Yoga insight on memory & karma

Yoga insight on memory

According to yoga science, mind and body are in constant interaction.

There isn’t a point where the body ends and mind begins. They are considered as a single, integrated entity.

In yoga, health is not considered just as a form of freedom from diseases. It’s the perfect equilibrium of body, mind, intellect and soul.

Yoga practice, balancing the respiratory, circulatory, nervous, hormonal, digestive, excretory and reproductive systems, brings mental peace and enhanced intellectual clarity. Usually, most people look at yoga as a pure physical activity, but the reality cannot be further from that. Yoga aims at overcoming the limitations of the body; The physical well-being achieved through yoga strengthens and calms the mind. [1]

Mr Iyengar, one of the most influential Yoga teacher of the world.

Ancient yoga texts highlight the importance of maintaining a state of homeostasis, or balance, within the body, mind and spirit.

In yoga there’s a strong focus on āsana (physical postures), prānāyāma (breath control), meditation (concentration of thoughts), mantra (recital repetition of phrases) and diet (a nourishing plant-based diet).

Also important to yoga is the practice of identifying one’s emotions and the thought patterns attached to those emotions, and modifying those thought patterns as needed. [2], [3], [4], [5], [6]

We are memory: a yogic insight on memory and karma

Karma is a Sanskrit word that literally means action. All present and past actions concur to generate karma.

However, in yogic philosophy karma can also be interpreted as memory since past actions exist in the present moment only in the form of memory. This means that karma is composed by those actions that leave a residual impact upon our system.

Hence, the memory and chemistry of those actions remains and live within us.

Karma is not about something good or bad that you did.
Karma is the memory of life.
It extends the concept of justice to other worlds and other births. It reaffirms one’s faith in natural justice and makes every person responsible for his or her own well-being and suffering.
From the moment you were born, the kind of family, of home, of friends, the things that you did and did not do, are all influencing you. Every thought, emotion and action comes only from past impressions that you have had within you.
Your whole system is programmed because of the impressions that you have taken in. A complex amalgamation of all these impressions is your karma and that is the way your mind, emotion and body function.
If you want to free yourself from past actions, one of the first things that you need to do is to loosen the grip and shackle of karma. Otherwise, no movement will happen.
How do you do that? One simple way is to break the karma physically. [7], [8]


Asanas influence the chemical balance of the brain.

They strengthen the body, restore stamina and increase the circulation of fresh blood through out the body, purging it of diseases and toxins generated by unhealthy lifestyles and habits. [1]

According to the Upanishads (one of the most important collection of hindu philosophy texts) there is always a possibility to transform memories.

The Upanishads tell us that personality is composed of five sheaths:

1) sheath of the physical body (Annamaya Kosha)
2) sheath of vital energy (Pranamaya Kosha)
3) sheath of the mind (Manomaya Kosha)
4) sheath of discriminative intelligence (Vijnanamaya Kosha)
5) sheath of bliss (Anandamayakosha)

every cell in our body possesses memory on a physical level but through the influence of the higher sheaths the cells of the physical structure can be transformed;

– on the vital energy level, basic instincts can undergo change;

– transformation in the thinking patterns and emotions is possible on the mental level;

– on the intellectual level, one experiences the recollection, remembrance, reconsidering, reverting, and forgetting of various values. For example, a value in life to amass wealth will be changed to do good to others.

– on the level of bliss one experiences the complete freedom of memory; in that moment, you simply see things unconditionally for what they truly are. [9]


Sadhguru, a living Indian yogi, mystic and philanthropist

What’s memory for modern science?

Memory is the ability to recall and retain past events or previously learnt information or skills. The process of concentration and the power of recalling (memory) are the two major factors influencing the learning process.

Studies have found out that yogic exercises and lifestyle benefit both these concepts. [10], [11]

Balasubramaniam, M., Telles, S., & Doraiswamy, P. M. (2013). Yoga on our minds: a systematic review of yoga for neuropsychiatric disorders. Frontiers in PSYCHIATRY, 3, 117

Balasubramaniam, M., Telles, S., & Doraiswamy, P. M. (2013). Yoga on our minds: a systematic review of yoga for neuropsychiatric disorders. Frontiers in PSYCHIATRY, 3, 117

Especially late in life, memory function is particularly sensitive to the effects of ageing because the function of the human hippocampus declines over the life span. [12]

Human research suggests that hippocampal-dependent memory impairment may accompany stress-induced hippocampal volume reduction, and that the negative effects of stress on the structure and function of the hippocampus may increase with age. [13], [14], [15], [16]

If you are interested to delve more in the topic of stress-induced cognitive decline, we suggest you to check here: “How stress induces changes in the brain”.

However, many studies have indicated that yogic exercises and lifestyle may be effective in protecting against the negative impacts of stress on cognitive function, improving concentration and memory. [5], [6], [17], [18], [19]

Screenshot from 2016-02-15 23-20-34

Spencer, J. P. (2008). Food for thought: the role of dietary flavonoids in enhancing human memory, learning and neuro-cognitive performance. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 67(02), 238-252.

In the next article, we are going to get deeper in the relationship between yoga and memory.

We will explore the effectiveness of yoga in improving the learning process and how a yogic diet can boost your cognitive functions.

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[1] Iyengar, B. K. S. (2007). BKS Iyengar yoga: The path to holistic health. New York, DK publishing

[2] Bryant, E. F. (2015). The yoga sutras of Patanjali: A new edition, translation, and commentary. North Point Press.

[3] Iyengar, B. K. S. (1966). Light on Yoga. New York: Schocken Books Inc.

[4] Telles, S. (2010). A theory of disease from ancient yoga texts. Medical Science Monitor Basic Research, 16(6), LE9-LE9

[5] Longstreth, H. (2014). The effects of yoga on stress response and memory: A literature review (Doctoral dissertation, ROOSEVELT UNIVERSITY).

[6] Rocha, K. K. F., Ribeiro, A. M., Rocha, K. C. F., Sousa, M. B. C., Albuquerque, F. S., Ribeiro, S., & Silva, R. H. (2012). Improvement in physiological and psychological parameters after 6 months of yoga practice. Consciousness and cognition, 21(2), 843-850.

[7] Mulla, Z. R., & Krishnan, V. R. (2008). Karma-Yoga, the Indian work ideal, and its relationship with empathy. Psychology & Developing Societies, 20(1), 27-49.

[8] Jaggi Vasudev, commonly known as Sadhguru

[9] Rangan, R., Nagendra, H. R., & Bhat, G. R. (2009). Effect of yogic education system and modern education system on memory. International journal of yoga, 2(2), 55.

[10] Kauts, A., & Sharma, N. (2012). Effect of yoga on concentration and memory in relation to stress. International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research, 2(5), 1-14.

[11] Tiwari, R. K. Benefits of Yoga Practices on High school student‟ s memory and concentration in relation to Examination stress. International Journal of Yoga and Allied Sciences Volume: 4, Issue: 2, 77-81

[12] Small, S. A., Tsai, W. Y., DeLaPaz, R., Mayeux, R., & Stern, Y. (2002). Imaging hippocampal function across the human life span: is memory decline normal or not?. Annals of neurology, 51(3), 290-295.

[13] Van Petten, C. (2004). Relationship between hippocampal volume and memory ability in healthy individuals across the lifespan: review and meta-analysis. Neuropsychologia, 42(10), 1394-1413.

[14] Kuhlmann, S., Piel, M., & Wolf, O. T. (2005). Impaired memory retrieval after psychosocial stress in healthy young men. The Journal of Neuroscience, 25(11), 2977-2982.

[15] McEwen, B. S. (2002). Sex, stress and the hippocampus: allostasis, allostatic load and the aging process. Neurobiology of aging, 23(5), 921-939.

[16] Lupien, S. J., Fiocco, A., Wan, N., Maheu, F., Lord, C., Schramek, T., & Tu, M. T. (2005). Stress hormones and human memory function across the lifespan. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 30(3), 225-242.

[17] NK, M., & Telles, S. (2004). Spatial and verbal memory test scores following yoga and fine arts camps for school children. Indian J Physiol Pharmacol, 48(3), 353-356.

[18] Gothe, N., Pontifex, M. B., Hillman, C., & McAuley, E. (2013). The acute effects of yoga on executive function. Journal of Physical Activity and Health, (10), 488-495

[19] Froeliger, B. E., Garland, E. L., Modlin, L. A., & McClernon, F. J. (2015). Neurocognitive correlates of the effects of yoga meditation practice on emotion and cognition: a pilot study. Current Research and Emerging Directions in Emotion-Cognition Interactions, 465.

Andrea Cristofoletto

Andrea Cristofoletto is a certified Yoga Teacher and has been studying the ancient science of yoga in India under the guidance of Sri Yogacharya Lalit Kumar from the Himalayan Tradition. He has deepened his knowledge on the therapeutic use of asana, pranayama, chanting, meditation and kriya techniques under the wise guidance of Ratheesh Kumar Atmaram. He has a BSc in Foreign Languages - Business Communication Specialist and graduated with a thesis on the socio-economic importance of the hemp fibre throughout history. Andrea has gained his experience through direct training in hemp fields practising organic agriculture.

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1 Response

  1. piero says:

    Thank you for this article! very interesting… I’m looking forward for the next one!

    Good job


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