How Mantras and Memorization Benefit the Brain February 1, 2018 18:30

I spent nearly a week memorizing a new mantra. Most of the mantras I work with are in Sanskrit, but I came across a Tibetan mantra that resonated with me. The Guru Rinpoche mantra is only eight lines long, but learning it was slow-going and challenging. I don't read the Tibetan language (same is true for Sanskrit), so memorizing a transliterated text is a lot like learning a language within another language, and as a visual learner, it offered a new set of challenges for me. The sounds were new. The combinations of syllables were clumsy and awkward at first. From the outset, memorizing eight short lines seemed very daunting. 

I work as a tutor at a local high school, so in between student sessions, I listened to an audio recording of a lama chanting the mantra over and over again (thank goodness for YouTube). My commute home is usually 30-45 minutes long, depending on traffic. Each afternoon I chanted two lines of the mantra while driving home. On Monday, I worked with the first two lines. Tuesday, the second pair, etc The chanting was very slow at first. There were long pauses and hesitations as I worked to find the right sounds in the right order. I had to remain intensely focused, not only on driving, but on reciting each line over and over again. Slowly, over the course of the week, I was able to chant the entire mantra. It required time, effort, and painstaking dedication, but it was worth it. Not only do I have another sound tool to play with in my energetic repertoire and practice, but I did something good for my brain, too. Here are some of the benefits of memorization:

* Mental Flexibility and Agility

Just as consistent, challenging exercise benefits the body, memorization is a useful way to stimulate the brain. Functioning like "mental gymnastics," memorization makes the brain more quick, agile, and flexible.

* Improved Neural Plasticity

Medical research has found that rote memorization benefits the hippocampal foundation, which is crucial for episodic and spatial memory in humans. In a recent Irish study of participants aged 55-70, researchers concluded that repeated activation of memory structures in the brain promote neural plasticity in the aging brain. In other words, we need to use it, or we're going to lose it.

* Improved Focus and Creativity

Working memory involves storing, focusing attention on, and manipulating information for a relatively short period of time. According to Paula Fiet of Weber State University, working memory is essential for learning to occur. Completing exercises (such as memorizing a new mantra) that are aimed at building short-term memory benefits our capacity to learn and to focus. 

Working memory is also important for creativity.  Dutch researchers have concluded that those who learn to focus and develop their working memory through memorization tasks can free their mind in order to pursue other creative tasks.

* Delayed Cognitive Decline

Researchers from the National Institute on Health and Aging (NIHA) found that adults who engaged in short bursts of memory training maintained higher cognitive function delays. Memorization and other memory training exercises can delay cognitive decline for 7-14 years. So, memorizing mantras can help you stay sharp for years to come.

Over the next forty days or so, I plan to work with this new Guru Rinpoche mantra along with a mala (not while driving, though :). I like the idea of starting the New Year with a new mantra and a new sadhana. I'm looking forward to seeing where this mantra will take me in my practice--how it will benefit my subtle body as well as my mind and body. I'll be sure to keep you posted. In the meantime, find a mantra that resonates with you, and commit it to memory. 



the data mentioned in this post came from the following source:

*"In Praise of Memorization: 10  Proven Brain Benefits" (



Grandmother Spider May 17, 2015 17:44

This morning I watched a beautiful corn spider sitting in the middle of her web in our front garden.  She waited patiently among her carefully arranged silken cords, her intricate yellow and black coloring contrasting sharply with Hosta leaves and white rhododendrons.  

To the Hopi, Grandmother Spider is an earth goddess.  To the Cherokee, she is a bringer of light. Ancient Egyptians believed that the spider was a spinner and weaver of destiny.  Grandmother Spider is Thinking Woman.  What she thinks about, manifests, and we are all connected to this universal source of creativity.

Our lives aren't simply an assortment of random happenings.  For each of us, there is an underlying pattern and design, and, to some extent, we have a little control over our lives.  With our thoughts, with our actions and reactions, and with our words, we determine, to some degree, our future and our possibilities.

The word "bead" is derived from the Anglo-Saxon words "bidden" (to pray) and "bede" (prayer).  We all have access to the creative silk that resides within us. Where will it lead us? We are constantly assessing and reassessing our lives, taking stock, making changes, making mistakes, making discoveries, correcting, and second-guessing, but in the end, it all leads us exactly where we were meant to go.

One bead at a time, one prayer at a time, one breath at a time, each moment is a small flash in time that eventually leads us to the larger picture.

This beautiful garden spider reminded me that everything is linked; everything is connected, whether you are stringing beads, stringing prayers, stringing thoughts, words, or numbers, we are the architects and designers of our own lives. As long as we are authentic, as long as we honor our own creative endeavors, as long as we work to build a life full of meaning, our lives will, in fact, be beautiful, interconnected, and meaningful.  It takes trust, it takes courage, it takes forgiveness, it takes commitment, and it takes patience, but in the end, the larger picture is well worth the journey. 

I Just Wanted an Orange Mala February 24, 2015 19:39

I’ve been practicing yoga for fifteen years and meditating (off and on) for just past twenty. I’ve found that simply sitting in a quiet space trying clear my mind only made the mind chatter louder. However, when I use a mala, it is so much easier to dive into my meditation practice. Guiding smooth stones or seeds across my thumb and finger with a mantra, phrase, single word, or even just a breath, allows my practice to take root, germinate, and cultivate serenity.

I’m drawn to malas not only as meditation tools, but also as works of art. I started to collect them for their different colors, stones, and designs. Each mala carried its own unique energy, and I assigned a unique mantra or affirmation for each one. I had collected over a dozen and draped them across the altar space in my home office. Bodhi seeds, lotus seeds, green adventurine, lapis, amethyst, rose quartz, malachite, rosewood, jasper, labradorite, citrine…and then it occurred to me; I wanted an orange mala. I had colors that corresponded to all of the other major chakras, all but orange. I decided that I could use a boost of creative energy, so I set out to find one in my usual places—online stores, local shops—but no luck. The only one that even came close was an overpriced plastic mala, and it wasn’t even knotted.

I prefer knotted malas. I can see and feel more of the beads, they don’t catch in my hair if I choose to wear them, and if the cord breaks, all of the beads don’t scatter across the floor. Besides, the knots represent the challenges in life, and the beads symbolize the beautiful aspects, and we need a balance of both to have a fulfilling life.

When my search proved unsuccessful, the thought occurred to me…maybe I can make my own orange mala? So I changed my approach and found beautiful orange aqua terra jasper beads in an Etsy shop and a lovely carved wooden bead for the guru.

 I treated the whole project like a science experiment—no pressure—no expectations—just playing with pretty beads and cord. After a couple of months of practice and trial-and-error with different types of cord and needles—and many attempts at stringing and restringing beads, I finally had my orange mala. The process, itself, had become a sort of meditation, and ultimately, after a year of continuing to practice and explore the art of mala-making with various sizes, shapes, colors, and types of beads, became the impetus for Middle Moon Malas.

 My search for an increase in creative energy has led me to design beautiful malas for others. My intention is to create hand-crafted and heart-made malas for those seeking to find their own way into a meditation practice, for those who want to wear and absorb the energy of the stones, or for those who would like to adorn their sacred spaces.    

I hope you find a beautiful Middle Moon Malas design that will enhance your personal practice and inspire you to find what you are seeking on your path. Or, send me a message if you're interested in a custom design.