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Yoga and Memory

How anxiety influences memory

Sigmund Freud claimed that we forget (and hence we repress) anything which causes us pain or anxiety. It is also often stand that anxiety makes us forget things. Many students state that high anxiety levels contribute to their poor performance in their exam. A popular explanation for how this happens is that worry has an overcrowding effect. When worrisome thoughts are occupying the mind, there is little room for anything else. Of course it is very important that the information which we do not regularly use is not remembered. In this way our minds are not cluttered up unnecessarily.

Remembering and the brain
The ability to recall is linked with most of the higher brain functions which place man at the top of the evolutionary scale. For example, perception is a complex ability which first of all involves receiving sensory information (i.e. sensation). However, much more than that is needed for perception, since it involves the significance of that sensory information and for this we often draw upon our stored facts (i.e. memory). This can be easily understood with an example. The figure 1, consists of a number of straight lines at different angles to each other. However, most of us immediately perceive it as a sleeping cat. This is because of our ability to link what we see (i.e. straight lines), with a visual picture, stored in our memory of a real cat, sleeping.
The way in which the brain undergoes changes to make remembering takes place, are amazing. Broadly two types of changes can occur -

I. Short Term Memory (STM)

  1. Information is retained long enough for the mind to grasp it.

  2. Is represented by a dynamic change in activity of neurons (the function changes)

II. Long Term Memory (LTM)

  1. Information is stored for retrieval much later.

  2. Is represented by structural changes in neurons (the actual structure changes).




  • Adopt Nasika mudra with your right hand.

  • Close the left nostril with the little and ring fingers of Nasika Mudra.

  • Inhale and exhale slowly through the right nostril (Surya Nadi) only.

  • Keep the left nostril closed all the time during the practice.

  • One cycle of inhalation and exhalation forms one round.

  • Practice nine rounds.


  • Time taken for exhalation should be longer than inhalation.

  • Depression patients may practice this Pranayama 27 rounds before breakfast, lunch, dinner and before sleep (4 times a day).


  • It facilitates the function of the "right " brain (creative, intuitive) much more than the left brain (logical, analytical) . It helps us to remember shapes/picture/routes better.

  • t helps in weight reduction by increasing the rate of energy expenditure by the body. This is because of stimulation of sympathetic nerves.

Caution: persons with hypertension or anxiety neurosis should not perform this practice.

This article has been written by Dr. R. Nagarathna, Dean, Division of Yoga & Life-sciences, SVYASA
This article is published online courtesy
and Arogyadhama

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