by Tanis Helliwell
Almost every spiritual discipline proclaims the value of meditation, prayer, contemplation, and silence. The most obvious benefits that are praised by meditators are greater feelings of peace, calm, and managing stress better in their daily life. There are also other desireable benefits that meditators receive that make them more effective in manifesting their goals in life.
Brains of Meditators
Scans of the brain of meditators demonstrate that neural oscillations that create unitive thinking occur more frequently in them. What does this mean? Unitive thinking allows us to do more creative, intuitive, and rule breaking thinking. It unifies data across the brain that allows the seats of reason to communicate with the seats of emotion or, in other words, these neural oscillations integrate our mind and our heart and soul.
Spirituality and The Brain
Andrew Newberg, the author of How God Changes Your Brain, is aneuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania. He has done medical brain image scans on Franciscan nuns, Buddhists, Pentecostals, Sikhs, and Sufis as they pray or meditate, all in his quest to map the effects of spirituality on the mind. He believes that there’s not just one ‘God’ part of the brain and that when you fully engage the mind, which we typically see in spiritual practices, it activates various parts of the brain in a robust and fundamental way. When we think of spirit/the Creator/universal life force in a positive way, it turns on the part of the brain that makes us feel more compassionate, more loving, more forgiving of others and ourselves. Also, people with these positive feelings about our Creator have lower levels of depression and anxiety.
Newberg also discovered that many different meditative techniques have the same effect. And that it doesn’t take a lot of time to gain benefits. In Newberg’s study, they took people who had never done meditative practices, scanned them and then trained them in simple meditative techniques. The individuals meditated for 12 minutes a day. At eight weeks, Newberg evaluated them again and saw significant improvement in memory scores and emotional measures, including anxiety, anger, and tension. So, think of what the results are if we devote even more time each day in meditation? It appears that these results are cumulative and that the more you meditate the greater these positive results are.
How Does it Work?
Newberg discovered that one of the most important areas affected during meditation is the frontal lobe of the brain, which helps to focus attention. The frontal lobe is also involved in feelings of compassion and regulating emotions and the frontal lobe of meditators is more active than of non-meditators in these areas. Interestingly, this lobe stayed active even at rest, when individuals were not meditating. This means, that the effects become part of the individual’s entire life and not only something they do for a short time during the day. In contrast, individuals who have negative emotions, such as anger and resentment, actually cause their brains to work less efficiently. Ultimately faith and optimism, and a positive outlook on life create a healthy brain and body.
Positive Effects of Prayer and Meditation on our World
In the 1960’s and 70’s Maharishi, famous as the teacher of TM to the Beatles, said that if 1% of people meditated there would be peace in our world. Maharishi is not alone in this observation and if we meditate for others and for the Earth this energy goes towards healing them. This works because thought is energy and where we direct our energy results in change.
Medical doctor, Larry Dossey has written extensively about research on the effects of prayer. Studies have been conducted where patients who had undergone heart surgeries had individuals, who did not know them, pray for them. The patients who were prayed for did significantly better than those that were not prayed for. They had fewer deaths and recovered faster. Furthermore, it made no difference if the prayers were by a Christian, Jew, Hindu, etcetera it was the positive effect of prayer that was important.
In our busy life it is too easy to fill our day with activity and to not take time out to meditate, pray, and contemplate the beauty of our world and the glorious life that we have. We might also feel guilty that we are not doing enough for the Earth or for others. Neither overwork or guilt benefit us or others. By meditating and praying for others, the Earth, and ourselves on a daily basis we make a positive difference our world as well as achieving greater peace.
Tanis Helliwell, M.ED., founder of the International Institute of Transformation, is the author of the recently released DVD Spiritual Transformation: Journey of Co-creation. She is leading a Meditation Retreat from July 23-30 at Diamond Heart located on the seacoast north of Vancouver. For information visit www.iitransform.com.