International Yoga Day 2020: Here's how kundalini yoga and kirtan kriya can help reduce risk of dementia
Every year, 21 June is celebrated as International Yoga Day to highlight the many benefits of yoga
International Yoga Day is celebrated every year on 21 June to highlight the many benefits of yoga. Not only does yoga help us strengthen our mind and body but it also helps manage many chronic conditions and reduce the risk of other diseases.
Two billion people in the world will be over 60 years of age by the year 2050. Research has shown that mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may be prevalent in 10-20 percent of this population, suggesting a very high risk of development of dementia. Hence, there is a pressing need for prevention strategies which are not only cost-effective but ones that can be made available to the masses.
This is where yoga and meditation come into play. Neural network studies show that mind-body practices have significant benefits in cognitive enhancement and preservation and improvement in thought process, stress handling and behaviour in people.
In a trial of 81 people who were randomised to try kundalini yoga (a form of yoga that combines breath, movement and sound) and memory training, it was demonstrated that both helped in memory improvement. However, only kundalini yoga helped in improving executive functioning and mood. This demonstrates a clear value of yoga practices in the prevention of dementia. Kirtan kriya, which is a form of meditation involving chanting of mantras, has also been shown to be effective in improving both memory and cognition.
It remains to be seen whether large-scale randomised trials will replicate these benefits.
How yoga and meditation work
Alternate use of mudras and chanting mantras have been suggested to enhance verbal and visual skills, awareness and attention. It also improves neural transmission and causes long-term changes in neural circuits. Additionally, yoga and meditation improve the quality of sleep and help manage depressive symptoms.
In recent times, stress has become the norm for most people. Stress increases cortisol levels and causes sympathetic nervous system overactivity which damages hippocampal circuits (the site of memory). Stress also leads to inflammation, oxidative stress, hypertension, disturbed sleep and diabetes — all of which are significant risk factors of dementia.
Meditation reduces stress. It stimulates specific points in the hypothalamus reverting stress-induced damage. Meditation also promotes relaxation and induces sleep; both of which help repair the nervous system. Additionally, meditation puts the brain in a hypometabolic state that reduces oxidative damage, mitochondrial dysfunction and consequent neuroinflammation thus reducing and stabilising brain damage.
The benefits and applications
Kirtan kriya or active meditation has been shown to reverse neurotransmitter dysfunction by increasing the levels of transmitters like acetylcholine. Yoga has shown to improve synaptic dysfunction, which is a classic characteristic of dementia. So, there are multimodal mechanisms and there is research data to support the benefit of yoga and meditation for prevention and treatment of dementia.
It's known that medical therapeutics have limited effect on dementia. On the other hand, yoga and meditation are easily available and scalable for communities and larger populations. They do not have adverse effects or any interaction with the usual medications. This suggests that yoga and meditation are simple, cost-effective and significantly relevant therapies to help prevent dementia.
This article was written by Dr Praveen Gupta, Director and HOD, Neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.
For more information, read our article on Dementia.
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