Andrew Newberg, benefits of spiritual practices, brain scan, depth of meditation, God Spot, mindfulnes, Mood and Anxiety, Mystical Mind, Neurotheology, psychological and physical health, Religion and Spirituality, self-maintenance, self-transcendence, Spiritual Brain, spiritual neuroscience, spiritual state of mind, well-being
Today, I want to share how research provides a link between spiritual experiences and health and well-being.
According to research, spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. Prayer, meditation, and mindfulness to name a few, are healthy. Similar to good diet, exercise and rest, regular spiritual experiences contribute to overall health.
I previously explained spiritual experiences this way:
Spiritual experiences are associated with a decreased focus on the self. I’ll use this as a definition for a spiritual state of mind: a non-tangible state of mind that brings profound meaning into one’s life as one transcends oneself.
Use something else if you like — we can’t say spiritual is universally anything religious though. Spiritual is as much a secular term as it is a religious term.
Neurotheology, also known as spiritual neuroscience, attempts to explain spiritual and religious experience and behavior in neuroscientific terms. By understanding how the brain works during certain spiritual experiences and practices (e.g., prayer, meditation, and mindfulness), science can explore related psychological and physical health connections; for example, brain activity during meditation indicates that people who frequently practice meditation do also experience lower blood pressure, lower heart rates, decreased anxiety, and decreased depression.
Just as our spiritual teachers have always said, the health benefits as well as the spiritual practices are important.
Dr. Andrew Newberg is a neuroscientist who studies the relationship between brain function and various mental states. He is a pioneer in the neurological study of religious and spiritual experiences, a field known as “neurotheology.”
Newberg’s research includes making brain scans while people practice prayer, meditation, rituals, and during trance states. The scans are analyzed in an attempt to better understand the effects, nature of and the benefits of the various religious and spiritual practices and attitudes.
Spiritual experiences are typically highly complex, involving emotions, thoughts, sensations, and behaviors. These experiences seem far too rich and diverse to derive solely from one part of the brain. For example, a near-death experience might result in different activity patterns from those found in a person who is meditating. Such evidence indicates that more than a single “God spot” is at work — that, in fact, a number of structures in the brain work together to help us experience spirituality and religion.
According to Newberg (and others) humans are compelled to act out myths due to the biological operations of their brains. An “inbuilt tendency of the brain to turn thoughts into actions,” they say is responsible. Says Newberg, “The main reason God won’t go away is because our brains won’t allow God to leave. Our brains are set up in such a way that God and religion become among the most powerful tools for helping the brain do its thing — self-maintenance and self-transcendence. Unless there is a fundamental change in how our brain works, God will be around for a very long time.”
Andrew Newberg: Three main changes in meditative brains
To look at the neurophysiology of religious and spiritual practices, we used a brain imaging technology called single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), which allows us to measure blood flow. The more blood flow a brain area has, the more active it is (see here).
When we scanned the brains of Tibetan Buddhist meditators, we found decreased activity in the parietal lobe during meditation. This area of the brain is responsible for giving us a sense of our orientation in space and time. We hypothesize that blocking all sensory and cognitive input into this area during meditation is associated with the sense of no space and no time that is so often described in meditation.
The front part of the brain, which is usually involved in focusing attention and concentration, is more active during meditation. This makes sense since meditation requires a high degree of concentration. We also found that the more activity increased in the frontal lobe, the more activity decreased in the parietal lobe.
When we looked at the brains of Franciscan nuns in prayer, we found increased activity in the frontal lobes (same as Buddhists), but also increased activity in the inferior parietal lobe (the language area). This latter finding makes sense in relation to the nuns using a verbally based practice (prayer) rather than visualization (meditation). The nuns, like the Buddhists, also showed decreased activity in the orientation area (superior parietal lobes) of the brain.
We also looked at the brain of a long-term meditator who was an atheist. We scanned the person at rest and while meditating on the concept of God. The results showed that there was no significant increase in the frontal lobes as with the other meditation practices. The implication is that the individual was not able to activate the structures usually involved in meditation when he was focusing on a concept that he did not believe in.
The temporal lobes are clearly important in religious and spiritual experiences. The amygdala and hippocampus have been shown to be particularly involved in the experience of visions, profound experiences, memory, and meditation. However, Andrew feels that the temporal lobe must interact with many other parts of the brain to provide the full range of religious and spiritual experiences. For more information on the research, click here.
Putting mindfulness into practice is easy if you take it a few minutes at a time. Here are two simple routines: morning Meditation and practicing mindfulness.
You may be interested to know that Andrew Newberg has 2 courses available.
- The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience
24 lecture explore the neurotheology aimed at understanding the connections between our brains and different kinds of religious phenomena
- Spiritual Practices for a Powerful Brain
Six sessions detail the spiritual practices and offer guidelines for implementation along with the science and research behind them
Journal Articles (PDF downloads)
- Effects of an 8-Week Meditation Program on Mood and Anxiety in Patients With Memory Loss
- The Neuroscientific Study of Religious and Spiritual Phenomena
- A Preliminary Study of the Acute Effects of Religious Ritual on Anxiety
- Cerebral Blood Flow Changes Associated With Different Meditation Practices and Perceived Depth of Meditation
- Cerebral Blood Flow During Meditative Prayer
- Putting the Mystical Mind Together
- Complementary and Alternative Medicine Therapies in Mood Disorders
My purpose for pressing these science articles is to demonstrate health and spiritual benefits of spiritual practices. I hope you’ll come back often — there is more to be discovered.
Need help or want to collaborate with me?
Just e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for learning with me.
- Is the brain spirituality wired?
Theory of mind… evolving spirituality
mindfulness and prayerful healing
- A place called Heaven
- Only one Word was on my mind
- morning Meditation
practicing simply: mindfulness
- Do you have a need to change the world?
- Scientist debunks Hawking’s ‘no God needed’ theory
C. S. Lewis: The Magician’s Twin
Hunt FOR Truth said:
The science of mind isn’t intuitive. Neither is the tremendous effort of joint investigations of scientists and religious institutions with monks and nuns that contribute to these efforts of 25 years of hard work. Much/most of the research, dialog, seminars, distribution of information, review and analysis, and so on is/was NOT intuitive.
Just so we all know…
The intuition of great men and women do contribute; however, when we are looking into (here) a global acceptance of research, we must have solid empirical evidence.
This work is the beginning of a shift in global consciousness. If you follow my blog, I present data and research and conclusions. This article is the conclusive sort.
Global initiatives may not call upon intuition when the application of knowledge is intended for all humans – no matter what beliefs they have or have had or will have.
This topic is about a link between spiritual experiences and health. Here we have evidence based on limited research. The test of the evidence is not in debate at this point; the test of this evidence is in trials – you and I and others make use of mindfulness – and – the science and religious teachers and researchers continue to refine the mindful practices and we continue to give feedback.
Claiming that intuition tells me this would be wrong. I came by this information with experience over years of study, a little at a time. The knowledge of how consciousness works is hardly intuitive it seems to me.
Intuition alone is an individual’s tool. Science and expert advice is making better use of available tools.
For science and religious to partner, we must be open to the wiliness – open to honesty – open to progress.
Thank you for your comments. Your point is useful. We individually must access our priorities and apply what is blogged according to our time and experience. I am thankful also to Mark (agnophilo). His input is a simple statement of how useful evidence may be or may not be — I don’t need to work to read more into it.
Hunt FOR Truth said:
I believe “higher-self” is of a personal nature. We cannot across our globe link “higher-selves” except by a few methods. Two I know of are 1) dialog such as the research entails (see for example: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLOafJ4rP1PHyiRW4qwYqGS2nielIxdd6r ) by not only this study but by many others and over many years. 2) events and practices of spirituality that cause us in compassion to gather together – church, spiritual centers and so on – or in certain cases, global surprises like 9-1-1 attacks – a few organizations demonstrated some connectivity of a global consciousness and shifts before and after global events.
I know of many many ways to learn about how to connet with “my” higher self.
Now, how would “my” higher self be of great importance though for developing a global truth?
Well, I do the best I can then to keep “my”personal bias and individual values in check when the topic is about a global acceptance.
No matter what higher-self states that mindful practice and prayer are useful for well-being, there will of course be questions that require scientific and empirical evidence.
What you believe is either aiding others or not. I ask myself, and you:
How is what you post here of benefit to all of humanity?
The work of Andrew Newberg and Dali Lama with the Mind and Life Institute and efforts of others that I post about on mindfulness is helpful to all of mankind… for example: https://hunt4truth.wordpress.com/2014/02/22/practicing-simply-mindfulness/ demonstrates a very simple and healthy practice that possibly anyone can practice – beginning even from a very early age. The benefits to self and to freedom of mind from ego allow a person also to become more aware of higher-self.
I also post higher self topics. However, I can’t imagine that those are accepted as universally beneficial.
My position is to foster science and spiritual parnership. I believe this is a mission that is directed by higher self – mine. I take time to dismatle scientism and religious bias and to encourage going forth in trust that moral and ethical people will work together. For me, this is an investment of many hundreds of hours. I’ve learned a lot by bloggin what I think I know about. Often, I refine what I blog because of feedback and comments I read. To me the comment section is sometime more interesting.
We can collaborate and that is best use of our time.
Hunt FOR Truth said:
forward to 1:50 and Andrew Newberg introduces to Dalai Lama and conference how study leads to insights into how Neuroplasticity is of benefit – spiritually for all humans. The funding is more than 1/2 from Dalai Lama and India archives and substantial funding is also from materialists in the Hershey family. The conference kickoff for nearly two hours before this point was of interest to me – but I learned a lot watching the segment where Newberg introduces the conference theme – further study of brain and mindful and prayer practices leads to understanding beginning of mind and to possibly finding simple methods for all humans to clear-free themselves from ego thinking and restore links to what you refer to as higher self – I say Holy Spirit. In the further study will also be inclusive of non-believers.
Like the description of the Atheist brain at meditation.
Hunt FOR Truth said:
Thought is a power – a force that is yet not deeply explored in our sciences – However, in physics, in the early 1900s, the power of thought was noticed as observers of quantum experiments caused changes of the subatomic particles.
However, in the present, Newberg is one of the first to make extensive and discipline study of what our instruments can record… of thoughts in form… there are other devices that can somewhat see an aura and others that can measure electromagnetic energy that surrounds us.
Now,actually, the text here is made for comparison. Newberg was able to use the data as he put it (the indented text is from Newberg’s reports). As I looked at this statement regarding an atheist: “We scanned the person at rest and while meditating on the concept of God. The results showed that there was no significant increase in the frontal lobes as with the other meditation practices. The implication is that the individual was not able to activate the structures usually involved in meditation when he was focusing on a concept that he did not believe in.”, I derive from his report here and others that this person was able to demonstrate a meditative state. See also:
the first video in that post is this one from Juliet Adams (mindfulnet.org see: http://www.mindfulnet.org/page25.htm)
My next investigations will remain in focus but also I want to develop more in my understanding what happened… so far, I might summarize this next piece of healing this way:
During the same period – while physics was trying to hit a home run on junk ball pitches from quantum wave-particle packets, a new thought theology was mushrooming in the West. The influences of the East were not popular with Westerners – however, many of the scientists looking at physics in particualr were suddenly discussing reality with Eastern gurus — they of the day that were wondering about the quantum quandary and also many Christian intellectuals were investigating the Eastern gurus.
Biological science was at that time unable to emerge into an age of enlightenment in sciences. Biology was then already overrun with scientism.
Some charismatic people took the science and new theology that was more or less forgotten at the time of world wars and upon review, the Western simplicity of Eastern mystical practices became the New Age.
In all of this there is the lessons of acceptance – the knowledge that what we pursue is not intrusive – the imaginations of especially charismatic people are threading through with all other energy — through we all. The energy that is being directed with enthusiasm even if a person may be exactly saying the opposite of the other person, is still influencing the observable universe. Thus, I work to apply the laws of the universe for myself – accept rather than resist; put what I observe into context, it is not as expansive as the present – the present create the future, not the past.
The past so easily may make a hold on me; us. We are constantly facing fears (comparisons/judgement/regrets/inadequacy/resentment/etc.) and also due to the illusions of space-time facing it again and again – being locked in preoccupation with the past and from there projecting fantasy – avoiding the present and thereby the power of thought here and now to be free.and easy with Jesus in Heaven.
anyway… its a work in progress.
As always, I am so thankful for your comment.
great and comprehensive explanation. thxs
That was a great post, Eric. I wish more people would realize that God can provide more healing than any bottle of pills. As a pharmacist I see people reach for pills when often prayer or meditation would be more beneficial. Just my two cents.
Hunt FOR Truth said:
indeed this is so… thank you Lilka
Reblogged this on idealisticrebel and commented:
This has been proven with biofeedback.