A Scientist Explains How Meditation And Prayer Rewire Your Brain

The Muslim Times has the best collection of articles for meditation. Suggested reading: ‘Doctor’s Orders: 20 Minutes of Meditation Twice a Day’ – How about 10 Minutes 5 Times a Day?

By Carolyn Gregoire, Senior Health & Science Writer at The Huffington Post.

Whether you see meditation or prayer as the gateway to enlightenment or just a way to stay more focused at work, one thing that’s certain is that the practice comes with a whole host of physical and mental health benefits.

But what’s behind those benefits has been less clear. What’s going on in the brain when we’re sitting silently and focusing on the breath?

For the fifth episode of Next Level Living, a 10-part HuffPost Originals video series on the science behind our everyday habits, we asked scientists about what meditation and prayer do to the brain and body to create benefits like reduced stress levels, improved sleep, and, for some, mystical experiences.

“The more you do a practice like meditation or prayer, your brain physically gets thicker and it functionally works better,” Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neurotheologist and director of research at Philadelphia’s Myrna Byrd Center of Integrative Medicine, said in the video.

In his lab, Newberg took brain scans of spiritual leaders while they’re meditated or prayed in order to learn more about how the practice alters brain activity. What did he find? Concentration and language centers activate, while the parietal lobe, which helps you gain a sense of where your body is in space deactivates. And surprisingly, the thalamus — which is involved in our sensory perceptions of the outside world — is also highly active.

Read more

Suggested Reading

Can You Chant from the Bible or the Quran to Bliss and Happiness?

Corona Fear’s Cure: Chanting from the Bible and the Quran

How Meditation Changes the Brain and Body

Ask Well: The Health Benefits of Meditation

Meditation for a Good Night’s Sleep

How Meditation May Change the Brain

Categories: Meditation, Psychology

2 replies

  1. Mindfulness meditation helps fight insomnia, improves sleep
    POSTED FEBRUARY 18, 2015, 3:38 PM , UPDATED JUNE 15, 2020, 12:00 AM
    Julie CorlissJulie Corliss
    Executive Editor, Harvard Heart Letter

    If you’ve ever crawled under the covers worrying about a problem or a long to-do list, you know those racing thoughts may rob you of a good night’s sleep. Sleep disturbances, like having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep, affect millions of Americans.

    The daytime sleepiness that follows can leave you feeling lousy and sap your productivity, and it may even harm your health. Now, a small study suggests that mindfulness meditation — a mind-calming practice that focuses on breathing and awareness of the present moment — can help.

    A study published a few years ago in JAMA Internal Medicine included 49 middle-aged and older adults who had trouble sleeping. Half completed a mindfulness awareness program that taught them meditation and other exercises designed to help them focus on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts, and emotions.” The other half completed a sleep education class that taught them ways to improve their sleep habits.

    Both groups met six times, once a week for two hours. Compared with the people in the sleep education group, those in the mindfulness group had less insomnia, fatigue, and depression at the end of the six sessions.

    The findings come as no surprise to Dr. Herbert Benson, director emeritus of the Harvard-affiliated Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine. “Mindfulness meditation is just one of a smorgasbord of techniques that evoke the relaxation response,” says Dr. Benson.

    The relaxation response, a term he coined in the 1970s, is a deep physiological shift in the body that’s the opposite of the stress response. The relaxation response can help ease many stress-related ailments, including depression, pain, and high blood pressure. For many people, sleep disorders are closely tied to stress, says Dr. Benson.

    Mindfulness meditation involves focusing on your breathing and then bringing your mind’s attention to the present without drifting into concerns about the past or future. It helps you break the train of your everyday thoughts to evoke the relaxation response, using whatever technique feels right to you.

    Dr. Benson recommends practicing mindfulness during the day, ideally for 20 minutes, the same amount suggested in the new study. “The idea is to create a reflex to more easily bring forth a sense of relaxation,” he says. That way, it’s easier to evoke the relaxation response at night when you can’t sleep. In fact, the relaxation response is so, well, relaxing that your daytime practice should be done sitting up or moving (as in yoga or tai chi) so as to avoid nodding off.

    Step 1: Choose a calming focus. Good examples are your breath, a sound (“Om”), a short prayer, a positive word (such as “relax” or “peace”), or a phrase (“breathing in calm, breathing out tension”; “I am relaxed”). If you choose a sound, repeat it aloud or silently as you inhale or exhale.

    https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/mindfulness-meditation-helps-fight-insomnia-improves-sleep-201502187726

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