I remember during my college days hearing about the brain patterns of Hindu yogis. They were different from “ordinary” people when the yogis were meditating, and even at rest. The methods of testing used were primitive by today’s technology. These results were, for most of the psychology department, just a curiosity.
Last Wednesday while riding back to Port Huron from the University of Michigan – Flint, we caught an interview on NPR. Dr. Andrew Newberg was discussing his new text book. He is a leader in the new (at least to me), discipline of NEUROTHEOLOGY. This was a fascinating interview, and gave some framework for the reality of brain changes during prayer and meditation. It also details the effect of repetitive efforts at prayer and/or meditation compared to lack of effort. The human brain does increase the parts of the brain which are in use when effort is employed. Memory also increases.
Check it out. Fr. Orthohippo
In an effort to address those questions, Dr. Andrew Newberg has scanned the brains of praying nuns, chanting Sikhs and meditating Buddhists. He studies the relationship between the brain and religious experience, a field called neurotheology. And he’s written a book, Principles of Neurotheology, that tries to lay the groundwork for a new kind of scientific and theological dialogue.
Newberg tells NPR’s Neal Conan that neurotheology applies science and the scientific method to spirituality through brain imaging studies.
“[We] evaluate what’s happening in people’s brains when they are in a deep spiritual practice like meditation or prayer,” Newberg says. He and his team then compare that with the same brains in a state of rest. “This has really given us a remarkable window into what it means for people to be religious or spiritual or to do these kinds of practices.”
Newberg’s scans have also shown the ways in which religious practices, like meditation, can help shape a brain. Newberg describes one study in which he worked with older individuals who were experiencing memory problems. Newberg took scans of their brains, then taught them a mantra-based type of meditation and asked them to practice that meditation 12 minutes a day for eight weeks. At the end of the eight weeks, they came back for another scan, and Newberg found some dramatic differences.
“We found some very significant and profound changes in their brain just at rest, particularly in the areas of the brain that help us to focus our mind and to focus our attention,” he says.