Is spirituality healthy for the brain? Since the dawn of time, across all continents around the world, in every culture, humans are consistently spiritual. They participate in spirituality through a variety of ways; prayer, dancing around a fire while beating a drum, with music and storytelling, and by attending church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other traditional religious ceremonies.
My spiritual practice is yoga 3 or 4 times a week and I also dabble with meditation. I need to be more diligent in practicing the latter. We humans are drawn to connecting with something beyond our own selves. Now, scientists have the ability to study what happens to the brain when it’s engaged in spirituality and this new field of science is called Neurotheology. I first heard about this on NPR with the following story.
Science is watching the brains closely as subjects from a wide variety of faiths including Franciscan nuns that pray, Sikhs who chant, or Buddhists monks that meditate. The neuroscientists are interested in the euphoric experiences these different subjects describe with details that are similar to one another. Descriptions of the euphoria include a deep sense of unity with light, the Universe, and all living things on the planet. A sense of individuality dissipates and these subjects feel they are not present in their own bodies, unaware of time with no boundaries of space. All claim a sense of harmony after these moments that help them carry on with the everyday stresses of living. Sounds pretty good to me…again, I need to practice more mediation.
I think there is a clear difference between spirituality and religion. Religions are institutional groups with specific doctrines, beliefs, values and traditions and each religion is different. Religions seem to be “boxes” that people are born into, attracted to, or recruited to by members of that specific religion. Members in religion worship within the confines of their congregations and without others whom don’t belong to that faith. Spirituality is about the inner path a person can take to discover their deepest being or purpose as it relates to other beings and the universe. There is no box with spirituality, as it seems deeply rooted in ultimate compassion for oneself and all others. Certainly, religious people of any faith can and do have spiritual experiences, just as people who don’t belong to any religion have spiritual experiences.