Meditation and Memory: Cutting Edge Research

Can the cognitive side effects of cancer treatment be improved or lessened by daily meditation? This is the question we are attempting to answer by studying Kirtan Kriya, a kundalini yoga meditation, through the Brain ABC Study (Improving Brain Function after Breast Cancer) at the University of Texas School of Nursing.

Ashley Hennehgan, PhD, MSN, RN is the researcher leading the study as part of her valuable work studying survivorship after cancer.

I met Ashley when I participated in her prior study on chemobrain in breast cancer survivors several years ago. Dealing with “chemobrain” myself, I wanted to understand and contribute to the data being collected.

I helped her recruit more participants from my classes and groups and then asked if she’d be interested in studying a kundalini yoga meditation, Kirtan Kriya, that was found to reduce inflammation and improve memory.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve been collaborating with her on a PILOT study of the effects of Kirtan Kriya on the cognitive functioning of breast cancer survivors. The results are just beginning to come in and they are very interesting.


It’s funny how many full circle moments you experience with the privilege of getting older and emotionally navigating the cancer experience.

11 years ago, I was completing 12 months of chemotherapy and Herceptin. Perhaps the most devastating side effect of a difficult journey was how cognitively impaired I felt. My questions and concerns about chemobrain were dismissed.

I was told that chemotherapy did not cross the “blood/brain barrier” and that any cognitive symptoms must be due to depression or anxiety. I remember looking in the library at MD Anderson for anything I could find on chemobrain.  There was very little.

I was used to having a great memory. I could remember all the details of my client’s stories, plan and strategize my work, speak with confidence in workshops and yoga classes.

But after treatment, my ability to plan or prioritize was noticeably impaired, as was my short term memory. I would forget conversations I’d just had and could no longer remember people’s names or simple words.

Recently, a yoga class student shared her sorrow and fear about memory problems as she goes through chemotherapy. I told her that the cognitive challenges were among the most difficult part of treatment for me. While I have never gone back to how I was before cancer, my executive functioning and memory have improved tremendously over the years.

What’s more, I’ve learned to treat the challenges with patience instead of fear and alarm. Meditation certainly helps!

Stay tuned to learn more about our chemobrain research in upcoming months and for the possibility of an expanded PILOT program that will include survivors of many different cancers.

You can find information on the current study here:

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