and strength: another study indicated that Ashwagandha supported the brain during stressful situations.
In Ayurveda, it’s considered a ‘grounding herb’ – one that supports a balanced mood, and regulates and nourishes metabolic processes. It’s also a great herb for memory; and ideal for people such as students who are undergoing testing and examinations. In one study, stress and sleep were examined, and Ashwagandha proved to be very effective in promoting healthy sleep patterns.
In addition to its slow-acting properties, Ashwagandha is a wonderful herb for re-balancing elevated Vata: this is a very common problem as we age. To get the desired effect it takes about a week, and then it takes another week for Ashwagandha to reach its effectiveness. Due to the fact that it is a slow-acting herb, it doesn’t matter at what time of the day you take it.
About a gram per day is a typical dose of Ashwagandha, and it should be taken on a continuous basis over a long period of time – often years – because it’s a rejuvenator. However, because it’s a very safe herb it’s often taken in larger quantities short-term.
Withania is used in India and given with heating and pungent herbs, such as pepper and ginger, to ensure the proper digestion takes place.
The essence of yoga is conscious communication. From the words you speak, from your nervous system to the chakras, your molecules vibrate with the energy of your being, sending that energy to all the people in your life, and to all parts of your body.
Pranayama, Yoga, and other lifestyle practices are all supportive of conscious communication, but there is one very special herb that Yoga puts above all the rest for expanding and clarifying our spiritual voice. Calamus Root is the ideal herb for meditation and the mind, and it’s a herb very highly revered by yogis.
In the United States it’s not permitted for internal consumption; however, it can be used topically as either a paste or dry powder or as part of the herbalised oil. From a historical perspective, the ancient seers and yogis used Calamus; said to enhance intelligence and to stimulate self-expression. It was used to sharpen memory, promote a healthy brain, increase self-expression and communication, and to enhance awareness. Vacha is a yogic name meaning ‘speech’, and it refers to its effect on the fifth chakra, which encourages you to speak of your highest consciousness.
Calamus was often used in combination with Gotu Kola, which is mild and cooling. This combination proved to be very suitable for a wide range of people. It was combined with Shankpushpi, Gotu Kola, and Licorice to support focus and attention. Over longer periods of use, Calamus pacifies the mind and warms the body. It was also used in conjunction with Triphala as an overall rejuvenative, bestowing longevity, intelligence, and improved memory.
In Ayurveda, Vacha has a very special and long history: it was a great boost for meditating yogis.
Brahmi – Gotu Kola
If you’re feeling very stressed, Gotu Kola is a wonderful herb with a very long history of brain support. Gotu Kola, also known as Mandukaparni, is one of the basic Ayurvedic herbal medicines. It’s widely known as an excellent herb for the nervous system and offers many, many benefits.
In Ayurvedic medicine, this herb is called “Brahmi”, which means “godlike”, a reference to its help in meditation and its support of graceful aging. It cools the body, and it has quite a bitter taste. Gotu Kola supports physical strength, the voice, the complexion, memory, intelligence, and concentration.
Gotu Kola grows in hot, moist climates, and is a jungle creeper. It’s the food elephants’ love, and we’re all aware that elephants have wonderful memories! It’s great used fresh as a salad vegetable, and the juice from the fresh leaves are often used in juices from juice bars.
A recent study conducted in Korea showed that certain parts of Gotu Kola have great potential in promoting a healthy memory. As mentioned, Gotu Kola is just a mild salad vegetable, so you can have quite a large serving. Alternatively, use up to four teaspoons of fresh juice in your morning smoothie. Lots of people consume a small amount (1gram) each day in tablet or capsule form for continuous rejuvenation. Before meditation, try having a cup of Kola tea with added honey.
Brahmi – Bacopa
Water Hyssop, also known as Brahmi in India, is one of the mainstays of Ayurvedic medicine. Brahmi means ‘God-like’. In Asia, Brahmi is a powerful brain food and is used to support mental health, the nervous system, and healthy memory. It’s widely used by those who meditate to improve concentration, comprehensive, and recollection. It’s often found in Ayurvedic therapies because of its amazing powers of promoting our body’s natural ability to cope with stress. Almost 300 studies are shown in the scientific literature, so Brahmi has certainly created a scientific base for its wonderful properties and effective functions.
To prove Brahmi’s effectiveness in promoting healthy memory, in Australia recently researchers conducted a double-blind randomized placebo control study whereby 76 adults aged between 40 and 65 years of age were tested on various memory functions. With testing both before and after taking Brahmi the results proved that the herb showed significant results in supporting the learning process.
Brahmi is quite commonly used in children, with children in India taking it at home. In a single-blind study conducted in India, Brahmi was given to 40 school children aged between 6 and 8: the study clearly proved that Brahmi supported memory, learning, and perception. An extracted syrup form of the dried plant was given to the children in an administered dose of 1 gram per day for a period of three months. There were no side effects at all. Today, a common dose can be up to two grams of the complete herb, tea, or tables or capsules are taken twice a day with warm water.
When we need to relax and restore a clear quality of the mind; when we need sleep and mental peace, then it’s time to call upon Shankhapushi.
The flowers of the Shankhapushpi are similar to the Shankha, or conch shell, therefore the name. It’s found in open fields in Northern India: it’s a plant about a foot tall, with dome-like flowers.
This is a wonderful rejuvenating tonic for nerve tissues and for the mind. It’s widely believed that the plant contains mystical properties, and it has an affinity for the crown chakras, the heart, third eye, and the throat. It’s a very effective herb to take for tranquillity and mental peace. It’s often prepared in ghee or taken with ghee: it doesn’t dull the mind but it promotes serenity. Because it’s a balancing herb, its effects can be both calming and uplifting.
Many students use Shankhapushi to calm their mind during testing and examinations. It combines very well with licorice and Brahmi to support attention and focus. Use Shankpushpi at night-time to support a healthy sleep pattern, and for this purpose, you can take up to 6 grams. To sharpen even the dullest mind, Astanga Hridyam advises using ghee cooked three times with the juice of Shankpushpi and milk.
A healthy mind is the main objective of Ayurveda, and Ayurveda believes that all physical imbalances begin in the mind. The five herbs mentioned above are at the core of maintaining and promoting a healthy and rejuvenated mind. They all assist in helping us stay centred, calm, exalted, and intelligent: today would probably be the perfect time to start using these herbs to improve your mental function, your mind, and your memory.