Fasting, Glaucoma, and Spirituality
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.