Whether it’s back-to-school season for you, or you’ve been experiencing “senior moments”, feeling mentally alert and focused is important. Many of us struggle with concentration, and there are many reasons for that. Our world is pretty over-stimulating, and while everyone’s tolerance for mental stimulus is different, it can be difficult for even the most extroverted of us to get the quiet and rest we need. So if you’re feeling the need to improve your memory or concentration, think first about your stress levels, sleep habits, and levels of stimulus.
Stress, Sleep, and Downtime
You know the routine: get 8 hours of sleep each night, eat regular meals, enjoy healthy (preferably outdoor) exercise, practice yoga, tai chi, meditation, or some other form of stress-relieving activity, and do things that bring you joy. Easy right? Ha! We all try, but it can be so hard to keep up. I suggest choosing one, and only one thing you want to change first. Let’s say it’s doing 15 minutes of yoga in the morning three times per week. That sounds reasonable, right? Well give yourself 4-6 weeks to make that new habit before adding or changing anything else. Each success will give you more confidence for the next thing you choose!
I know you love your smartphone, but…
It’s not doing your mental concentration any good. Constant access to messages and data can be distracting, emotionally upsetting, even addictive! Social media, 24-hour newsstreams, and endless emails can be really damaging to our ability to relax and enjoy life. Try turning your phone off at a set time each night, say an hour before going to bed, and not turning it again until after you’ve done your gentle yoga routine the next morning. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much of a difference it can make!
There are some herbs that can help improve memory and concentration, and help you deal with stress in a healthy way. Here are my favorites.
Bacopa, Bacopa monnieri
Both Bacopa and Gotu Kola are referred to as Brahmi, but I’m talking about the official Bacopa monnieri. This herb has a long history of use in Ayurveda as a rasayana, or restorative. Bacopa is a specific for memory and concentration, promoting focus, and relieving anxiety. It can be used for ADHD, age-related memory issues, and recovering from trauma. It blends particularly well with Holy Basil, Milky Oats, and Gotu Kola for tonic use.
Holy Basil, Ocimum sanctum/tenuiflorum
Holy Basil, or Tulsi, has a long use as a sacred and medicinal plant in India. Effective for cold and flu, stress, anxiety, blood sugar balance, even as a mosquito repellant, Tulsi is definitely a must-have herb for your medicine cabinet. This beautiful form of Basil is used to calm and clarify the mind, and enhance one’s yoga or meditation practice. Used regularly as a tonic for the mind, Tulsi supports memory, concentration, and clear thinking. As a nervine that reduces stress hormones, Holy Basil has a direct effect on anxiety and even stress-eating!
Lavender, Lavandula officinalis/angustifolia
Calming, soothing, delightful Lavender! This beautiful and popular plant has so many uses. I particularly like it for digestive upset, it soothes crampy, acidy, and generally unhappy bellies, and is safe for children and adults. It also makes a lovely bedtime tea, as it calms the mind and helps up prepare for sleep. As a treatment for the mind, Lavender is predominantly a calming nervine, used to treat anxiety. It can be helpful in blends for ADHD and other childhood concentration issues. I used to take it in college to help with test anxiety. Mixed with Peppermint and taken as a tea while studying and just before tests, I found it very helpful to keep me calm and focused.