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How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientistby Andrew Newberg
Synopses & Reviews
God is great-for your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Thats 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 peoples 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. Whats more, actual faith isnt 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.
Gus was not a "meditation type of guy." He was more of a Joe Sixpack, a Philadelphia mechanic not much interested in religion. He hauled himself into Andrew Newberg's clinic for one reason: His memory was failing. Newberg, a neuroscientist and memory expert, has a special interest in spirituality; he has scanned the brains of worshipers ranging from Franciscan nuns to Pentecostals... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) speaking in tongues. So why was he bothering with Gus? Well, Newberg explains in "How God Changes Your Brain," Gus was a perfect volunteer for the next phase of his research. Newberg's studies (with co-author Mark Robert Waldman) had convinced him of a link between spirituality and cognitive health: The neurochemical changes that he observed during meditation and prayer appeared to improve brain function. But Newberg had studied mostly devotees with years of spiritual training; he wanted to see if a novice might benefit, too. So Gus learned the basics of Kirtan Kriya meditation. Rooted in 16th-century India, Kirtan Kriya involves conscious regulation of breathing as well as repetitive movements and sounds. Gus picked it up right away, practicing 12 minutes a day for eight weeks. That's a blip compared to what many students of meditation do. Even so, Newberg writes, Gus had greater clarity of mind, empathy and emotional equilibrium. What's more, his working memory improved as much as 50 percent on some tests. Gus' case may be inspiring to readers worried about the mental decline that comes with aging. But those looking for the loftier answers promised in the book's title may come away unsatisfied, and a bit confused. At times Newberg seems to be writing about a broad notion of spirituality, while at other times he focuses on rituals — the mantras and mudras and prayer beads — without any spiritual content or commitment. He doesn't want to leave anyone (even atheists) outside the tent, so his definition of God is whatever any individual's neurons are conjuring up at the moment — or the next moment or the next, because God is "constantly changing and evolving." Inclusiveness is all well and good, but loose theology doesn't necessarily make for rigorous testing. The second half of "How God Changes Your Brain" is a how-to book. There are lists upon lists here, and even lists within lists: eight best ways to maintain a healthy brain, including five essential reasons to yawn; nine steps to deal with anger; six strategies to improve communication and six more for creative solutions to problems. You get the idea. Aging baby boomers are hungering for good science writing on both brain health and spirituality. Happily, there are excellent books on this important topic, notably Sharon Begley's "Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain" and Daniel Goleman's "Social Intelligence." Start with them. Unhappily, this bloviating volume will leave most readers seeking. Wray Herbert writes the "Mind Matters" column for Newsweek.com. Reviewed by Wray Herbert, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
Based on new scientific research, the coauthor of "Why God Won't Go Away" reveals the controversial discovery that God--however the term is defined--is good for people both physically and emotionally.
About the Author
Andrew Newberg, M.D., is the director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. He is one of the founders of the new interdisciplinary field called neurotheology. He is an associate professor in the department of radiology, with secondary appointments in the departments of psychiatry and religious studies, at the University of Pennsylvania. His work has been featured on Good Morning America, Nightline, Discovery Channel, BBC, NPR, and National Geographic Television. He is the co-author of Why God Wont Go Away, Born to Believe, and The Mystical Mind.
Mark Robert Waldman is an associate fellow at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a therapist, the author or co-author of ten books, including Born to Believe (with Andrew Newberg), and was the founding editor of Transpersonal Review. He lectures throughout the country on neuroscience, religion, and spirituality and conducts research with numerous religious and secular groups. His work has been featured in dozens of newspapers and magazines and on syndicated radio programs.
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