The results of a University of Pennsylvania study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that a specific meditation, Kirtan Kriya performed daily for eight weeks increased brain activity in areas important to memory and actually improved their cognitive function in people suffering from memory decline.
Kirtan Kriya (KK), originated in the Kundalini yoga tradition, is a 12-minute practice from the Kundalini yoga tradition that people have been practicing for thousands of years. This meditation involves repetitive finger movements, or mudras, plus singing the sounds, or mantra, Saa Taa Naa Maa. These ancient primal sounds from Sanskrit, taken together, mean "my true identity" or "my highest self.
A kirtan is a song. Kriya refers to a specific set of movements. In the Eastern tradition, kriyas are used to help bring the body, mind, and emotions into balance, thus creating healing.
Kirtan Kriya is a 12-minute singing exercise in the Kundalini yoga tradition.
It was hypothesized that Kirtan Kriya singing exercise would show activation of the frontal lobe and activation of the hippocampus. Eleven subjects (experienced at meditation) were brought in to test this hypothesis.
Fifteen subjects with impaired cognitive functioning from 52 to 77 years, participated in the study. Brain images, brain blood flow, Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography (SPECT) scans and cognitive tests were conducted at the beginning of the study. The participants were taught KK and instructed to practice it each day for eight weeks.
They first sat quietly and had a baseline control SPECT scan study of their brain (SPECT stands for Single Photon Emission Computerized Tomography). The subjects then practiced the Kirtan Kriya exercise for 12 minutes. After completion, they each had another SPECT scan taken.
A small comparison group was also recruited in which the meditation was replaced with a music listening task. The “music group” was instructed to listen to two Mozart violin concertos each day for approximately 12 minutes. Subjects kept a daily log of their study activity and were contacted at four weeks with a reminder to continue the practice.
After eight weeks, cognitive tests and SPECT scans were repeated for both groups and researchers compared pre-program with post-program results. The study found that blood flow was increased in the KK group in the frontal lobe regions and the right superior parietal lobe.
The frontal lobe of the brain, which became more active as a result of meditation in the study, aids in attention and concentration and has been shown to be affected in patients with dementia disorders. Both parts of the brain the frontal lobe and the parietal lobe, positively affected in the study, are involved in retrieving memories.
The music group did not experience improvements in memories or their thinking processes. Participants found the meditation to be enjoyable and beneficial.
“While meditation is already practiced by millions, this is the first study to investigate its potential to reverse memory loss in patients with cognitive impairment,” said Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D., the president of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation.
"These results confirm what we have long observed in clinical practice, that this brief, simple meditation can have a meaningful impact on memory and on the quality of people's lives as they age."
“It would be extremely useful to have a cost-effective, non-pharmacological approach to slowing memory loss that could bolster the effect of medications without fear of side effects or drug-drug interactions,” said Andrew Newberg, M.D., assistant professor of radiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, and study co-author. “While further study into the impact of Kirtan Kriya is required, the pilot study demonstrates that this meditation could be a very important tool in slowing cognitive decline.”