Positive Brain Changes Seen After Meditation (What is Christian meditation?)
Friday, 1 October 2010
A number of Christian scriptures recommend meditation as a spiritual discipline:
- Psalm 77:12: I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
- Psalm 119:15: meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
- Psalm 119:27: Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.
- Psalm 19:14: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
- Psalm 104:34: May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.
Now, comes a study showing that positive brain changes take hold after just 11 hours of practicing a form of meditation. Here are the details in a report from HealthDay News:
The study included 45 University of Oregon students who were randomly selected to be in either a study group that did integrative body-mind training (IBMT) or a control group that did relaxation training.
IBMT was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s.
A comparison of scans taken of the students’ brains before and after the training showed that those in the IBMT group had increased brain connectivity. The changes were strongest in connections involving the anterior cingulate, an area that plays a role in the regulation of emotions and behavior, Yi-Yuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology in China, University of Oregon psychologist Michael I. Posner, and colleagues found.
The boost in brain connectivity began after six hours of IBMT and became more apparent after 11 hours of practice, according to the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The meditation-induced changes may be due to a reorganization of white-matter tracts or due to an increase of myelin that surrounds the brain connections, the study authors suggested.
“The importance of our finding relates to the ability to make structural changes in a brain network related to self-regulation. The pathway that has the largest change due to IBMT is one that previously was shown to relate to individual differences in the person’s ability to regulate conflict,” Posner said in a university news release.
In my book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook, I write this about meditation:
What it is:
Meditation is a word that has been so broadly applied to an array of both healthy and harmful activities that it is difficult to get consistent agreement about its impact on health.
For example, one person’s idea of meditating may be to sit quietly while encouraging his body to relax. He will inhale deeply, exhale slowly, and create a moment of restful quiet in the midst of an otherwise hectic day.
Another person’s idea is to tune out everything while daydreaming or concentrating on something that is not the primary concern of the moment.
When discussing meditation, it is crucial to make sure that everyone knows what everyone means by the term.
In general, it refers to a whole range of practices generally designed to take our minds off everyday business and stressful activities, helping us become more relaxed and reflective. Some use it to reduce or eliminate rational thoughts.
The type of meditation recommended as an alternative therapy sometimes has its origin in Eastern religions and mysticism.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a recent adaptation of these older concepts.
In general, the meditator wants to relax in a peaceful environment. Most sit comfortably, focusing their thoughts on something that minimizes troubling or distracting thoughts.
Some focus on their own breathing, concentrating on the movement of air in and out of their lungs. Others repeat a mantra — a sacred word or formula given by a spiritual master — or just an ordinary phrase. With practice, people can consciously relax their muscles and learn to control other bodily functions not usually under their control.
What the research shows:
Clinical studies have confirmed that meditation can provide short-term benefits in reducing stress, relieving chronic pain, and reducing blood pressure.
Studies also have shown that meditation can give some people a better sense of happiness and control of their bodies.
However, what has not been shown is whether these changes have long-term health benefits.
For example, a 2001 review found twenty-seven studies examining the impact of patients’ anxiety levels before surgery on their recovery after surgery. These studies didn’t examine the impact of any relaxation techniques, just whether anxiety was related to recovery.
Clear connections were shown between pre-surgery anxiety and post-surgery mood and pain. However, no clear associations were found between anxiety and more objective measures of recovery such as length of stay in hospital or rate of wound healing.
The field of research examining the impact of anxiety and relaxation on physical recovery and healing is relatively new, with evidence not yet available for many interesting issues.
Meditation has been documented to cause problems.
Transcendental Meditation, initially promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was very popular in the 1960s and did much to familiarize Americans with meditation and Hinduism. But studies have found that its results are not always positive.
Almost half of those active as TM trainers reported episodes of anxiety, depression, confusion, frustration, mental and physical tension, and inexplicable outbursts of antisocial behavior.
Other studies have documented adverse effects as serious as psychiatric hospitalization and attempted suicide.
Problems can arise when meditation is viewed as a simple exercise, when in fact it has considerable power to deeply impact a person psychologically and spiritually.
The spiritual enlightenment some maintain occurs in meditation can involve contact with spirit guides.
The desire to rely more on one’s own intuition contrasts with the biblical declaration that our intuition can lead to falsehood and deception.
In many ways, humanity’s problems stem from our reliance on ourselves to know what is best. God told Moses to have the Israelites sew tassels onto the corners of their garments to remind them of this important teaching. “You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes” (Numbers 15:39; see also Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 17:6).
Insight received during meditation is especially problematic.
Divination and visions are altered states of consciousness used to gain spiritual insight. Yet unless this insight comes from God, it only reveals the futility and deception of people’s own minds.
“Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds’.” (Jeremiah 14:14; see also 23:16 – 17, 25 – 32).
God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel to warn the Israelites about “those who prophesy out of their own imagination” (Ezekiel 13:2).
What is learned during meditation must be evaluated, both medically and biblically.
Christians should relax and reduce unnecessary stress in their lives. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).
The Bible tells us to meditate: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8; see also Psalms 1:2–3; 19:14; 49:3; 104:34; 119:97, 99).
But Christian meditation is not emptying one’s mind or focusing on one’s inner self.
Rather, it is filling one’s mind with biblical truth while focusing on the Creator God of the universe.
We will gain insight when we meditate on biblical truth. But this insight is based on the revealed Word of God and should lead to a life more in conformity with his ways.
Christians should make every effort to retain control over their thought life. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Altered states of consciousness can open people to spiritual suggestion, making them vulnerable to demonic or other unwholesome influences. Meditation should therefore be seen as a method of promoting reasoned reflection on God and his Word.
For my book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook:
- You can order an signed copy here.
- You can see the Table of Contents here.
- You can read the First Chapter here.