Meditation and Prayer

Did you know?

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Studies have shown that meditation boosts the immune system, helps you to manage chronic pain, and improves your mood.

 

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Sage Meditation offers meditation cushions, benches, chimes, and more.

Reshaping the Brain

The therapeutic benefits of meditation, particularly as an anxiety-reducing tool, have long been accepted. But what we’re now discovering is that meditation, particularly mindfulness meditation, is a great deal more than just an antidote to stress. It can literally rewire the brain.

 

Herbert Benson, a professor of medicine who founded the Mind/Body Medical Institute and wrote a famous book called The Relaxation Response, tested some students in the 1960s who practiced transcendental meditation. He found that when these students meditated, they used 17% less oxygen, lowered their heart rates by three beats a minute, and increased their theta brain waves, the brain waves that appear right before sleep. In fact, Benson argued, meditators seemed to be able to counteract the traditional “fight-or-flight” response to stress.

 

After an eight-week course in mindfulness practice, participants’ MRI scans revealed that the amygdalas (the brain’s fight-or-flight center) had actually shrunk. Correspondingly, as the amygdala shrunk, higher order brain functions in the pre-frontal cortex actually became thicker. In other words, we are more aware, more focused, and our critical thinking skills are stronger after regular meditation practice. Mindfulness meditation may also enhance our many of our mental abilities, and additional research has shown that meditation shifts activity in the prefrontal cortex from the right hemisphere to the left, a shift that increases feelings of contentment and wellbeing. 

 

What is Mindfulness Meditation?

Mindfulness meditation is sometimes referred to a “single point meditation,” because the practitioner focuses her attention on a single point—a candle flame, a sound, a word, a mantra, or the breath.

 

In case you’re tempted to think of meditation as “New Age-y” and esoteric, think again. Mindfulness meditation is an ancient practice that has evolved into a wide range of practical uses, both secular and spiritual. The emphasis is on being present and aware of one’s thoughts and feelings, regarding them with equanimity, and then releasing them. And it’s not just depressed and anxious people who are seeing the benefits—schools, sports teams, even military units are using it as a means of enhancing performance and dealing with pain and addiction.

 

New research demonstrates that the effects of meditation extend well beyond the meditation period itself. Findings support the hypothesis that meditation may result in “enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.” In short, meditation makes people less reactive, yet at the same time more compassionate. Learn More.

 

What about Prayer?

Well, we already know that prayer reduces stress, supports the immune system and improves our vitality. But prayer may also have a measurable impact on the brain. MRI scans have shown that people who valued their religion more and regularly prayed had thicker brain cortices compared to those who did not. A thicker cortex means that you are less likely to suffer from depression.

 

Interestingly, the scientific study of the relationship between the brain and spiritual phenomena has become a new field of inquiry called “neurotheology.” As more than 80% of Americans report praying regularly, the connection between prayer and brain health deserves further study. Like meditation, prayer may change four areas of the brain—the frontal lobe, the anterior cingulate, the parietal lobe, and the limbic system. 

 

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Learn more about the important role  breathwork plays in meditation and prayer