The Power of Mindfulness and Prayer on the Brain
Mindfulness – moment to moment awareness of one’s experience without judgement.
Prayer - 1. a. A reverent petition made to God, a god, or another object of worship.
b. The act of making a reverent petition to God, a god, or another object of worship: belief in the power of prayer.
2. An act of communion with God, a god, or another object of worship, such as in devotion, confession, praise, or thanksgiving: One evening a week, the family would join together in prayer.
3. A specially worded form used to address God, a god, or another object of worship…
(prayer. (n.d.) American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. (2011). Retrieved June 9 2017 from http://www.thefreedictionary.com/prayer).
There is a lot of buzz nowadays in not only the mental health arena, but also in corporate settings, the military and other areas where the tools of mindfulness, prayer, and related exercises are being used to help with stress reduction and other numerous positive outcomes.
I first heard of the term “mindfulness” a couple of years ago when I came across a journal article while doing my own research. What I found was the work of Andrew Newberg, M.D. at the University of Pennsylvania.
In his research, Newberg has been looking at brain scans of people who have many years of meditative and prayer practice experience. His work has revealed that certain areas of the brain are altered through prayer and meditation. Activity in specific regions of the brain corresponding to emotional regulation piqued my interest. That being said, Newberg wrote a book titled: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist by: Andrew Newberg, M.D., and Mark Robert Waldman. Newbergh’s research is yielding promising insight into understanding the effects of these tools.
Turns out that there are many resources online devoted to practicing mindfulness either alone or in groups due to the continued reports on the effectiveness of these practices. Many youtube videos and phone apps are now available, which illustrate and walk people through to the practices exercises as well.
It is important to note that there are underlying traditions, namely Buddhism that are religious/philosophical in nature, which serve as a large foundation in certain types of meditative practices. This article is not written with the intention to debate what is: right/wrong, moralistic or promote any specific religious views/philosophies nor is it in its scope.
The purpose here is to look at things from an objective, scientific perspective and offer information on what body of research work has been/is being done with these exercises/practices. Many people report that meditation may not be conducive practice for them due to certain religious views so if that rings true for any person, the promising results from findings yields similar positive effects as also found in prayer. The elements of overlap between the two which interest scientists being that: meditation and prayer have been found to alter brain function and potentially improve overall health and quality of life. Also, a debate over prayer having a meditative quality is also present, to which is another semantic entanglement that is not intended to be covered here.
In summary, whatever methods you use to gain the benefits associated, It is important that we look at the available information showing results in harnessing the power of these tools in order to: better regulate our emotions, cultivate compassion/empathy, improve concentration and strengthen our immune systems to name a few. What is of special importance is to recognize that all of these effects are due to the power of focused concentration as generated by our own minds so never underestimate the healing powers within because they are very real.