“A theologian will tell you that faith is essential to religious belief, but our brain-scan research, which we document in our new book, “How God Changes Your Brain,” led us to the conclusion that faith is the most important thing a person needs to maintain a neurologically healthy brain. Indeed, we believe that faith is more essential than exercise, especially in light of the cumulative research showing how doubt and pessimism can shorten your life by years.
By faith, we mean the ability to consciously and repetitively hold an optimistic vision of a positive future — about yourself, and about the world. When you do this — through meditation, prayer, or intensely focusing on a positive goal — you strengthen a unique circuit in your brain that improves memory and cognition, reduces anxiety and depression, and enhances social awareness and empathy toward others. And it doesn’t matter whether the meditations are religious or secular.
However, when meditation is religious and strengthens your spiritual beliefs, then there is a synergistic effect that can be even better. Our research into how people describe their own spiritual experiences speaks directly to this fact. On one hand, it seems that people use a tremendous diversity of descriptions in recounting deeply meaningful, spiritual experiences.
For some it is love, for some awe, for some it is the experience of direct contact with the divine (however they define that). However, in spite of these many different descriptions, each person describes a transformative element that changes their mind, their health, and their life. In fact, our research shows that the more you engage all parts of your being, your thoughts, emotions, perceptions, social interactions and spiritual pursuits, the more it enhances your brain’s function. But most importantly, this requires a focus on the positive — on love, forgiveness, optimism, and inclusiveness.”
- Neuroscientists Andrew Newberg and Mark Waldman
Barnby JM, Bailey NW, Chambers R, Fitzgerald PB (2015). "How similar are the changes in neural activity resulting from mindfulness practice in contrast to spiritual practice?" Consciousness and Cognition 36: 219-232.
"Meditation and spiritual practices are conceptually similar, eliciting similar subjective experiences, and both appear to provide similar benefits to the practicing individuals. However, no research has examined whether the mechanism of action leading to the beneficial effects is similar in both practices. This review examines the neuroimaging research that has focused on groups of meditating individuals, groups who engage in religious/spiritual practices, and research that has examined groups who perform both practices together, in an attempt to assess whether this may be the case. Differences in the balance of activity between the parietal and prefrontal cortical activation were found between the three groups. A relative prefrontal increase was reflective of mindfulness, which related to decreased anxiety and improved well-being. A relative decrease in activation of the parietal cortex, specifically the inferior parietal cortex, appears to be reflective of spiritual belief, whether within the context of meditation or not. Because mindful and spiritual practices differ in focus regarding the 'self' or 'other' (higher being), these observations about neurological components that reflect spirituality may continue work towards understanding how the definition of 'self' and 'other' is represented in the brain, and how this may be reflected in behaviour. Future research can begin to use cohorts of participants in mindfulness studies which are controlled for using the variable of spirituality to explicitly examine how functional and structural similarities and differences may arise."
Blum, K., B. Thompson, et al. (2015). "The Molecular Neurobiology of Twelve Steps Program & Fellowship: Connecting the Dots for Recovery." J Reward Defic Syndr 1(1): 46-64.
According to Kenneth Blum et al (2015) “Finding happiness may not only reside in our genome [genetic material or genes] but may indeed be impacted by positive meditative practices, positive psychology, spiritual acceptance, love of others and self, and taking inventory of ourselves-one day at a time.”
Immunotheology: Imagine Two People with Cancer With Very Different Levels of Anxiety on Spokane Favs [Full Article]
Brewer-Smyth, K. and H. G. Koenig (2014). "Could spirituality and religion promote stress resilience in survivors of childhood trauma?" Issues Ment Health Nurs 35(4): 251-256.
Trauma is a precursor to many mental health conditions that greatly impact victims, their loved ones, and society. Studies indicate that neurobiological associations with adverse childhood experiences are mediated by interpersonal relationships and play a role in adult behavior, often leading to cycles of intergenerational trauma. There is a critical need to identify cost effective community resources that optimize stress resilience. Faith-based communities may promote forgiveness rather than retaliation, opportunities for cathartic emotional release, and social support, all of which have been related to neurobiology, behavior, and health outcomes. While spirituality and religion can be related to guilt, neurotic, and psychotic disorders, they also can be powerful sources of hope, meaning, peace, comfort, and forgiveness for the self and others. This article provides an overview of religion and spirituality as they relate to the neurobiology of resilience in victims of childhood trauma.
Camp, M. E. (2011). "Religion and spirituality in psychiatric practice." Curr Opin Psychiatry 24(6): 507-513.
The role of religion and spirituality in psychiatric practice has long been a topic of discussion among mental health providers, patients, and faith communities. This review examines the recent findings in the literature that shape current dialogues on this topic and provide implications for patient care. An increasing body of evidence correlates certain aspects of religion/spirituality with mental and physical health outcomes, and researchers continue to explore how and when psychiatrists should intervene in matters of faith. As this topic is inherently multidisciplinary, many encourage approaches that incorporate neurobiology, faith, and psychology for enhanced understanding of patient experience. Many also stress the importance of effective interpersonal communication between providers and patients, using a person-centered framework. In all of these dialogues, implications for patient care are highlighted. The proper role of religion and spirituality in psychiatry continues as a matter of debate. However, current publications attempt to clarify issues that may lead to more evidence-based and empathic care in this area.
Chiesa, A. and P. Malinowski (2011). "Mindfulness-based approaches: are they all the same?" J Clin Psychol 67(4): 404-424.
Mindfulness-based approaches are increasingly employed as interventions for treating a variety of psychological, psychiatric and physical problems. Such approaches include ancient Buddhist mindfulness meditations such as Vipassana and Zen meditations, modern group-based standardized meditations, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy, and further psychological interventions, such as dialectical behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy. We review commonalities and differences of these interventions regarding philosophical background, main techniques, aims, outcomes, neurobiology and psychological mechanisms. In sum, the currently applied mindfulness-based interventions show large differences in the way mindfulness is conceptualized and practiced. The decision to consider such practices as unitary or as distinct phenomena will probably influence the direction of future research.
Work with Kimberly Burnham $120 per hour
Special Packages Click Here
Follow Kim on Social Media
Kimberly Burnham, PhD
(860) 221-8510 (PST)
Kimberly Burnham, PhD
With a PhD in Integrative Medicine, Kimberly Burnham is an expert in brain health, working with people with Parkinson's, Macular degeneration, Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington's ataxia, Diabetic Neuropathy, Autism and more.. She blogs regularly on SpokaneFavs, an Interfaith news site, Inner Child Press Magazine with a column entitled Community of Humanity and writes for the Reform Judaism site.