Imagine no more misplacing your car keys or forgetting names, missing appointments. Imagine being able to be present, mindful of the moment while confident that anything you want to memorize is easily retrievable and safe, backed up in your synaptic cloud. Imagine having an indestructible hard drive inside your brain. Discover and develop your ‘Memory Palace’ right now!
Memory and the Hippocampus
The hippocampus, located inside the middle section of the brain, plays a crucial role in helping us learn and remember things. It is involved in two types of memory: declarative memories and spatial relationship memories.
Declarative memories are memories related to facts and events. For example, when you are trying to memorize lines in a play.
Spatial relationship memories are memories related to routes or pathways, connecting ideas. For example, when you are trying to learn a new route through the city.
The hippocampus is also where your short term memories are transformed into long-term memories, mostly when an emotional tag is attached to them, which are then stored somewhere else in the brain, the limbic system.
Recent research suggests that the hippocampus may do more than help us remember things. It may also help us see, touch and hear. It is truly a remarkable brain circuitry.
Disorders of the Hippocampus
The hippocampus is quite sensitive, susceptible to neurological and psychiatric conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, depression and stress. In Alzheimer’s disease, the hippocampus is one of the first regions of the brain that is affected. In the early stages of the disease, patients suffer short term memory loss, and may find it hard to follow directions. Meanwhile, upwards of 50 percent of patients with epilepsy show damage in the hippocampus.
In severe depression, the hippocampus can shrink to 80% of its original volume. For those with chronic stress, cortisol affects the level at which neurons are added or eliminated, thus reducing the size of the hippocampus. This effect can be reversed by controlling stress.
The Memory Palace
A memory palace is a visualization technique based on creating a mind map based on different spaces or rooms in an imaginary building. It may include walkways to connect memories, plans and ideas. This methodology leverages a familiar environment, such as your home or town, to connect declarative and spatial memories. To ensure memorization you visualize specific locations that you always recall in the same order. Try it out!
And to keep your memory palace in mint condition, let’s make sure your mental capacity and intellectual abilities are in top shape with these 5 building blocks:
We all know that exercise is good for the body, but did you know that it is good for the mind as well? The saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks doesn’t work for humans. Getting older doesn’t mean that your brain will deteriorate.
Regular aerobic exercise can lower the cognitive decline and neuro-degeneration that may occur as we age. In fact, aerobic exercise is the most effective way to improve your memory as you age. In healthy adults, aerobic exercise improves not only memory, but attention span and the speed at which information is processed as well. And in patients with early Alzheimer’s disease, exercise can definitely improve memory.
Why is this so? Animal studies show that when you exercise, the hippocampus grows new neurons, so-called neuroplasticity is taking place. Aerobic exercise also improves blood flow to the hippocampus, thereby improving memory.
Aerobic exercise is any activity that increases your heart rate and delivers more oxygen through your body, including the brain. You don’t have to go the gym and go on a treadmill or the elliptical, just pick an activity you like and move your body, such as a brisk walk.
Have you noticed that when you don’t get enough sleep you are more forgetful? You may also find that when you don’t get enough sleep, it is harder to learn new things at the office, or at school. And for good reason. We need sleep in order to consolidate memories. Therefore, getting a good 7 to 8 hours of sleep is essential to solidifying new memories, as well as storing long term memory.
You know that practice drives mastery, right? Well, resting may be just as important as practice when it comes to learning. According to research, the breaks that you take while learning is where the true memorization takes place. In fact, your brain needs a break about every 90 minutes to reach peak efficiency. So, listen to your body and let your brain reset at regular intervals. In a study with participants doing a typing test, those who took a regular 10-second rest got faster as time went on. And brain scans showed that the brain was not just relaxing, it was actually processing what had just been done, and forming memories of it, so that it could perform even better.
Research has shown that those who regularly engage in the practice of mindfulness meditation have less age-related brain degeneration, better brain function, and show improvements in memory, particularly long-term memory and working memory.
This is because mindfulness meditation appears to increase your brain’s ability to form new neural connections, which in turn improves your memory.
Want to learn a visualization-based mindfulness practice? Try mindful framing, in which you become more mindful by visualizing different types of memory palaces, controlling your anxiety triggers, leveraging your 5 senses and imagining and connecting with Natural landscapes, Emotional relationships and caring for your Organism, the NEO Chi lifestyle.
You know the saying that “You are what you eat?” Well, it applies just as well to your body as to your brain. We all know that increased sugar intake can lead to obesity. But did you know that it may increase your risk of Alzheimer’s disease as well?
The Framingham Heart Study found that consuming too many sugar laden drinks, including so-called healthy drinks like fruit juice was associated with a lower brain volume, an early indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
So, it is imperative to reduce your consumption of sugary beverages. Eliminate sodas. Not only are they sugary, they are devoid of any nutrition. Try diluting your juice with water if you are so inclined to drinking juice, or better yet, swap the fruit juice for fresh fruit instead, or just add slices of fruit into your water.
Reducing your caloric intake is a great way to lose or maintain your weight. Reducing your calorie intake may also improve your memory. A study found that elderly female participants who reduced their caloric intake by 30%, were able to improve their verbal memory scores.
In addition, certain foods rich in antioxidants, B vitamins, or omega-3s, such as seeds, nuts, fish and green leafy vegetables, will improve your memory.
A lot of people have problems with their memory because they don’t actually make the effort to memorize. Indeed, memory is all about visualization, using your mind’s eye to imagine. If you create an image to represent an idea, a person or a task and place it somewhere in your memory palace, the greater the probability that you will recall that information.
Are you trying to remember the name of someone that you just met? Try visualization and association, if you just met a lady named Bee and she told you about her job as a chef, just imagine a bee flying around in the kitchen of your memory palace.
Are you trying to memorize a shopping list? Try linking, to remember to buy soap and sugar, imagine a cloud of soapy foam with floating sugar cubes pouring from the store entrance.
Life is full of distractions and we rely more and more on gadgets that make our life easier. However, we should devote time and attention to maintain our minds fit and ready. A healthy body needs a healthy mind.
Why do you breathe a sigh of relief when a stressful situation is resolved? Why is deep breathing or stretching your neck so relaxing?
Be thankful to your vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body. It contains ‘vagabond’ nerve fibers driving the ‘rest and digest’ response to key organs and body systems. This is the key pathway for our brain to connect with the entire organism and deactivate the ‘fight and flight’ response leading to anxiety and stress.
What is the Vagus Nerve?
The vagus nerve wanders throughout your body and in so doing connects your brain to a number of vital organs in your body, including your gut, lungs and heart.
It is the key component of the parasympathetic, ‘rest and digest,’ part of your autonomic nervous system. The other component of the system is the sympathetic, ‘fight or flight,’ response. An imbalance or lack of control of your autonomic response leads to anxiety and chronic stress. The sympathetic nerves are the gas pedal, revving you up, while the parasympathetic or vagus nerve puts the breaks in motion and slows you down.
The vagus nerve is key to feeling a sense of calm. When you stimulate the vagus nerve, feel-good hormones like prolactin and oxytocin are released. As a result, you feel less anxious and depressed, experience less tension headaches and form stronger social bonds.
It also controls many functions in your body that happen unconsciously. So, a well-functioning autonomic nervous system means better blood glucose and blood pressure control, better digestion and immunity, and less inflammation. You will also experience better heart health and less allergies.
On the other hand, if your vagus nerve is not functioning well, you may experience weight gain, digestive issues, depression, anxiety, and chronic inflammation. Even, the so-called invisible disease or dysautonomia, affecting millions of people globally.
What is the Gut-Brain Connection?
The vagus nerve extends into the digestive system. In fact, close to 20% of the vagus nerve cells form connections with the digestive system and send messages from the brain in order to control movement of food along the gut. In addition, the bacteria in the gut communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve, which not only affects how much food is eaten, but inflammation and mood as well.
As a result, stimulating the vagus nerve can improve digestive issues such as irritable bowel syndrome. On the other hand, damage to the vagus nerve can cause digestive issues such as diarrhea, bloating, nausea and slow down the emptying of the stomach.
Can the Vagus Nerve be Stimulated?
As a medical treatment, the vagus nerve can be stimulated to treat a number of diseases including medication-resistant epilepsy, treatment-resistant depression and anxiety disorders, such as obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
To stimulate the vagus nerve, an electrode is implanted along the right side of the vagus nerve, thus providing regular activation of the vagus nerve.
Unless you are a yoga master, you cannot directly stimulate the vagus nerve, but you can do so indirectly to relieve anxiety and depression. Do it yourself in 4 natural ways:
Breath Slowly and Deeply
Most of us don’t breathe well. We either breathe too fast; about 10 to 14 breaths per minute, or we breathe too superficially; from the chest instead of the diaphragm. Thus, we short-change ourselves from the life-giving force of the vagus nerve.
By breathing deeper and more slowly, we are able to stimulate the vagus nerve, and thus reduce anxiety. So, how exactly can you practice abdominal breathing? It’s actually quite simple: When you are breathing, think about slowly filling your abdomen up like a balloon. This will make you naturally inhale slowly. Then, slowly exhale.
How often you practice slow abdominal breathing depends on you. You can make a daily routine of it by fitting it into a daily meditation or yoga practice. On the other hand, you can also just practice it whenever you feel on edge. Just 3 cycles of slow abdominal breathing can work wonders for activating your vagus nerve!
Because your gut and your brain are intimately connected via the gut-brain axis, whatever affects your gut also affects your brain and its connections such as the vagus nerve.
So, by taking good care of your gut, you’re also taking care of your vagus nerve. One way you can take care of your gut is by practicing intermittent fasting. Much like you need to give your body a rest in order to recharge, intermittent fasting gives your gut a break from digestion, so it can recharge. In fact, research shows that intermittent fasting increases your heart rate variability, which is a measure of the activity of your vagus nerve.
An easy way to begin intermittent fasting is to stop eating, snacking or drinking alcohol after 7 p.m., and not resume eating or snacking until 7 a.m. the next day.
Stretch and Exercise daily
Participating in daily physical activity has tons of benefits, one of which is stimulating your vagus nerve. Activating your parasympathetic nervous system decreases your stress and anxiety levels, your anger, and even inflammation.
However, there is one caveat when it comes to physical activity; it should be done regularly and include moderate cardio and strength routines, which provide a sufficient increase of the vagal tone without overexerting yourself. This is because when you exercise too intensely, your vagus nerve activity actually diminishes.
Yoga is an ideal type of practice since stretching in certain yoga poses has a proven beneficial effect on heart rate and blood pressure, especially stretching the neck in the cobra pose.
Be Aware and Empathetic
In today’s technology driven world, we can feel isolated despite social media. Research has demonstrated that when you feel socially isolated, your vagus nerve function decreases.
But the good news is that there is a remedy for this; face-to-face interactions. The same study found that when those who felt socially isolated were engaged in fact-to-face interactions with others such as family and friends, the vagus tone increased.
Not able to have face-to-face interactions right now? Not to worry! By practicing mindful framing, a mindfulness practice that transforms your anxiety into vital energy through visualization, you will increase self-awareness and become more empathetic towards people in your family, at work and other acquaintances.
Or you can practice loving-kindness mindfulness, projecting warm feelings of love, empathy, and forgiveness toward others in four stages; first with friends and loved ones, then strangers who are suffering around the world, then your enemies and those you hold grudges against, and finally, yourself.
By naturally stimulating your vagus nerve, you will have at your disposal a powerful tool to relax and rebound from anxious thoughts and life’s stresses. Discover how your mind can control your body by sending the right signals to your heart, your lungs and your gut, while creating an aura of peace and relaxation around you.
We may not even realize it, but dopamine rules the roost when it comes to our sense of wellbeing. How is one neurotransmitter so crucial to the feeling of joy?
When you first wake up in the morning, and you smell that fresh pot of coffee brewing, you probably feel excitement. This anticipation is dopamine.
If you receive a raise at work, your sense of accomplishment will most likely be accompanied by a set of pleasant psychological and physical sensations – that’s dopamine.
When you enjoy your favorite music, laughing with friends, or experience an immense rush of adrenaline while playing a sport, dopamine is kicking in.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that sends signals between neurons and is a precursor of adrenaline. It plays an important role in a range of brain and body functions that are critical for your success, including motivation, memory, attention, focus, learning, creativity, and mood. When we experience the positive effects of dopamine, we feel well, excited and energized.
However, if we experience low levels of dopamine, we can become fatigued, apathetic and can suffer from addiction. poor memory, disrupted sleep, and even Parkinson’s disease.
What is the link between dopamine and addiction?
In the 1950s, scientists designed an experiment where they placed electrodes along the dopamine pathway in the brain of rats. When the rats entered into a particular corner of their cages, they received an electric shock. The discomfort of the shock therapy led scientists to believe that the rats would avoid entering the area where the shock occurred – but just the opposite happened.
Rather than avoiding the shock, the rats craved the dopamine so severely that they continued going back to experience the shock up to 700 times in one hour.
This compulsive behavior can be seen in people, too. Take substance abuse or gambling for example. Doing anything in excess may not feel good after the fact, but the dopamine rush can be so intense that a person will crave for more.
Quick dopamine fixes are tempting and appear everywhere in our modern world. Some examples for sources of a dopamine rush include caffeine, alcohol, video games, social media addiction, impulsive eating, mindless working or compulsive shopping.
To achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing, we should boost our dopamine in healthy and balanced ways that nourish our sense of self-worth and reinforce our connections with others.
Have you ever felt that warm tingling sensation of love and compassion take over when you feel gratitude for someone or something happening in your life?
Being grateful for all of the blessings you have in your life is a simple, inexpensive and practical way to enhance your dopamine levels. It also works to keep your life in perspective when times get tough.
One way to easily maintain a momentum of appreciation is to keep a daily gratitude journal. Remember, when difficult storms arrive, and you have troubles finding things to appreciate, it’s okay to be grateful for simple pleasures like a snuggle with a pet or a smile from a stranger.
Focusing on the present moment and practicing self-reflection offer us enormous amounts of benefits. When we pay attention to the environment, calm our thoughts and center ourselves, we experience a relaxed state-of-mind, so that we can fully relax and recharge.
Not only does the practice of mindful framing and mindfulness help us to let go of stress, but studies have shown the potential to increase the release of dopamine.
It can be tempting to reach for a junkie TV show to distract yourself from daily problems instead of retreating into pondering and reflecting about our ideas and experiences. In the long run, embracing a ritual of self-reflection will increase your dopamine levels in a positive, more profound way.
There’s no need to sign yourself up for a spin class that you are going to dread if spinning isn’t your thing. But finding an outlet to exercise that you genuinely enjoy can increase your dopamine and boost your physical wellbeing.
Whether you take up martial arts, dance or play fetch with your dog, your mind and body will thank you. Dopamine is released when you get your heart pumping.
For an extra rush of healthy dopamine, combine your activity with reaching a goal (such as increasing steadily you daily steps).
Exercise brings many other fantastic side effects into your life. Perhaps you lose a couple of pounds, look healthier and meet new like-minded friends during your activity.
White sugar and fast food can be highly tempting if you desire a surge in energy. But the mood-elevating spike caused by these foods is short-lived and often comes with an energy crash.
Our earth is abundant with fresh fruits, veggies and fiber for us to indulge in daily. And did you know that a healthy gut seems to be directly related to balanced dopamine levels?
Some foods that can support your dopamine levels are apples, bananas, beets, chicken, eggs and cheese. So start your day with a delicious cheesy omelet or fresh fruit salad to elevate your mood early on.
Life is dynamic, a steady source of experiences and ideas, and dopamine mobilizes your brain and body to be motivated, creative and achieve peak performance. Don’t waste this precious elixir by disrupting the fine-tuned alchemy of neurotransmitters and hormones. Be gentle with yourself and let the natural processes in your organism take over without ‘artificial sweeteners.’
Can you imagine a workplace full of intelligent machines and robots but no warmth, no emotional bonding? This environment can be very productive but psychologically devastating. We are human beings, not human doings. We need to be emotionally connected with family, friends, coworkers, even with pets, to achieve mental, emotional and physical wellbeing.
When we hold hands with our loved one and have a feel-good sensation throughout our bodies – that’s the hormone oxytocin kicking in.
When we regularly distrust other people’s intentions and withdraw from them, it may signal a deficit of oxytocin.
What is oxytocin?
Oxytocin is a hormone that is formed in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain important for controlling many bodily functions.
Without oxytocin, we would become extinct- literally; it is essential in human reproduction. Oxytocin is necessary for contraction of the womb during delivery, as well as breastfeeding.
Oxytocin is also important for our social wellbeing. It helps us bond with others and maintain eye contact with them, remember faces, show empathy, trust others, have a sense of self-worth and good social skills. We feel more connected and in tune with others.
Oxytocin improves our tolerance to pain and reduces stress and anxiety by controlling the release of cortisol, the stress hormone.
If we have low levels of oxytocin, we may be afraid, anxious, depressed, and aggressive toward others.
Oxytocin as a drug
Oxytocin, which means ‘quick birth’ in Greek, is used as the prescription drug Pitocin to induce labour and reduce bleeding after delivery.
Oxytocin has also been used to improve symptoms of Asperger syndrome, autism and schizophrenia. Additionally, it has been shown to help with withdrawal from alcohol and drugs.
These are 4 simple ways to naturally boost our oxytocin levels.
Physical and emotional love
Life is busy. With work, running errands, looking after kids, preparing supper… the list goes on, the last thing in your mind at the end of the day is to cuddle with your partner.
Oxytocin helps us stick together creating emotional bonds. A study conducted in men found that those who were given a dose of intranasal oxytocin were more interested in emotional instead of physical bonding when meeting for the first time an attractive woman.
What’s more, physical proximity with our loved one releases oxytocin. Studies show that oxytocin increases our sex drive. When we make love, we also feel less anxious, calmer, and have an improved sense of overall wellbeing, these are effects of oxytocin.
Have you ever felt the weight of the world drop right off your shoulders after listening to soothing music? This is because our brains produce more oxytocin when we listen mindfully to a bird’s song, natural sounds or relaxing music.
Mindfulness meditation and mindful framing have been shown to increase serotonin levels with regular practice. Anyone can benefit from just a few minutes of self reflection in a quiet place, listening to silence or soothing sounds.
So, take a break, relax and listen to some classical, jazz or smooth music, whatever tunes you find soothing for your soul, and watch your cares melt away.
Do you feel stiffness in your neck? A massage may be just what the doctor ordered! Research shows that oxytocin levels increase both in the person receiving the massage, as well as in the person giving the massage!
When you get a massage your anxiety level decreases, your sense of well-being improves, you feel less pain, and your cortisol and blood pressure level drop- all effects of oxytocin.
So, go ahead and treat yourself to a massage, even a self massage- you deserve it!
Dogs have been called man’s best friend for a reason- they provide us with unconditional love, and don’t take much to please!
Having a pet at home makes us feel less lonely, forces us to leave the couch, and even helps us develop relationships with others, all factors that lead to emotional wellbeing. It’s no wonder that so many people talk about dogs and cats as if they were real people!
Did you know that petting a dog releases oxytocin? It also boosts dopamine and serotonin- other feel-good hormones, while decreasing stress-producing cortisol.
Life is too short to live in fear and distrust. By naturally boosting our oxytocin levels, we can feel a deeper connection with others and increase of sense of self worth. Take a first step today and follow the path to more meaningful, deeper relationships.
You hear it all the time – to be happier and more productive you should balance your work and life. But in practical terms, what does this mean?
Take a moment to picture an average day in your work and personal life. Let’s imagine you are a parent who works from 9-5 and still manages to find time for healthy meals and downtime with your children. Work and life seem to be clearly separated by the time allocated to each activity. Right?
Wrong. Interconnectivity and the way our brains are wired make this separation impossible. This parent cannot simply forget the kids from 9-5 or ignore work responsibilities after 5.
For many, a thriving career serves as a powerful motivating force that provides life’s meaning through goals and satisfaction. For others, work provides the means to pursue personal goals.
There is a middle ground. Rather than striving to separate work and life, an effort that can lead to anxiety and stress, why not weaving them together? Follow these 3 rules for a seamless work-life integration.
Reconsider your occupation
It’s a given that no matter what’s your profession, there will be always be pros and cons for your chosen career, ups and downs in your workplace.
Wouldn’t be amazing if most people could enjoy the profession they chose and their current workplace? Moreover, wouldn’t it be nice to feel a natural inclination or urge to complete the tasks at hand – instead of dreading every assignment.
Start by taking a look at your profession and career path to see if it feeds and nourishes your passion for excelling and expanding. Let’s imagine you work in a publishing house as a staff writer, if you love your work you may be naturally inclined to wake up and write.
On the other hand, you may hate sitting in front of a white screen ready to write a new piece. This doesn’t mean you need to start thinking about a career change, just take some time to evaluate what your honest heart’s desires and potentially refocus towards a new path.
With renewed motivation, you can certainly begin writing and publishing daily. Small steps everyday go a long way when changing the course of your career’s direction.
When you are satisfied with what you do, it’s a joyful process to incorporate work into your life with ease.
Realize that it’s okay to love what you do
At times, we feel an urge to work in an exciting project in our personal time, even sacrificing a well-deserved weekend or vacation time. We need breaks, but we also need to feed our desires to excel and achieve. Sometimes you will feel a strong momentum and sense a powerful life force that requires our full attention and effort. Go for it!
There are also times when our personal life should be a priority. For instance when a family member needs support or we need to take care of our health.
Integration means not feeling guilty when answering emails late at night and tying up loose ends from work after spending a time with your family or unwinding. These few minutes will make your next day more streamlined and efficient. It’s okay to work your job into your home life and to consider personal matters while at work.
Modulate your energy
It takes a lot of effort and stress trying to draw a distinct line in the sand between work and life. The two mingle together often, so rather than creating unrealistic expectations, why not finding ways to recharge your energy throughout your day?
Every single one of us has energy spikes, dips, and times when we coast. It’s entirely fine to feel down and without motivation. It will pass.
Being aware of our energetic mood helps us to realize where we are at emotionally, physically and mentally.
In an article from McKinsey & Co, Gila Vadnai-Tolub explains that we have different energy modes: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Each type of energy offers us a unique form of fulfillment, but we can’t expect to be highly functioning for all of them every moment.
It’s okay to realize that during work, you might need a moment to watch a fun YouTube video so your brain relaxes. And at home, your may want to spend time thinking on a new project from work.
Being aware of what we need in each moment to achieve emotional and energetic satisfaction helps us to meld both work and life together.
Vadnai-Tolub suggest 3 approaches to leverage our energy levels:
- Allow yourself the time and space to not always be in high energy mode. It’s okay and desirable to find time to slow down and relax. Be lazy some times!
- Choose to see the good. Remain attentive toward what is going right in your life and work. We all have room for improvement. Take it with a grain of salt, improve when you can, and keep moving toward goals with optimism.
- Boost your energy. If you work at a desk all day, maybe you can go outside during lunch hour and appreciate the fresh air, even dedicating some time to thinking or resolving personal matters. Also, you can find moments of inspiration by letting your mind wander towards what you appreciate and love in life.
Life doesn’t have to be cut and dry. Our modern lives call for modern solutions. This may mean that it’s time to stop trying to draw lines and create compartments in our lives. Let’s discover what we love to do… and do it!