Fast­ing, Glau­coma, and Spir­i­tu­al­ity

Reader's Digest - - Contents -

Aspir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence can do won­ders for your soul, but does it help your brain? To find out, re­searchers from the Spir­i­tu­al­ity Mind Body In­sti­tute at the Teach­ers Col­lege of Columbia Univer­sity and the Yale Univer­sity School of Medicine hooked 27 young, healthy sub­jects up to a func­tional mag­netic res­o­nance imag­ing (FMRI) ma­chine to scan their brains while they re­called a “per­sonal spir­i­tual ex­pe­ri­ence.” What’s that? It de­pends. One par­tic­i­pant thought about hav­ing “a two-way re­la­tion­ship with a higher power” while an­other fo­cused on “be­ing in a zone of in­tense phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity.”

The sub­jects’ ex­pe­ri­ences may have been dif­fer­ent, but their brains re­sponded the same way. The re­gions as­so­ci­ated with emo­tions, sen­sory pro­cess­ing, and aware­ness of them­selves as dis­tinct from oth­ers were all less ac­tive. In other words, be­ing in a spir­i­tual state calmed and en­livened them while in­creas­ing their sense of con­nect­ed­ness.

An­other telling find­ing: Past stud­ies on spir­i­tu­al­ity and the brain en­listed overtly re­li­gious sub­jects, such as Carmelite nuns. But par­tic­i­pants in this study de­fined their own spir­i­tual sit­u­a­tions. It seems that any­one, even non­re­li­gious folks, can ex­pe­ri­ence some tran­scen­dence—and the brain ben­e­fits that come with it.

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