Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Mystery of Memory

I have lately been intrigued by the process of memory -- both physical and mental memory.  The combination of active and passive stretching seems to have a positive effect on memory in general.

Just the other day my trainer Emily used a technique to stretch my hamstrings that I had originally encountered in physical therapy.  PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) works by stretching and then releasing.  With each repetition, the affected muscle changes its memory of limitation to stretch a little further.  It’s so interesting that only by releasing is it possible to stretch further the next time.

Yesterday I had a massage by a very skilled therapist.  I had only encountered someone with this level of ability once before.  Interestingly, they were trained at about the same time 10 years ago.  My body quickly identified and remembered the techniques they both used that work so well and that I hadn’t experienced in over a year.  How can something like this be imprinted on our brains?

Last night I attended a concert at the French Embassy, courtesy of my piano teacher who knows the concert artist.  He has memorized ALL of Beethoven’s sonatas.  That’s hundreds of pages of music.  I asked him after the concert how he had possibly done such a feat.  He laughingly replied, “Sometimes I deviate from Beethoven, but I always come back.”  There were no obvious mistakes as far as I could tell.

Sitting in front of me was a friend of my teacher, who was married to a Congressman (and still is although he is no longer in Congress) and lived next door to our rental house in Wesley Heights in the early 70’s.  During the concert I found my mind trying to remember the names of our other neighbors of 37 years ago.  I would picture the house and then perhaps remember the first letter of the last name and then let it go.  When I came to that house again in my mind, I seemed to find the next letter of the name and eventually to complete it.  It was just like my hamstring stretch.  Only in releasing was I able to remember.

I must not be the only one fixated on memory.  Just today my Blogger friend Steve wrote about the process of remembering dreams.

Do you ever think about memory, the thing that adds the dimension of time to our thoughts and actions?

(I have no pictures to offer of memory, so instead you get to see the tiny curried egg salad sandwiches.)


Blogger Pauline said...

Imagining munching a sandwich and remembering... maybe it's something in the air. I just read another piece about memory. (Go here to read...

I've been dashing from one website to another to see if there's been any recent research about inherited memory. I like to think there is, that our ancestors memories are shared in our DNA. Sometimes I wish I had studied science more closely.

9:27 PM  
Blogger lacochran said...

It's funny the links our brains make and how sometimes we truly have to let it go to remember something we've been trying to grasp. Glad to hear you found a massage therapist you like. Also, you may want to check out the Alexander Method, if you aren't familiar. Sounds like it might be right up your alley.

10:16 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline -- What an interesting thought about inherited memories. And thanks for the link; she always did write thought-provoking posts.

LA -- I know a little about the Alexander Method. It's one of those things I would like to explore more deeply. Many dancers swear by it.

12:08 AM  
Blogger Cyndy said...

It's amazing what will come back to you and what doesn't. I've always gotten a vibe whenever I pass the apartment building on Connecticut Avenue where I spent the first 2 years of my life. It's like a weird sense of yearning or something. And I think I remember the smell of the sidewalk and my uncle taking me up the street to the zoo. Weird, huh?

1:00 AM  
Blogger karen said...

Memory is most intriguing.Like Cyndy commenting before me, I can remember quite a lot of things from a very very young age. Nowadays, my brain is very full of so much other stuff, that I have become horribly absent-minded. I like the "releasing" idea, you have such a great way of describing things!

4:06 AM  
Blogger Terry said...

Memory is on my mind a lot lately. One of my oldest friends had viral encephalitus about a year and a half ago. It has affected her short term memory. We walk several times a week and I notice that she never quite remembers our walking route, though it doesn't vary. "Tell me where to turn--I don't remember." Or she points out things we saw and discussed the day before as if she is noticing them for the first time. On the other hand, she remembers events from our shared childhood in vivid detail, remembering names and people I had forgotten, almost as if her older memories have been sharpened.

When she emerged from her coma, she knew me. She knew my daughter but she had no memory of my granddaughter who was then a little more than a year old, and whose 1st birthday party she attended a few weeks prior to the onset of her illness. Eventually she remembered Sofia and even the party. Many of her memory problems have improved since her illness, but her Dr. tells her that short term memory will probably never be quite the same again.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Cyndy -- I find it most intriguing that we remember smells from long ago so well. I have a huge stash of stored smells somewhere up there in my brain. I love your early memories of life on Connecticut Avenue.

Karen -- Wouldn't it be fun to really understand how things get cataloged in our brains?

Terry -- I find it fascinating that memory comes back sometimes, even if not entirely. It's almost like a lizard regrowing its tail!

4:21 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

The parallel between muscle memory and mental memory is an interesting one -- particularly the stretching aspect. I've never thought of that before.

I hate it when I have trouble remembering things. It drives me crazy!

12:48 PM  

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