How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist

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Product Description

God is great–for your mental, physical, and spiritual health. That’s the finding of this startling, authoritative, and controversial book by the bestselling authors of Born to Believe.

Based on new evidence culled from their brain-scan studies on memory patients and meditators, their Web-based survey of people’s religious and spiritual experiences, and their analyses of adult drawings of God, neuroscientist Andrew Newberg, therapist Mark Robert Waldman, and their research team have concluded that active and positive spiritual belief changes the human brain for the better. What’s more, actual faith isn’t always necessary: atheists who meditate on positive imagery can obtain similar neurological benefits. Written in an accessible style–with illustrations highlighting how spiritual experiences affect the mind–How God Changes Your Brain offers the following breakthrough discoveries:

• Not only do prayer and spiritual practice reduce stress and anxiety, but just twelve minutes of meditation per day may slow down the aging process.
• Contemplating a loving God rather than a punitive God reduces anxiety, depression, and stress and increases feelings of security, compassion, and love.
• Fundamentalism, in and of itself, is benign and can be personally beneficial, but the anger and prejudice generated by extreme beliefs can permanently damage your brain.
• Intense prayer and meditation permanently change numerous structures and functions in the brain–altering your values and the way you perceive reality.

How God Changes Your Brain is both a revelatory work of modern science and a practical guide for readers to enhance their physical and emotional health and to avoid mental decline. Newberg and Waldman explain the eight best ways to “exercise” your brain and guide readers through specific routines derived from a wide variety of Eastern and Western spiritual practices that improve personal awareness and empathy. They explain why yawning heightens consciousness and relaxation, and they teach “Compassionate Communication,” a new mediation technique that builds intimacy with family and friends in less than fifteen minutes of practice.

Unique in its conclusions and innovative in its methods, How God Changes Your Brain is a first-of-a-kind book about faith that is as credible as it is inspiring.

Customer Reviews:

  • The Value(s) of Believing
    As a practicing psychotherapist for many years, I have seen for myself how clients who integrate a positive spirituality into their lives have benefitted. I have also witnessed how clients who were raised with religious views that used guilt as a means of attempting to control or restrict normal human behaviors have suffered greatly as a result. This book offers a scientific explanation of how and why this happens, and suggests ways that all of us can improve our quality of life by adding positive spiritual experience into our daily lives.

    Ken Waldman...more info
  • A SPECTACULAR BOOK (for believers and disbelievers alike)
    Details about this book appeared in Time magazine a few weeks ago, featuring Newberg's and Waldmans research on spirituality and the brain. They touted it as a "self-help field guide to the health benefits of spirituality" and meditation practice. Then it was featured in Oprah magazine, so as a mental health professional, I had to see what their research was all about.

    What I found was a brainstorm of some of the most amazing research on how spiritual practices change the structure and function of our brain. Like the classic book, Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James, the authors, who are neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania, summarize a dozen different ways the human brain processes spiritual experiences.

    For example, one part of the brain can generate images of an angry god; another, feelings of a compassionate god; yet another part of the brain can generate doubtful thoughts, and so on. They also present new data showing how Americans are becoming less religious but more spiritual as they embrace images of a universe that is scientific yet mystical. Their online survey of a thousand participants shows that nearly everyone holds radically different concepts of "God." They even track, using people who draw pictures of God, how this concept begins as a face in a child's brain, and that the more a child thinks about god, new abstract conceptualizations begin to form in different parts of the brain.

    The authors show many brain scans of many different practitioners (religious and secular) which demonstrate that the more intense one contemplates any spiritual issue-or even evolution or the Big Bang-the more it changes the structure and function of other parts of the brain in healthy ways (for example, meditators from Christian, Buddhist, and nonreligious backgrounds permanently alter their thalamus, and thus their perception of reality), which makes their deepest beliefs feel "neurologically real." This explains the book's title, for even atheists, when they try to make sense out of religion, grow new dendrites in important areas of the brain that appear to slow down the diseases we get as we age.

    Fortunately, the authors put the neuroscience in terms anyone can grasp, and they proceed to give explicit instructions that the reader can use to stimulate their precuneus (a key center of consciousness), the frontal lobes (logic, reason, motivation), and the anterior cingulate (compassion, intuition, and social awareness). There's so much practical and provocative material, that the best way to review this book is to briefly describe each chapter:

    Ch 1: "Who Cares About God?" - We all do, argue the authors, who introduce basic concepts of neuroplasticity, the neurologal "war" between beliefs and disbeliefs, and why any religious concept generate both anger and compassion in virtually everyone's brain.

    Ch 2: "Do You Need God When You Pray?" The authors describe a new study showing how a 12 minute chanting meditation practice improved memory in older people with mild cognitive impairment (a precursor to Alzheimer's disease)in less than 8 weeks. They also show you how to create your own "brain enhancement" exercise program.

    Ch 3: "What Does God Do to Your Brain?" This chapter explores the neural varieties of meditation and prayer, and how different parts of the brain create different perceptions of God. They also discuss how different neurochemicals and drugs alter spiritual beliefs and realities.

    Ch 4: "What Does God Feel Like?" The authors' data shows that, for most people, God is more of a feeling than an idea, that everyone's spiritual experiences are unique, and that mystical experiences often generate long-lasting states of unity, peacefulness, and love.

    Ch 5: "What Does God Look Like?" The authors collected adult drawings of God and compared them with pictures drawn by children. It turns out that the most sophisticated drawings are made by liberal believers, atheists, and agnostic college students. However, many atheists maintain childhood images, which could explain why god doesn't make any rational sense to them. The authors suggest that everyone has "God" neuron or circuit in their brain, and they show you where it is.

    Ch 6: "Does God Have a Heart?" They examine the Baylor University survey depicting four "personalities" of God, but they present their own survey evidence showing that a previously unrecognized and large segment of Americans maintain a mystical and loving vision of nature, God, and people.

    Ch 7: "What Happens When God Gets Mad?" Surprisingly, the authors (one is agnostic, and the other describes himself as being personally guided by evidence-based natural science)both find value in all spiritual practices and traditions. They found little evidence to criticize religious fundamentalism, except when it involves angry rhetoric. They point out the neurological dangers of hostility, fear, authoritarianism, and idealism, and they suggest that we all have a fundamentalistic and an atheistic mentality hardwired in the brain.

    Ch 8: "Exercising Your Brain" Included are eight ways to keep your brain physically and mentally tuned-up. Even yawning appears to be an amazing way to calm down a dysfunctional brain, and they have about 40 references to support this claim. In fact, they include over a 1000 endnotes and references to support what many might think are widely speculative claims. For me, as a professional, this is wonderful, because it shows that they didn't cherry-pick the research; indeed they admirably point out the weaknesses to their own conclusions and work.

    Ch 9: "Finding Serenity" This chapter, and the next, are filled with simple, well-tested meditation techniques to help any reader, of any religious or nonreligious persuasion, to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while enhancing cognition,memory, and greater sensitivity and empathy toward one's self and others. This well-documented research shows that nearly any meditation technique can be removed from its theological background to provide beneficial neurological and psychological changes. The authors also provide convincing evidence that only a few minutes of meditation, throughout the day, improves the functioning of the brain.

    Ch 10: "Compassionate Communication" This is an original meditation exercise that can be used when dialoguing with others. It takes fifteen minutes to learn, and their research shows that it improves compassion social intimacy by 11%, even when done with with strangers. They then include nearly a dozen ways to quickly resolve interpersonal conflicts,all of which make sound psychological sense.

    Finally, in the epilogue, the authors talk briefly about their own journeys into the murky domain where science and religion intersects.

    This is a "must read" book for believers and nonbelievers alike, and it might even help, as the authors suggest, to bring a little more peace and tolerance into this world. God knows we need it!
    ...more info
  • christian baiting gibberish
    These guys have no morals whatsoever. Just a couple of months ago,the biggest test ever conducted worldwide for the efficacy of prayer was conducted and thoroughly rejected. The world's largest study into the effects of prayer on patients undergoing heart surgery has found it appears to make no difference.
    The MANTRA study, run from Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, involved 750 patients." I guess these two 'salesmen' don't read medical studies, just a bible. shame on them for shaking down the gullible....more info
  • Transformative Research
    "How God Changes Your Brain" offers transformative research on the effects of spiritual practices and does so in clear, thoughtful, and often witty prose. This information helps us transcend the increasingly nasty and polarizing debates between belief and non belief and offers in my own area of teaching and research bountiful new avenues for literary and cultural exploration. Dr. David Rodes, Department of English, UCLA...more info
  • Provocative and Useful
    I got turned on to this book because of the write ups in Time, Oprah, and Newsweek (who covered these authors in other special editions). This book may be their best, because it is filled with information that I have used to feel better about myself, and to understand why other people believe the way they do. Here are the main principles the authors use throughout this book:

    1. The brain as a whole can have different experiences of God and different perceptions and realities.

    2. Everyone has a different thought of God, whether we have a positive or a negative outlook on God, our brain interprets God in our own way.

    3. Spiritual practices can benefit everyone,regardless of religious affiliation. Everyone can receive the benefits of meditation!

    4. Meditation and positivity is so healthy for the brain, so live life in a positive light.

    5. Your brain thrives on meditation, so meditate!

    The book is well researched, thought provoking, and it made me question some of my deepest beliefs about religion and human morality. There's lot's of lots of practical exercises that anyone can do to improve their health. I particularly like the research they gave on optimism and how it powerfully affects every part of the brain. ...more info
  • Review of Kindle edition
    The title of "God" in the book does not bias this book in any way. The book doesn't advocate for any religion or for God, but instead rationally and objectively discusses how thinking about "God" -- whatever one's vision of god is, that's not the point -- affects your brain. It isn't a book on how GOD affects your brain, but rather, a book on how YOUR THINKING of God affects your brain. It contains numerous graphics and illustrations which came out very well on the K2. It is an interesting book to read, and thankfully has very little to do with theology. It's about studying the brain. Atheists, agnostics, fundamentalists, spiritualists, westerners, easterners, etc ... -- everyone will find this book interesting, and non-offensive. Recommended....more info
  • A message everyone should hear
    The thesis, as I took it, may not come as much of a surprise: dogmatism is bad. But this book goes further, using the latest neurological findings to suggest that believers and non-believers alike need to find an open-minded, compassionate place to stand. In a world where too many people use every disagreement as an occasion to choose sides for a fight, I applaud the authors for finding evidence of why we're all better off if we learn to relate to one another rather than radicalize. ...more info
  • Believe and you might get something extra
    According to the book, one does not have to believe in God in order to meditate. Simply contemplating on what God might mean -- love, compassion, kindness, or faith in mankind among other positively-themed meanings -- yields the same health benefits. The book then might better be titled with the more appropriate albeit longer, "How Thinking About God Changes Your Brain".

    The difference between the God-believing and the non-believing meditators, the book surmises, may be in that believing in God not only gives the meditator good mental health but also a chance at achieving what Buddhists call "Nirvana" if indeed such a state of heavenly bliss exists.

    Science needs proof before it believes in anything. While it cannot be denied that our scientific breakthroughs have improved and continue to improve our lives in leaps and bounds, it is nowhere written that things have to come in that specific order, that is, proof before belief. We just happen to stumble upon a process that works but may or may not be the tool to use for ferreting out truth. Besides, as the book said, we will never be sure of let alone know everything there is to know so there will always be room for doubt -- or faith. Whether we choose doubt and pessimism or faith and optimism to be our guide is up to us. Brain scans would show, however, that optimism and not pessimism would be the healthy choice.

    Maybe then a whole other order needs to be considered. In the scientific realm, proof before belief may be the only way to advance. But spiritual progress may only be gained through belief before proof. As recent brains scans would seem to suggest, the ancient mystics may have had it right all along -- the proof we seek may only be revealed to those who believe.
    ...more info


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