Mind Over Matter

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RAJGOPAL NIDAMBOOR

Think of a ‘new light’ splashed on an old thought — a classy synthesis on the potential of how our brains progress. Not too long ago, a research study in London compared brain scans from 16 male cab drivers with 50 from the general population. The study reported that the area of the brain, called the hippocampus, was incredibly and notably ‘greater’ in cab drivers. Reason: the hippocampus is one of the key areas in the brain responsible for navigation, learning, and special memory.

You’d, perforce, infer that the cabbies essentially had larger ‘memory’ areas, along with distinct on-the-job exposure. This, however, wasn’t the case. The study found the largest memory areas only in drivers who had long-term acquaintance and experience. The more experienced the cab driver, the better was their working capacity and memory.

The outcome of the research, in question, was remarkable for one primaeval reason, viz., our evolving understanding of aging and the brain. This was simply because it was up until then widely accepted that loss of brain cells characterised normal aging activity. It was also originally construed that connections in the brain were established in the developmental phases of childhood, following which some sort of a brain cell dropout followed. New studies show that there’s, as a result, a possibility and also justification for continually expanding our memory banks in terms of on-going brain development, or evolution.

There is, perhaps, another possibility dimension: the determination of the extent to which mental exercises can invert, or compensate, the negative effects of stress, the bugbear of our age, on memory. Studies propose that repeated stress can lead to the body’s inability to turn off its major biological stress pathways, causing significant memory loss. Research also notes that substances, like glucocorticoids, which act as the body’s natural steroids, and excitatory amino acids — neurotransmitters, or chemical substances, that enable nerve transmission in key areas — directly affect nerve fibres, called dendrites, in the hippocampus.

Now, the big question: can mental exercise preserve, or build, our memory capacities even in the presence of significant stressors? The answer is yes. This is also reason enough why research recommends a healthy mental workout, through meditation and yoga, each day, along with other forms of physical exercise, proper diet, and stress control.

The onus is, of course, on you. You have to look at potential approaches to reduce stress and, thus, improve your brain inclinations, including your intelligence quotient, emotional intelligence, and spiritual quotient.

  • Practice meditation
  • Read books, newspapers/magazines etc.,
  • Listen to music, or educational, self-help, inspirational, and spiritual tapes/CDs
  • Write or memorise poems, songs etc.,
  • Maintain a diary, or learn a new language, or musical instrument
  • Research a new hobby
  • Don’t use the calculator to check your grocer’s bill
  • Plan a mental vacation to a place you’d love to walk around
  • Solve crossword puzzles; play Scrabble with your kid
  • Develop your own sense of humour by memorising new and old anecdotes.

The inference is obvious: the quality time we spend in a challenging mental exercise everyday would help maintain what we cannot relinquish. The reason is simple. It is also profound. Our mind is too precious to squander. What’s more, it’s also never too late to nurture it — our most precious gift. As Robert Bly, a perceptive thinker, said, “It takes leisure to mature. People in a hurry can neither grow nor decay; they are preserved in a state of perpetual puerility.”

So, get set — go.

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