If you think prayer is only about something spiritual, think again. Through brain research, scientists are finding out that prayer has tangible effects on many of the brain’s systems - effects that can actually sculpt the brain and make you a better, calmer, more compassionate, and overall healthier you.
The effects of prayer are numerous, and studies have shown that people who engage in prayer and meditation can see great health benefits - both mentally and physically. In the end, a relaxed body produces a relaxed brain, and the mind-body connection helps to promote overall well being. In fact, researchers have pinpointed that certain areas in the brain are stimulated during prayer and this is how we feel calmer, more emotionally connected, and generally more well during and after prayer.
WebMD offers a cool overview of how the brain reacts to prayer. They use the research of Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, MD:
As an individual goes deeper and deeper into concentration, intense activity begins taking place in the brain's parietal lobe circuits -- those that control a person's orientation in space and establish distinctions between self and the world. Benson has documented a "quietude" that then envelops the entire brain.
At the same time, frontal and temporal lobe circuits -- which track time and create self-awareness -- become disengaged. The mind-body connection dissolves, Benson says.And the limbic system, which is responsible for putting "emotional tags" on that which we consider special, also becomes activated. The limbic system also regulates relaxation, ultimately controlling the autonomic nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, etc., says Benson
All of this works together to calm and relax the body, and to make it become more emotionally engaged. It’s easy to see how one’s mental state can be greatly impacted by prayer.
But it’s not just about the mind. The body is clearly affected by these brain changes. Lower blood pressure can help the cardiovascular system. Stress can kill. It can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and other medical complications. Regulating stress with prayer can have a profound influence on one’s overall health.
When it comes to the healing power of prayer, doctors and scientists aren’t arguing that prayer can cure cancer. What some are saying is that prayer can play a crucial role in the brain’s ability to help the body heal.
"We see not only changes in the activity levels, but in different neurotransmitters, the chemicals in our brain … there's evidence to show that by doing these practices, you can cause a lot of different changes all the way throughout the body, which could have a healing effect.” Dr Andrew Newberg told NBC News.
Prayer is no doubt powerful for those who believe in its power. Now, science is studying how it actually affects brain chemistry, which in turn can improve mental health. This makes for a powerful alternative to substances people often use to cope, which can become addictive. The physical health benefits should cannot be overstated either.
Some scientists believe that we can shape our brain, much like we can shape our bodies - and that prayer and meditation can help. Through “neuroplasticity,” prayer might helps us mold our brains to be more mindful, compassionate, and connected to the world as a whole. With prayer, one might be able to sculpt their brain and teach themselves to be a better, more healthy human.
Jason Lewis has a BA in Human Performance and Exercise Health Science. He is a personal trainer and caregiver to his elderly mom. He enjoys sharing his fitness knowledge on his website. He is passionate about helping seniors stay healthy and injury-free. He created StrongWell to share his tips on senior fitness.