A Good Reason to Just Stop… and Breathe

By David Blyweiss, M.D., Advanced Natural Wellness

January 20, 2021

There’s no doubt the human brain is pretty fantastic. Add in elements of spirituality… and things become even more astounding.

Just look at the monks of Tibet.

When they are ready to test out of apprenticeship, they sit completely naked with their bodies wrapped in cold, wet sheets.  Then, they are left in freezing temperatures to sit.

Using the power of meditation and prayer, they must generate enough body heat to evaporate the water from the sheets around themselves.

Pretty amazing, right?

As for me, I was happy to simply control my heart rate after a walking session.  I checked my pulse, then did some mindful breathing.  Point by point, my heart rate lowered before my eyes.

It was inspiring I actually had that power over my body.

In a lot of ways mediation (which includes mindful breathing) has a lot of similarities to prayer.  They both induce that relaxation response.  And this has real scientific effects on the human body.

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I learned about this topic last year from my good friend, Andrew Newberg.  He introduced me to the field of “neurotheology” (also known as “spiritual neuroscience.”)[1]

Basically, this is the study of the link between religion and brain science.[2]  Even if you’re not religious, understanding this link can help you take powerful control of your brain, body and overall health.[3]

Can Church Actually Make You Healthier?

There are a growing number of studies showing improvements in physical and mental health associated with religion.[4]

For example, church attendance is associated with decreased heart disease, blood pressure, emphysema, liver disease, and suicide.

Then, people who are more religious are less likely to have heart disease or die from a heart attack.  You’re also less likely to die from cancer or suffer from anxiety and depression.

This is good news for those of us feeling the effects of our current world…

We’re all dealing with higher rates of isolation due to the COVID pandemic.  Perhaps your weekly church livestream is keeping you alive!

Now, what’s my point in telling you all this?  Am I telling you to start going to church if you aren’t already?

Well, I’ll leave that up to you and your personal beliefs.

But there’s another exciting finding in neurotheology that can help everyone — regardless of whether or not you are religious.

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A Simple Practice to Help Focus Your Brain

One of the things I found most interesting about this field of study is the link between spirituality and meditation.

Scientifically speaking, meditation is the practice of training your mind’s attention and awareness so you can bring your thinking under control.[5]  Just like with church attendance, meditation has shown real physical improvements in peoples’ health and well-being.[6]

When you sit down to meditate, you are increasing your serotonin, melatonin, and butyric acid.  These are all really GOOD things.

Meditation also helps you reduce your stress hormones cortisol and norepinephrine.

This practice has real, observable effects on your brain.

Researchers have looked at human brains using fMRI scans before and after periods of meditation and prayer.  They see different areas of the brain involved with attention and control of the nervous system light up with activity.[7]

So, simply using the power of meditation can help you achieve these same physical effects others receive through church attendance.

One of the most popular forms of meditation these days is mindfulness meditation.  It lets you create a state of awareness in your present moment free from judgement and stress.[8]

Personally, I practice this type of meditation every morning with my mindful breathing.

It’s pretty simple to do…

Just sit somewhere comfortable and close your eyes.  Breath in through your nose for a count of four and then hold your breath for seven or eight seconds.  Then, breath out through rounded pursed lips.Do this for 5 minutes…just 5 minutes and then feel the difference.

You might also try time-honored practices like Qi Gong, Tai Chi, or Yoga to strengthen your mind body connection.  These types of exercise involve very gentle movement, mental focus and deep breathing.  They help you reduce stress, anxiety, depression, and moodiness.[9]

Really, I’d like you to use whatever serves you best.

This might be church attendance, meditation, prayer, or simply connecting with nature.  These all help feed your spirit, release pent-up stress, and keep your body healthier. Pick what best works for you in your world.

Sources:

[1] Biello D. Searching for God in the Brain [Online] [cited 2013 June 15]; Available from: URL: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=searching-for-god-in-the-brain.

[2] Newberg AB. Principles of Neurotheology. Surrey, UK: Ashgate Publishing; 2010. pp. 1–3.

[3] Koenig H, King D, Carson VB. Handbook of Religion and Health. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press; 2012.

[4] Carter R. Exploring Consciousness. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press; 2004. pp. 44–7.

[5] Walsh & Shapiro, 2006, p. 228

[6] Brand, Holsboer-Trachsler, Naranjo, & Schmidt, 2012; Davidson & McEwen, 2012; Kaliman et al., 2014; Ospina et al., 2007; Sedlmeier et al., 2012)

[7] NeuroReport: May 15, 2000 – Volume 11 – Issue 7 – p 1581-1585

[8] J. M. G. Williams & Kabat-Zinn, 2011

[9] Wang F, et al. “The effects of tai chi on depression, anxiety, and psychological well-being: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” Int J Behav Med. 2014 Aug;21(4):605-17.

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