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Exercises for Memory-Culture

by Swami Sivananda

Here are some easy exercises for memory-culture. Sit on Virasana or Padmasana. Close your eyes. Imagine there is a big garden. In one corner there are jessamine flowers, in another roses, in another Champak, in another lily of the valley. First think of the jessamine, then rotate the mind to roses, then to Champak, and then to lily. Again bring back the mind to jessamine. Revolve the mind like this for two or three minutes. Look at the map of the heavens at night and count the stars in a small localised area. On Thursday morning, try to remember the dietetic preparations, vegetables, kinds of Dhal, etc., that were prepared on Wednesday. This is another kind of exercise.


Study one important Sloka from the Gita. Find out parallel lines in the Ramayana, the Bhagavata, the Upanishads, the Yoga Vasishtha and the Bible, and connect all these passages and keep them in your mental disposition or pigeon-holes of the brain.


Bring back the word 'V-I-B-G-Y-O-R' to memory. Try to remember the various colours such as violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange and red. Coin your code words to help you for remembering. Every one of you can have your own code words.


Coin your catch-words, some that start with A, some with B, some others with R, some that end with 'tion, some with 'ness. Here are some sentences:-

"An Austrian army arrived at Aurangabad." "Be bold, but be benevolent." "Cunning camels carried caravans." "Doctor Dadabhai died during Dipavali." "Examination is a great botheration to the Hindu nation whose sole occupation is cultivation." "If you do not want to study, hang that matriculation and take to meditation. This is a sure way for Salvation." "If you combine Satsanga and Kirtan with meditation, this will form a good spiritual emulsion." "This is my firm conviction after mature deliberation and careful consideration." Here, you find all words ending in 'tion. This is a specimen for you. You can do in your own way. Every one of you has creative power of your own.


Japa, meditation, prayer, devotion, Sirshasana and Pranayama develop memory wonderfully. Here is a short description of Sirshasana. (For detailed particulars, vide the book "YOGA ASANAS".) Sirshasana is the king of all Asanas. Spread a fourfold blanket. Rest the head over locked fingers, and slowly raise the legs up. Then slowly bring down the legs without jerks. Take the help of a wall or any of your friends in the beginning. Do it for a minute; and gradually increase the time to ten minutes. It removes diseases of the eyes, ears, nerves, blood, stomach, intestines, gonorrhoea, spermatorrhoea, dyspepsia, constipation, etc. It augments the digestive fire and improves appetite. It is a blood and nervine tonic. Intellectual faculties develop. It helps Brahmacharya and makes you an Urdhvareto-Yogi.


Here are some assertions and affirmations for developing memory. Meditate and assert on them:-

I have a very strong memory-Om Om Om.

I can remember things now nicely-Om Om Om.

My memory has very much improved-Om Om Om.

4. I have a wonderful retentive memory-Om Om Om.


"Day by day, in every way, I am becoming better and better through the grace of my Lord." Repeat this formula several times daily. Meditate on this in the morning also for five minutes. You will have wonderful improvement. Meditate on the meaning and feel also.

I shall speak a word on keeping a memorandum notebook. Daily jot down in the notebook, as soon as you rise from bed in the morning, the various kinds of work that you have to do in the course of the day; and see if all have been carried out to the very letter. Tick each item as soon as it is finished.


Take a packet of playing cards and have six cards from out of it and see them very carefully. Then place them in front of you with face downwards. Through memory, jot down in order on a piece of paper, their exact description. You can slowly increase the number to ten or twelve. This exercise will also develop memory.


Lie down in any easy chair quite comfortably. Recollect the picture of your father. Close your eyes. Just try to bring out a clear description of some of his distinct physical characteristics and marks on the body, such as the kind of nose, hair, the condition of his eyes, forehead, lips, ears, chest, whether broad or pigeon chest, whether sinewy or thin arms, whether there is symmetry in his limbs, the condition of his teeth, his gait, way of talking, special distinctive features and physiognomy, special traits that attract people, the nature of his voice, special marks or moles on the different parts of his body, etc. After seeing once any great man, try to bring out the special qualities and features that have arrested your attention.


Try to remember synonymous terms. This will increase your vocabulary of words and you will be able to write beautiful essays and deliver excellent lectures. You will become a great journalist. You can write thrilling books. Take, for instance, the word "compassion" or "generosity." Try to bring out the synonymous terms such as "pity", "mercy", "liberality", "munificence", etc. Through the law of association, connect one idea with several other ideas. This will develop your memory. The thought of 'coffee' will bring the idea of Nilgiri Hills where it is grown, and the idea of 'Stane's Company' who sell coffee seeds, and the idea of the founder of this company. Through the law of 'Sadrishya' or similarity, you may remember other places in the world where coffee is cultivated. You can remember the advantages of coffee. The idea of coffee will bring in the idea of similar beverages, like tea, and the name of 'Lipton' and his native place, how he started his business and how he became a millionaire in the end, and the nectar of immortality which the Yogins drink. All these ideas will come in your mind and flash out in the twinkling of an eye. Keep a small notebook in your pocket. Whenever good ideas flash in your mind, then and there jot them down. Take hints. Later on, you can develop them. Jot down, in your diary, the lessons you have received from great Mahatmas.


Just walk briskly along the Mall in Lahore or the Chowringhee in Calcutta. Have a keen acute perception. See what is going on in this shopping centre. As soon as you reach home, jot down on a piece of paper the names of shops, and the important articles that are exhibited in the showrooms outside. Next day, walk along the same road and verify your jottings.


Try to remember the different makes of motor cars, such as Ford, Studebaker, Chevrolet, Standard, Moris, Austin, etc., and their prices. Recollect the names of different philosophers of the world in the East and in the West, such as Sankara, Ramanuja, Kant, Plato, etc., and their important works and teachings. Compare the Eastern with the Western philosophy. Do this closing your eyes. This will develop your memory in subtle things. The memory of gross things is easier than the memory of events of philosophical ideas. Events can be more easily remembered than names of persons, because there are associations for events. Names are arbitrary. There is intimate connection between memory, keen observation and acute hearing. Mind thinks on objects that are seen or heard. One who has developed his power of hearing and seeing can have better memory.


There is yet another exercise. Just imagine that there is a canvas-sheet in front of you which contains the pictures of nine animals. In the first top-row, there are lion, leopard and cow; in the second row, horse, zebra and bear; and in the third row, elephant, buffalo and tiger. Practise this exercise daily. First try to remember the animals in the first row, then in the second, and lastly in the third. Now try to remember, in this order, from above downwards, viz., lion, horse, elephant; leopard, zebra, buffalo; cow, bear and tiger. You can change the order in many other ways like, algebraical formulae, or permutation and combination. Exercises on the memory of different kinds of gross and subtle sounds, tastes of articles of food, touch of various articles, various shades of colours, etc., can also be practised with advantage.


Read one or two pages in a book. Then close the book, and try to remember the important ideas and reproduce them in your mind. Write down the contents in your own way, or bring out an exact reproduction on a piece of paper. Compare and contrast these passages with other passages that are contained in other books. Draw your own conclusions and inferences. This practice will develop wonderfully your memory and will enable you to remember things for a long time. Mark the important passages with a red pencil on the sides, and have thin blue or red underlinings wherever it is necessary. In underlining, do not blot out the words. Take down notes of what you have read, and turn over the pages of the notebook which contains in a nutshell all the important points, every week. Whenever you read a book, keep a dictionary by your side. Never read without a dictionary. When you come across difficult words that you do not understand, refer to the dictionary and note down the words and their meanings in a separate notebook. Many lazy students skip over the pages of books that they do not understand, and imagine their meanings in their own ways. This is anything but desirable. Those who practise in the above manner will become truly learned and great within a short time. They will have a rich vocabulary of words and can command huge audiences. They can become distinguished orators, journalists, and able writers of prose and poetry. The Sanskrit term for the power of memory is Smriti-Sakti. The power of memory needs the help of grasping power and Dharana Sakti. Dharana Sakti is the power of holding ideas. Those who have good Dharana Sakti will have remarkable retentive memory.


Practise self-analysis or self-examination for ten minutes before you go to bed. Sit comfortably on a chair. Close your eyes. Think of all actions, good and bad, that you did during the course of the day. Think of all the mistakes that you committed consciously or unconsciously. On the first day, you may not be able to find out even two or three mistakes in your actions, because you are not in the habit of doing so. But, by daily, regular and systematic practice, you will be able to visualise clearly the actions and mistakes of the day. Even an hour will not be sufficient to review the actions. The mind becomes subtle and sharp by the practice of introspection. It goes more and more inward. It dissects, analyses, groups, classifies and brings the list of actions in the twinkling of an eye. This practice will develop your memory and reduce the number of mistakes. You can note down all the actions and mistakes the same night, or the following morning, in your diary. A time will come when you will do only good actions, without committing even a single mistake. The name of Benjamin Franklin comes to my mind just now.


Study several times the eighteen chapters of the Gita. Try to remember the Slokas according to different headings such as those that treat of Viveka, Vairagya, Sadachara, development of Gunas, three kinds of Tapas and the three kinds of food as described in the seventeenth chapter, Slokas concerning Pranayama, practice of concentration, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, control of mind, etc. You must group them and classify in the pigeon-holes of your mind. This is also a kind of exercise for memory-culture. Select any kind of exercise that suits your taste, temperament and capacity.


Develop the power of describing exactly a cricket match or a football match. Watch the game. As soon as you reach home, note it down on paper, correct the same then and there, and bring out a clear copy. It is always better to keep paper and pencil in your pocket, or a diary. Busy people, and those whose aim in life is to become great in every way, should always take down notes then and there, even while walking. They can take hints or shorthand notes in their own way, and can develop them at leisure. Whenever good ideas roll in your mind, at once jot down in your pocket-notebook. This is the keynote to success in life in all endeavours, in every walk of life, and in all spheres of activity. Practise, feel and enjoy. Mere theorising will not do. You should become a practical man. I always hammer on this point again and again, and I am not at all tired of doing so. I want you to become a great man of admirable ideals, and not in the unknown future, but right now this very minute. Give your full heart to me. I have got my own ways of developing a man quickly and perfectly. I have a strong passion for service, but I do not get the right type of aspirants. Attend a conference, and reproduce the speeches in your own style and send them to newspapers. You can become a first-class A-1 reporter and able journalist in a short time. Visit Badri Narayan, Gangotri or Gomukh where the Ganga takes its source, and take down notes. Give a full description of what all you have seen in the daily papers and journals. All these practices will undoubtedly develop your memory.


Here is yet another exercise for memory-culture. Close your eyes. Sit comfortably in a chair. Try to remember the richest persons of the world such as the Nizam of Hyderabad, Rockfeller, Ford; the biggest rivers in the world such as the Amazon, the Nile, the Brahmaputra; and the seven holy rivers in India, viz., the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Godavari, the Sarasvati, the Narmada, the Sindhu and the Kaveri. You can remember the Sloka:-

gange cha yamune chaiva godavari sarasvati
narmade sindhu kaveri jale asmin sannidhim kuru.

Remember the waterfalls, the Niagara, the Sivasamudram; remember the lakes, Chilka in the Ganjam District, Manasarovar in the Himalayas, etc. You can recall to mind such poets as the immortal Kalidas, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Milton, Shakespeare, Byron and Keats; essayists such as Johnson and Emerson; philosophers such as Sankara, Ramanuja, Kant, Hegel and Plato; scientists such as Faraday, Newton, Bose, Raman and Einstein; Jnanis such as Sankara, Dattatreya, Yajnavalkya, Madalasa, Gargi, Sulabha, Vamadeva and Jadabharata; Yogins such as Jnanadeva, Bhartrihari, Trilinga Swami and Sadasiva Brahman; Bhaktas such as Gouranga Maha Prabhu, Tulasidas, Ramdas, Hafiz, Mira; the Pancha Kanyakas such as Kunti, Draupadi, Mandodari, Ahalya and Anasuya; the seven Rishis such as Atri, Bhrigu, Vasishtha, Gautama, Kasyapa, Pulastya and Angirasa; the seven Chiranjivis such as Asvatthama, Bali, Vyasa, Hanuman, Vibhishana, Kripa and Parasurama; the twelve Brahma-Vidya Gurus such as Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Vasishtha, Sakti, Parasara, Vyasa, Suka Deva, Gaudapada, Govindapada, Sankaracharya and Krishna. This practice will develop memory.


You must know the art of extracting work from the subconscious mind. If you want to remember forgotten passages in Shakespeare's works, give a definite command to the subconscious mind just before you retire to bed. You can talk to your subconscious mind just in the same manner as you talk to your friend or servant. You can say: "Look here, subconscious mind. I have forgotten an important passage in the 'Merchant of Venice', and another in 'As you like it', which I studied in my college days. Bring them now to my memory. I want them very badly tomorrow morning. Do it quickly." Give the order in very clear terms. The following morning, it will place them like a flash before you. If it fails to bring in the next morning, give the command again on the next day. On the following day, you may get the answer. Sometimes, the subconscious mind is very busy, and the brain gets congested. The brain is under high tension or pressure on account of tight work. You will have to wait with a calm mind. You will have to repeat the command once or twice. You must allow sufficient time for the subconscious mind and not disturb it frequently.

A judge has to write summaries of evidences and prepare judgments. His brain sometimes gets confused. He gets bewildered. He is not able to arrive at the proper solution. In such cases, the subconscious mind will beautifully work for him. It will arrange the facts and figures in perfect order, and place before him a clear summary. He will have to simply reproduce them on paper the following morning.

In matters which demand too much thinking and long deliberation, you will have to wait for some days before getting an answer from the subconscious mind. Again and again you will have to give command to the subconscious mind at nights, and watch for the results. You need not trouble the subconscious mind daily by commanding it. Repeat the command once or twice. You will have to place facts and figures before it, and make it understand clearly what you exactly want.

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