Neuroscience continues to reveal that we have the power to improve brain function and possibly prevent cognitive degeneration. A study conducted at the University of Trento in Italy showed that individuals who have memorized Sanskrit Mantras have much more grey matter in the brain.
These findings raise the possibility that verbal memory exercises may be a helpful way of slowing or even preventing cognitive impairment. It is unknown if this holds true only to Sanskrit text, or if the same result is possible with any other intensive oral text memorization.
Tradition of Sanskrit Mantra Oration
James Hartzell is a doctoral student at the Center for Mind/Brain Sciences at the University of Trento. He had also spent many years studying and translating Sanskrit. During his studies, he discovered that textual memorization has been a standard learning modality for ancient Sanskrit scholars. Masters of this method, called pandits, could recite hours of prose texts, in precise unison.
The ancient belief behind this practice of textual memorization holds that “exactly memorizing and reciting the ancient words and phrases, known as mantras, enhances both memory and thinking.”
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To unravel this claim, Hartzell decided to study the brains of professional Vedic pandits and compare them to matched control subjects. By using MRI scans, Hartzell wanted to see if verbal memory training does in fact affect the physical structure of the brain.
Study Reveals Verbal Memorization Can Improve Brain Function
Hartzell’s study showed some “remarkable” differences between the brains of pandits and those of the control subjects. Hartzell himself writes:
Numerous regions in the brains of the pandits were dramatically larger than those of controls, with over 10 percent more grey matter across both cerebral hemispheres, and substantial increases in cortical thickness.
Most interestingly for verbal memory was that the pandits’ right hippocampus—a region of the brain that plays a vital role in both short and long-term memory—had more gray matter than controls across nearly 75 percent of this subcortical structure.
The brain is one of the most mysterious parts of the body that is always re-creating and re-generating itself. The beautiful thing is that we have the power to control this process of regeneration, at some level, by involving ourselves in certain behaviors.
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For example, a study out of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences showed meditation benefits for brain and body include the ability to focus better and an increased sense of well-being. Another study, out of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases, showed that dancing benefits several parts of the brain that communicate with the hippocamus, resulting in improvements in memory and balance.
Consequently, Hartzell’s study was able to show that, in line with ancient beliefs, intensive verbal memory training should be added to the list of beneficial lifestyle habits that have the potential to improve brain function.
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