Neuroscience has taught us more about the human brain in the past 20 years than in our entire history. "Neural Plasticity" is a term that has been re-introduced to define a brain that is dynamic, constantly reorganizing, and malleable. Indeed, we now know the human brain can be shaped for health across the entire lifespan. I often educate my audiences that the "critical period of brain development is actually life itself."
With the advancement of neuroimaging technology, we are now able to behold images and processes of the brain in real time that have advanced our understanding significantly. We also have the ability to see the brain influenced by different behaviors such as meditation and prayer. Indeed, there is an entire new field of study called "Neurotheology" that investigates what happens when the brain is in deep meditation or prayer.
Dr. Andrew Newberg is one leader in this field and he has taught us how meditation and prayer and other forms of spiritual experience can bring calm to the frontal lobes and to subcortical structures where emotional processing occurs. The key is to try and balance the logical chatter that takes place in our frontal lobes with the overt emotional energy that is produced in the subcortical regions of our brain. When we balance these two regions through meditation or prayer we actually feel at peace and harmony with the world inside and around us.
Our Anterior Cingulate Gyrus is the critical structure in the brain that sits near the front and serves as the balancing agent between the frontal lobes and the sub cortex. When we meditate and pray we actually stimulate the Anterior Cingulate that helps our brain feel joy, kindness, love, compassion, and peace. Activating the Anterior Cingulate also quiets the negative and toxic emotions of hate, rage, bitterness, and anger.
Neurotheology will help us to learn more about practices that can bring our brain and body peace and balance. Research indicates meditation and prayer 12 minutes a day for 8 weeks can actually lead to a structurally and functionally healthier brain. I promote meditation at my Brain Health Center in Wexford, Pa (www.brainhealthctr.com) and I encourage everyone to make meditation and prayer part of your daily lifestyle.