When the mind is functioning optimally, you have a keen sense of awareness, a sharpness of focus and attention, good memory recall, and decisiveness. Typically, memory function is as natural as breathing. It is only when there are problems with recollection that we become aware of the process of recording information in the brain. A dull or cloudy mind can lead to scattered thoughts, forgetfulness, and a feeling of heaviness.
According to Ayurveda, most memory problems are related to kapha dosha, with its dense, thick, soft, and sticky qualities. Images, experiences, and feelings are recorded and retained on the “film” of the brain's white matter, or tarpaka, a sub-dosha of kapha. This special tissue nourishes and protects the brain cells and other nerve tissue. Stagnation of kapha typically results in a heavy feeling and a dull mind. An example of high kapha could be a thick, oily quality to the blood due to high triglycerides (or fat in the blood), which may cause a low flow of blood across the blood-brain barrier.
In Ayurveda, each person is treated as an individual and dietary advice is tailored to each person's needs. Generally, a diet which is light, cleansing, and (sattvic) (that which gives wisdom and sharpens the senses) will help to enhance perception and strengthen memory. A balanced diet of fresh organic fruits and vegetables, including some nuts and ghee, is one of the best things you can do to support a healthy brain. Here are more diet tips to give your brain the fuel it needs:
- Add carrots and beets to your diet. These help to strengthen pitta's positive qualities, promoting a good memory.
- Try fresh raw vegetable juices to help build blood and nourish the brain.
- Limit refined sugars and carbohydrates which “turn off” or “short circuit” the brain.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol can cause damage to brain tissue, particularly the frontal lobes which are responsible for functions such as problem-solving, reasoning, abstraction, planning, short-term memory, and emotional regulation.
- Limit caffeine. This stimulant can aggravate vata and pitta doshas and cause thoughts to “jump” from one to the next instead of keeping a steady stream of focused attention on one idea at a time.
- Limit heavy foods such as aged cheeses and meat. These can lead to kapha stagnation and inhibit brain function.
Ayurveda emphasizes the benefits of fasting in order to clear the body of toxins, improve digestion, and strengthen the nervous system and brain. During a fast, the body's energy is redirected inward in an effort to cleanse and detoxify. For this reason it is recommended to do as little work as possible, planning your fast for a period of time when you can remain close to home and have lots of rest. After beginning a fast, note your energy level each day. If there is a dramatic decrease in energy, a feeling of weakness, or dizziness, the fast should be terminated. As a safety precaution, it is wise to seek the supervision of a trained Ayurvedic physician or other medical professional. A single food fast of kitchari, which is a nourishing dish of equal parts split mung dal and white basmati rice, can be done for three to five days.
Cooking with spices such as black pepper and turmeric can be of great benefit to supporting good memory function. Black pepper helps to decrease vata and kapha doshas while stimulating pitta. And turmeric is excellent for reducing kapha imbalances and balancing vata.