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PRAYER, MEDITATION, THE BODY, AND THE BRAIN

prayer and meditationIt has long been known that daily prayer and meditation come with short-term physiological benefits, but only recently have scientists begun to understand the long-term benefits of connecting more deeply with oneself or a higher power.  Increasingly, researchers have been looking into the possibility that ritual prayer and meditation can extend life spans, increase happiness and productivity, and even affect those being prayed for.  Polls have indicated that 9 in 10 Americans pray at least once a day, and 83% believe in the existence of a God who answers prayers.

Prayer and medication have become staples of the recovery process.  Addicts in recovery are routinely asked to embrace the concept of a higher power, conceived as something that is bigger than themselves and a transcendent force that is universal and accessible to all.  After years of turning their lives over to substances, the recovering addict shifts his/her focus to a more affirmative form of submission.  In Alcoholics Anonymous, the Third Step Prayer includes the words “God, I offer myself to Thee-to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power!”  A 2011 study concluded that submerging oneself in the spiritual can produce effects similar to those that addicts receive from the taking in of substances.

Participation in group prayer and meditation can also provide recovering addicts with a support system, a necessary component of the apparatus of recovery.  Because addicts tend to isolate, connecting with other people and sharing their struggles and pains during moments of crisis can be enormously beneficial to the recovery process.  Meditation allows its practitioners to sit with their emotional and physical turmoil and experience it as it happens, rather than fight a losing battle to suppress it.  In this sense, meditation gives the practitioner a more realistic view of his circumstances and the extent to which he can influence them.

According to Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research at the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and Medical College, and Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, the mind-body connection involved when prayer and meditation become woven into the daily fabric of people’s lives is substantial.  “The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain,” said Newberg in an interview for the NPR program All Things Considered.

While prayer can have a positive effect on the body of the person doing the praying, research indicates it has no effect on the bodies of those being prayed for.  It seems that, for those who wish to see their prayers benefit loved ones, the best solution might be to improve themselves first through prayer and meditation, then utilizing those positive effects to help others in more tangible ways.  Or, perhaps, teaching what they’ve learned about the benefits of prayer and meditation to unwashed masses so they can attain similar benefits.  Regardless, both the body and the mind seem to reward their possessors kindly when nurtured with daily doses of prayer and meditation.

 

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=110997741

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104351710

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/july-17-2009/faith-and-the-brain/3597/  (supplemental)

http://www.npr.org/2010/12/15/132078267/neurotheology-where-religion-and-science-collide (supplemental)

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3185195/?tool=pubmed

By Greg L.

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Filed under: Featured, Spirituality · Tags: Addiction, benefits of spiritual practices, faith, God, higher power, isolation, NPR, positive effects of meditation, Prayer and Meditation, recovery process, sobriety, substance abuse