Can meditation change your brain? Contemplative neuroscientists believe it can
October 26th, 2010
08:45 AM ET

Can meditation change your brain? Contemplative neuroscientists believe it can

From CNN's Dan Gilgoff:

Can people strengthen the brain circuits associated with happiness and positive behavior,  just as we’re able to strengthen muscles with exercise?

Richard Davidson, who for decades has practiced Buddhist-style meditation - a form of mental exercise, he says - insists that we can.

And Davidson, who has been meditating since visiting India as a Harvard grad student in the 1970s, has credibility on the subject beyond his own experience.

A trained psychologist based at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, he has become the leader of a relatively new field called contemplative neuroscience - the brain science of meditation.

Over the last decade, Davidson and his colleagues have produced scientific evidence for the theory that meditation - the ancient eastern practice of sitting, usually accompanied by focusing on certain objects - permanently changes the brain for the better.

“We all know that if you engage in certain kinds of exercise on a regular basis you can strengthen certain muscle groups in predictable ways,” Davidson says in his office at the University of Wisconsin, where his research team has hosted scores of Buddhist monks and other meditators for brain scans.

“Strengthening neural systems is not fundamentally different,” he says. “It’s basically replacing certain habits of mind with other habits.”

Contemplative neuroscientists say that making a habit of meditation can strengthen brain circuits responsible for maintaining concentration and generating empathy.

One recent study by Davidson’s team found that novice meditators stimulated their limbic systems - the brain’s emotional network - during the practice of compassion meditation, an ancient Tibetan Buddhist practice.

That’s no great surprise, given that compassion meditation aims to produce a specific emotional state of intense empathy, sometimes call “lovingkindness.”

But the study also found that expert meditators - monks with more than 10,000 hours of practice - showed significantly greater activation of their limbic systems. The monks appeared to have permanently changed their brains to be more empathetic.

An earlier study by some of the same researchers found that committed meditators experienced sustained changes in baseline brain function, meaning that they had changed the way their brains operated even outside of meditation.

These changes included ramped-up activation of a brain region thought to be responsible for generating positive emotions, called the left-sided anterior region. The researchers found this change in novice meditators who’d enrolled in a course in mindfulness meditation - a technique that borrows heavily from Buddhism - that lasted just eight weeks.

But most brain research around meditation is still preliminary, waiting to be corroborated by other scientists. Meditation’s psychological benefits and its use in treatments for conditions as diverse as depression and chronic pain are more widely acknowledged.

Serious brain science around meditation has emerged only in about the last decade, since the birth of functional MRI allowed scientists to begin watching the brain and monitoring its changes in relatively real time.

Beginning in the late 1990s, a University of Pennsylvania-based researcher named Andrew Newberg said that his brain scans of experienced meditators showed the prefrontal cortex - the area of the brain that houses attention - surging into overdrive during meditation while the brain region governing our orientation in time and space, called the superior parietal lobe, went dark. (One of his scans is pictured, above.)

Newberg said his findings explained why meditators are able to cultivate intense concentration while also describing feelings of transcendence during meditation.

But some scientists said Newberg was over-interpreting his brain scans. Others said he failed to specify the kind of meditation he was studying, making his studies impossible to reproduce. His popular books, like Why God Won’t Go Away, caused more eye-rolling among neuroscientists, who said he hyped his findings to goose sales.

“It caused mainstream scientists to say that the only work that has been done in the field is of terrible quality,” says Alasdair Coles, a lecturer in neurology at England’s University of Cambridge.

Newberg, now at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia, stands by his research.

And contemplative neuroscience had gained more credibility in the scientific community since his early scans.

One sign of that is increased funding from the National Institutes of Health, which has helped establish new contemplative science research centers at Stanford University, Emory University, and the University of Wisconsin, where the world’s first brain imaging lab with a meditation room next door is now under construction.

The NIH could not provide numbers on how much it gives specifically to meditation brain research but its grants in complementary and alternative medicine - which encompass many meditation studies - have risen from around $300 million in 2007 to an estimated $541 million in 2011.

“The original investigations by people like Davidson in the 1990s were seen as intriguing, but it took some time to be convinced that brain processes were really changing during meditation,” says Josephine Briggs, Director of the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Most studies so far have examined so-called focused-attention meditation, in which the practitioner concentrates on a particular subject, such as the breath. The meditator monitors the quality of attention and, when it drifts, returns attention to the object.

Over time, practitioners are supposed to find it easier to sustain attention during and outside of meditation.

In a 2007 study, Davidson compared the attentional abilities of novice meditators to experts in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Participants in both groups were asked to practice focused-attention meditation on a fixed dot on a screen while researchers ran fMRI scans of their brains.

To challenge the participants’ attentional abilities, the scientists interrupted the meditations with distracting sounds.

The brain scans found that both experienced and novice meditators activated a network of attention-related regions of the brain during meditation. But the experienced meditators showed more activation in some of those regions.

The inexperienced meditators, meanwhile, showed increased activation in brain regions that have been shown to negatively correlate with sustaining attention. Experienced meditators were better able to activate their attentional networks to maintain concentration on the dot. They had, the study suggested, changed their brains.

The fMRI scans also showed that experienced meditators had less neural response to the distracting noises that interrupted the meditation.

In fact, the more hours of experience a meditator had, the scans found, the less active his or her emotional networks were during the distracting sounds, which meant the easier it was to focus.

More recently, contemplative neuroscience has turned toward compassion meditation, which involves generating empathy through objectless awareness; practitioners call it non-referential compassion meditation.

New neuroscientific interest in the practice comes largely at the urging of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and politial leader of Tibetan Buddhists, for whom compassion meditation is a time-worn tradition.

The Dalai Lama has arranged for Tibetan monks to travel to American universities for brain scans and has spoken at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, the world’s largest gathering of brain scientists.

A religious leader, the Dalai Lama has said he supports contemplative neuroscience even though scientists are stripping meditation of its Buddhist roots, treating it purely as a mental exercise that more or less anyone can do.

“This is not a project about religion,” says Davidson. “Meditation is mental activity that could be understood in secular terms.”

Still, the nascent field faces challenges. Scientists have scanned just a few hundred brains on meditation do date, which makes for a pretty small research sample. And some scientists say researchers are over eager to use brain science to prove the that meditation “works.”

“This is a field that has been populated by true believers,” says Emory University scientist Charles Raison, who has studied meditation’s effect on the immune system. “Many of the people doing this research are trying to prove scientifically what they already know from experience, which is a major flaw."

But Davidson says that other types of scientists also have deep personal interest in what they’re studying. And he argues that that’s a good thing.

“There’s a cadre of grad students and post docs who’ve found personal value in meditation and have been inspired to study it scientifically,” Davidson says. “These are people at the very best universities and they want to do this for a career.

“In ten years,” he says, “we’ll find that meditation research has become mainstream.”

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Buddhism • Culture & Science • Meditation

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soundoff (188 Responses)
  1. Onrust

    "The NIH could not provide numbers on how much it gives specifically to meditation brain research but its grants in complementary and alternative medicine – which encompass many meditation studies – have risen from around $300 million in 2007 to an estimated $541 million in 2011"

    dumb – this is like saying, "I don't know how much Fords cost, but the company sold $X billion worth last year"...

    October 26, 2010 at 11:20 pm |
  2. Herman C

    I'm pretty sure meditating on the double-dip Mil.Gov pension you're going to get from the Air Force and from Boeing would make
    you happy as heck, especially with COBM about to raise the age of retirement for the rest of US non-double-dipping slobetariat.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:49 pm |
  3. wann2know

    Buddha and other fully realized humans woke up to this discovery long ago. Now science can re-discover it and make it legitimate for the consumers. How reassuring. Just sit quietly for some time on a regular basis and find how the experience of life changes, possibly for the better. Maybe read some nice zen poetry or instructions from Thich Nhat Hanh. More pleasant than reading a science based manual. IMHO.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
  4. CitizenRep

    This can be a good treatment for Prisoners. At least they will have different view after prison.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:33 pm |
    • jureifa

      That's a gud one.. i think we need the practice of meditation in prisons, dis will surely bring a change

      October 27, 2010 at 1:51 am |
  5. matt

    This is common sense folks. All body action is brain controlled. Your neurons make connections which make you very good at kicking, or flipping when you practice a bunch. It's all brain centered. When you practice such activities, you have to concentrate and think and focus, which results in strengthening of the connections. This results in your body and mind being able to perform the activity better and more efficient over time. The same connection processes occur when you perform "mental" actions. Such as meditation or spelling bee stuff etc. So over time if you meditate long enough, your brain is changed and optimized for those type of mental states.

    If you don't believe this or don't agree, then you are like children who do not think they will get old because the process is not immediately visible to them.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:24 pm |
    • cyberdyne

      Actually, not everything in the body is brain controlled. The nervous system is usually involved, but that's not equivalent to the brain being involved.

      October 26, 2010 at 11:25 pm |
    • Ed

      I agree.

      October 26, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
    • Jim

      A good e.g of what is brain-controlled is erection and what is not is orgasm!

      October 27, 2010 at 3:18 am |
    • Sum Dude

      It is just self-hypnosis. The brain is vulnerable to suggestion from any quarter. That some people need meditation to help them think a little better seems quite likely. But these vulnerabilities are often used against people, like with religion and propaganda. Meditate on being polite and peaceful as well as skeptical and cynical. We don't need more robots or zombies walking around, if you please...

      But each person is different. Results vary. Some people should not meditate, in my opinion, as it only builds upon what is there to begin with.

      But enjoy your navels everyone! And keep wondering if Adam and Eve had navels!

      October 27, 2010 at 5:37 am |
  6. Dlst

    >>A trained psychologist based at the University of Wisconsin, Madison

    I have never heard of an untrained one at a university.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
    • CitizenRep

      GOOD ONE

      October 26, 2010 at 10:30 pm |
  7. CitizenRep

    This is a gift to Everyone.

    Meditation: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=3968649101520796393#

    October 26, 2010 at 10:01 pm |
  8. Joe

    Correlation does not equal causation. Any scientist worth their weight in salt would know this.

    October 26, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
  9. Percy

    I've been meditating for about 5 years now. Before I tried this I thought only lunatics and nut cases would do this. How wrong I was. It literally saved my life. I don;t want to proslatize but it worked for me. Two tips read this free book to find out why Mindfullness Mediation, it's free everywhere online and get ba good meditatornto help guide you. Don' t try to do it alone or out of a book alone.And remember Meditation is not religion, it's simply a mind control technique.

    Much Metta


    October 26, 2010 at 9:42 pm |
  10. Bubba Gump

    I'm meditating on some nachos

    October 26, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  11. Peace2All

    I am all for 'meditation'.... love the practice of it and the benefits I receive as a result.

    October 26, 2010 at 9:14 pm |
  12. The_Mick

    Considering the lower rates of dementia that some studies claim occur with Seniors who do a lot of mentally challenging tasks, it would make sense that certain mental activitie are probably responsible for brain changes. I know that children learn to read piano music while playing and can "hear" the music in their heads when just looking at the sheet music much better than people who try to do it late in life – when the brain is less malleable.

    October 26, 2010 at 5:49 pm |
  13. Reality


    1.To reflect on; contemplate.
    2.To plan in the mind; intend: meditated a visit to her daughter.

    a. Yoga, Rosaries, Prayer Beads/Books , Falling Leaves, Spring Flowers, Falling Snow, Songs about Beer, Drinking Beer et al used:

    To train, calm, or empty the mind, often by achieving an altered state, as by focusing on a single object.

    b.To engage in devotional contemplation

    2.To think or reflect, especially in a calm and deliberate manner.

    October 26, 2010 at 5:27 pm |
  14. shawn

    Most interesting are the negative comments by people who do not meditate and want to debunk and theory in support of it. To those of you who meditate, remember; "Do not put your pearls in front of the swine".

    October 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • Megatron

      It debunks itself. If your rationale for thinking something is "people have reported positive effects", you're not a scientist, you're a moron. Where is the peer reviewed version of this paper?

      Surely a news organization on a slow day wouldn't post pseduo science just to publish something! HERESY!

      October 26, 2010 at 4:22 pm |
    • Sum Dude


      If you view people with contempt and label them "swine", then you are acting contemptibly and what you think are pearls are more likely to be brown lumps of a fragrant variety....
      That old saying is an arrogant one and should be avoided if you are arguing for "love" and / or "positive" outlooks.
      I have meditated, contemplated, thought, investigated, used hunches, been spontaneous, and have gotten certain results in certain situations.
      But I don't need to be arrogant or snide about it, unlike some so-called "Christians" I could name.....

      October 26, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
    • FreeSpiritGal

      Shawn – I second you! When precious knowledge is exposed to those who are not ready to receive it, they will attack it with the stones, out of fear and self-righteousness. But I think the reason it is sometimes exposed to the masses is because there may be some people in that grey crowd who could be ready to cut the chains. This articles is for those people. It makes it worthy of the ridicule. Someone sometime ago believe in us and took the risk...

      October 26, 2010 at 5:53 pm |
    • 808mbp

      I have meditated for years with guidance from Lamas and Roshi and I can tell you it does do something eventually. Most people want instant results in this world where nobody has any attention span. After a lot of work (Sitting/Zazen is not easy!) it has changed my focus and many other things in my life for the better. I am very sure the people who are saying horrible unfounded things about a very real practice couldn't do it for a half hour. Amazing things can be done!

      October 26, 2010 at 9:59 pm |
    • Jackob

      @ Sum Dude, do you KNOW what metaphor is? I'm sure that if this fellow actually had a cache of pearls, he probably wouldn't throw them at anyone, let alone pigs.

      October 26, 2010 at 10:27 pm |
    • Sum Dude


      Are you suggesting that "swine" is a term of endearment? Give me a break! It is one of the rudest metaphors one could use.
      Where is the enlightenment in being rude and arrogant?
      If you want to share something you feel is good, why use such rude metaphors?
      If this is the sort of thing you like, then your "pearls" are not likely to be "pearly white" but brown and smelly lumps of BS.
      "by their fruits ye shall know them"

      October 27, 2010 at 5:26 am |
    • Gerry

      Actually, it is a quotation from Jesus
      Mat 7:6 "Do not give what is holy to dogs-they will only turn and attack you. Do not throw your pearls in front of swine-they will only trample them underfoot.

      October 28, 2010 at 12:34 am |
    • Sum Dude


      If Jesus existed and really said that, then he was being rude, arrogant, and hypocritical. Not exactly "son of God" material there.
      Lofty arrogance is still overweening pride and deserving of contempt. And how often we see it in Christians!!!!!!!

      "None is worthy, no, not even one."

      October 28, 2010 at 4:38 am |
    • Gerry

      @ Sam Dude
      did you ever read the Bible? The fact that Jesus existed is recorded by the historian Josephus.
      What Jesus meant by not casting your pearls to the swine was not to bother arguing with non believers about the Kingdom of God because if they have not been drawn by the Holy Spirit, you are wasting your time.
      Jesus also said: "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
      If you are not Born Again, you fit in that category.

      October 28, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
  15. barbara maat

    If meditation makes one feel loving kindness and compassion, then why wouldn't one leap up off the meditating seat and go feed some starving cat or take an abused child for a walk or..................

    October 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
    • TygerTyger

      The expression of true compassion is not necessarily what society says it is. It is not thinking that you can go out and save the world; rather it is complete involvement in the present moment, giving yourself completely to every moment. This may or may not involve feeding a starving cat or caring for an abused child. When the heart is open, the appropriate thing to do is obvious, and is done naturally, without hesitation, without effort, and without obstruction.

      October 26, 2010 at 12:58 pm |
    • Sum Dude


      When the heart is open and all that blood spurts out, people tend to die.
      If you suppress the higher brain functions, yes, you can still move around and do things, some of them very naturally...LOL
      And if this gets your subconscious into play, then you might see interesting results, but it is still your brain that is doing the work and coming up with the motivations and all that.
      The structures of the brain and how our thoughts move around in them, is still a field in its infancy.

      Thoughtlessness is often a problem rather than a solution. Chew on that if you will.

      October 26, 2010 at 4:41 pm |
    • TygerTyger

      "Thoughtlessness" does not mean a blank mind. For example, from the Platform Sutra:

      "There is also a class of foolish people who sit quietly and try to keep their minds blank; they refrain from thinking of anything and then call themselves "great". Concerning this heretical view, I have no patience to speak. You should know that the capacity of the mind is very great since it pervades the whole Universe wherever the domain of Law extends. When we use the mind we can consider everything; when we use Mind to its full capacity, we shall know all."

      There are many, many more examples in the thousands of Buddhist sutras available.

      October 26, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • Sum Dude


      Yet our brains are unable to "know all" or even "perceive all". In my opinion, those sutras are just word games used to impress the gullible.
      Our primitive brain structures lack many things that we need to survive. We cannot even control a single thought. Our brains do not have that capacity or function. We cannot control the mind without losing perception in the process.
      Consider the universe and a mountain. We cannot see behind either one. Yet we know they exist as such.
      But we do not know them. Our brains and our bodies are not built that way.
      Billions of sutras cannot change the truth. Trillions would not change the truth either. Not a single sutra can change the truth.

      October 26, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
    • TygerTyger

      @Sum Dude

      Controlling the mind is not the point of meditation. At first one does indeed practice turning away from perceptions, but the point is not to permanently suppress them. The point is to realize the Mind that does not depend on the conditions of the senses. This is the Mind that existed before you were born. The idea here is that people are largely motivated by fear and greed born from clinging to the idea of a separate, unchanging “me” –the ego. This clinging affects our behavior, inspiring small-self centered actions that ultimately cause pain. If one can realize the larger Mind, then this fear is eliminated, because one sees how he reflects the infinite Mind. Just knowing this is not enough, however, because the clinging can be so subtle. Meditation helps you see sticking points you would otherwise miss for a long time.

      Human knowledge and perceptions are limited to the conditions of the body. “Knowing all” goes beyond the capacity of the body and cannot be comprehended through logic or reasoning. Ordinary knowledge is based on conditions, whereas Mind’s “knowledge” is not.

      October 26, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
    • Getsuei

      Wow Sum Dude, you really don't have a clue as to how right you are. The truth is the truth, and Sutras cannot change it any more than understanding can. It is funny that you think you can talk about something with such authority, without experience. Unless you have meditated, and not just once or twice, you cannot in any way understand what it does for you. It is like explaining what an orange tastes like to someone who has never even seen an orange. You may have an idea but that is all it is, and it can never compare to the actual taste of the sweet orange.

      October 26, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      Thanks for the laugh. I have meditated more than once or twice. I know how those oranges taste.
      Why do you assume so much about me when you do not know me?

      Take a moment and savor that orange, then realize that it does not exist and never will.
      You are wasting your time when you could be doing something useful.

      I suggest meditating on the usefulness of politeness, as you seem deficient in this area.

      October 27, 2010 at 4:57 am |
    • Sum Dude


      Your "knowing all" is complete bullshlt. But what can you expect from someone deep into illusion and delusion?
      The echo chamber is empty for a reason. You should empty your cup.

      The lack you have is one of perception, not meditation.
      Your discernment is lacking. But discernment is not easily taught.
      I am not your sufi, yoga, or swami.
      I am not your mother, either. So I will only point you in the right direction.

      Once you have freed yourself of illusion, you may find more intelligent things to do with your time.
      No matter how many times it seems like you are "knowing all", it is not true. It is a good illusion, yes, but it is not true.
      Sorry you spent all that money. I don't like con-artists, especially "religious" or "spiritual" ones.

      Your words bring back memories I find distasteful. You might break free, but many do not.
      Try looking up "self-hypnosis" and find a slightly different take on what you are fawning over as "knowing all" and other such feed-back loops of perception. Human brains are very weak and impressionable.

      So easy to fool. So easy to distract. So weak...but have fun with that "easy peaceful feelin'"
      If it keeps you from going postal, I'm all for letting you waste your time with that junk. Just keep it in your pants, ok?

      October 27, 2010 at 5:14 am |
  16. Claire

    An earlier study out of Stanford, I think, that looked at brain scans during various kinds of prayer as well as Buddhist mindfulness practice. They found all seemed to light up certain areas of the brain, but the Buddhist practice stood out and was of greater interest to scientists. The "Lord's" prayer shared by Jesus of Nazareth is a prayer of thankfulness, acceptance, forgiveness, etc., and actually a focusing meditation. The problem with "religious" practices is many are just secular practices coopted by religious leaders because they found them to be effective in some way, and they came to be associated with a given religion. I think there is a lot of good research to be found in religious practice, once the doctrine is fleshed out so the elements of the process can be identified. Megatron, much research starts with a cadre of grad students and post docs who focus in some new area where they speculate there is something of value to be learned. Why would this be any different? And Buddha was not a deity–just someone who claims to have "found enlightenment" and who taught that anyone can find it. So it's not a religion in the sense that many think of that concept.

    October 26, 2010 at 12:47 pm |
  17. Megatron

    “There’s a cadre of grad students and post docs who’ve found personal value in meditation and have been inspired to study it scientifically,”

    There is a foolproof scientific argument if I've ever heard one.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:24 am |
    • Stuart

      Who claimed that was a scientific argument? Careful, your biases are showing 😉

      October 27, 2010 at 9:40 am |
  18. JohnQuest

    I wonder, would they get similar results from prayer? That would explain why religious people say that they feel better after pray, it would also explain why they think prayers are answered. After someone prayer or meditates, their thoughts are clearer, they may be able to think through issues better and come up with solutions they had not previously considered. Again I could be entirely wrong.

    October 26, 2010 at 10:11 am |
    • TygerTyger

      JohnQuest, you are right about the increased clarity of mind. Meditation helps you realize how "your" brain is not limited to the hunk of meat inside your skull, but extends far beyond that. Clarity of mind increases when one's thoughts encompass the big picture, not just the small self's idea of how things should be. When the mind is more clear and open, it can make use of everything, so more solutions to problems are available. Prayer could do the same thing if it opens the mind to the bigger picture, to what is sometimes called "God's plan".

      October 26, 2010 at 10:54 am |
    • David Johnson


      It is my thought, that a person can get "the godly feeling" in their heart, even by worshiping a can of green beans. All it takes is faith.

      October 26, 2010 at 11:50 am |
    • HotAirAce

      Sort of further to my reply to the first comment, I recall that years ago Readers Digest had an article about how prayer alters the brain's chemistry and that chemicals can be used to cause the same feelings as prayer, or something like that – sorry for my imprecision. In any event, the author tried to use whatever they observed as support for belief in the supernatural, when it seemed to me that it would have much easier to say our brains and feelings are driven by chemistry and we can control that, to some extent, thru various means such as meditation, prayer, drugs, etc.

      October 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • frankdozier

      @David Johnson That is the most apt thing I have ever read about faith.

      October 26, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • TygerTyger

      If our brains are driven by chemistry, but then "we" can drive the chemistry, who is driving whom?

      October 26, 2010 at 12:30 pm |
    • Claire

      There was a study published several years ago, out of Stanford, I think, that looked at brain scans during various kinds of prayer as well as Buddhist mindfulness practice. They found all seemed to support positive emotions (lighting up those brain areas), but the Buddhist mindfulness was the most effective, and thus of greater interest to scientists. A simple meditation from Science of Mind (pulls practices but not dogma from Christianity, Bhuddism, etc.) is to spend about 5 minutes focusing on listing what one is thankful for, especially if one is feeling some negativity. It's not prayer, but it is a kind of meditation that people report does calm them down. Even the Christian prayer shared by Jesus of Nazareth is a prayer of thankfulness, acceptance, forgiveness, etc., and actually a focusing meditation. The problem with "religious" practices is many are just secular practices coopted by religious leaders because they found them to be effective in some way, and they came to be associated with a given religion.

      October 26, 2010 at 12:36 pm |
    • 808mbp

      Meditation is nothing like praying. There are no gods in Buddhism, fancy paintings of demons ect. only represent things in our minds. Praying is basically focusing on something like a god and hoping something happens. Real meditation is doing nothing, I mean nothing. It is clearing everything, trying to stop recursive thoughts at its most basic level. So no if you are doing something, like thinking, its not like praying...

      October 26, 2010 at 9:51 pm |
    • Jackob

      There are other kinds of prayer besides 'gimme gimme gimme.' Some of them are more or less the same as meditation.

      October 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
    • willie

      I'm confident prayer changes brain waves also but I doubt they would change in the same way. I would say meditation and prayer are opposites. In prayer you fill your mind with thoughts of what you want to achieve, in meditation you empty your mind of all thought. Exactly opposite.

      October 27, 2010 at 12:09 am |
    • Charisse

      There are many types of prayer just like there are many types of meditation. There is definately a significant place where the two overlap and similar if not the same results are achieved. I think it has to do with the length, focus, and frequency of prayer/meditation sessions. I have several friends each of differing faiths who all exhibit a same certain groundedness/calm/peace. After much personal contemplation and meditation I believe it is achieved in the practice. Whatever practice calls to your heart/soul (not ego) is the right practice for you, and regular/frequent practice is the key. Whether or not you believe there is a God, Goddess, Gods, etc., good practice brings you to a good place. -Peace

      October 27, 2010 at 3:05 am |
    • RR

      I agree, people who pray everyday are indeed meditating, but the concept of prayer has so changed in the modern days that we all think about our problems when we pray and beg to God for relief. I don't think that will make the mind more clear. Meditation is different than prayer.

      October 27, 2010 at 4:01 am |
    • Erik

      Some have said that prayer is like talking to the universe, while meditation is listening to it.

      October 27, 2010 at 4:52 am |
  19. JohnQuest

    David Johnson, I don't think most of the extreme truly believes, I think they want other to believe so they can use them. Consider the following, if someone truly believed why would they seek health care outside of God, why work when God will take care of their every need, why send their kids to college when all they need to know is in the Bible. I could go on and on but I'm sure you get my point. Even the most dedicated Christians don't usually put their lives on the line for their beliefs, they will put yours and mine but not theirs, seems to me that they don't really believe either. Or I could be wrong.

    October 26, 2010 at 9:53 am |
    • David Johnson


      I think the extreme believers, truly believe. People strap on explosives, believing they will blow themselves all the way to heaven.

      The religious rationalize seeking medical care, by saying god gives us doctors and medicine and whiskers on kittens. My mother is one of these people. Any new medical advance receives a "Thank God" from her. *sigh*

      Yep, Jesus tells the believer not to worry about tomorrow. He tells how a flower is better dressed than Salomon. etc.

      Even fundies know this is bad advice. Everyone worries about paying their mortgage, saving for their old age, health insurance, saving to put their kids through college – All future events. I know people who do not worry about these things. They are called the homeless, and roam the streets with a shopping cart.

      There are children who starve to death, while their mother looks on, helpless. God is a poor provider.

      October 26, 2010 at 11:46 am |
    • Mike, not me

      Or Maybe Christians still believe what is written in 2 Thessalonians 3 or even Genesis 3 for that matter.

      October 26, 2010 at 12:13 pm |
    • Jean

      Well I'm not religious by any means...but I thought all that stuff was covered under "God helps those who help themselves."

      October 26, 2010 at 10:20 pm |
    • Dung.T

      You are very right. I agree with you 100%. Thanks for your post.

      October 27, 2010 at 9:29 am |
    • Dung.T

      Hi JohnQuest, you arr not wrong. You are right 100%. I agree with you. Thanks for your post.

      October 27, 2010 at 9:35 am |
    • @ Jean

      Tell where in the bible is says, "God helps those who help themselves"? It doesn't! Jesus never said that nor anyone in the OT for that matter. Look it up! Jesus did say however to give your neighbor in need the shirt off your back and to give all your money to charity and go follow him. If you are a true Christian I suggest you do as Jesus actually said.

      October 27, 2010 at 9:44 am |
    • raman

      It is easy to negate things out of ignorance be it science, religion or anything in daily life. But, it would be great and would make sense, if you form an opinion after a been there done that situation. In that way, if you read the books of all religions and still choose to be an atheist, you have made a conscious decision in stead of making a fashion statement. For example, your questions are in the domain called Karma Yoga. Please read Bhagavad Gita, Upanishads etc to understand why people do what they do. BTW, you can be an atheist Hindu unlike other religions as Hinduism recognizes atheism as an acceptable part of its own. Hinduism is in a way pioneering authority on atheism. I believe other religions too discuss atheism and consider it heretic. So an atheist can not be part of their communion like I have never seen or heard an atheist christian or atheist muslim. I am curious even when atheists normally say they will believe only science and not religion or god, you choose to dismiss this article. Are you not contradicting yourself as atheist?

      October 27, 2010 at 10:22 am |
  20. David Johnson

    Article says: "Can people strengthen the brain circuits associated with happiness and positive behavior, just as we’re able to strengthen muscles with exercise?"

    Can you imagine how strong the silliness circuits of the brain must be in a fundie? Must look like a body builder on steroids.

    October 26, 2010 at 9:24 am |
    • HotAirAce

      I think the opposite would be true. If stronger brain circuits are the result of meditation, concentration, thinking, etc., then relying on "blind (emphasis on *blind*) faith" is likely to result in weak(er) brain circuits.

      While reading the article, and given the nature of this blog, I expected the author to eventually try to make a connection between altered brain activity and religous belief, and the validity of religious belief, but fortunately he did not go there.

      October 26, 2010 at 12:07 pm |
    • Claire

      Belief itself is such an interesting concept. True believers have built up a constellation of habits that are so hard-wired that they are automatic. I'm thinking of people who have trained themselves to say "God is good" irrespective of where they are. They pick the practice up by being immersed in a culture where people routinely say that, and then they eventually automatically say it even when outside that culture. I think it is a sort of meditation that "centers" them in some way out of practice/habit, and I look forward to what results from this research.

      October 26, 2010 at 12:54 pm |
    • Sum Dude

      "silliness circuits" LOL

      October 26, 2010 at 4:31 pm |
    • Anonymous

      It is easy to be confused and mock what you don't understand. The science is quite clear. Actually Kabat-Zinn has had a program teaching MIndfulness Based Stress Reduction at the University of Massachusetts Medical School since 1981 and the results have been as staggering as they have been longitudinal and unimpeachable.
      Specifically to the point you mocked, neuroplasticity is something that has been studied in many different contexts and we are capable of far far more than you can imagine. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/677048.stm Some of the London cabbies in that study were even fairly advanced in years. The science within is as important as the science without, and it is the best money we could possibly spend.

      October 26, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
    • Joe the Plumber

      DISCLAIMER: Not applicable to Tea Party members. Their brain is already, and forever, disconnected.

      October 27, 2010 at 12:57 am |
    • Eddy

      Very interesting that the Western medicine just found out in couple decades ago that meditation is good for your body, soul and mind. However, Buddhists have know these facts and practiced meditation over 2000 years ago.

      October 27, 2010 at 3:52 am |
    • Rowdy Brewer

      Isn't meditation something that we do on our own? They should take a sample of people who have never actively engaged in the study of meditation, but who have been naturally meditative throughout their lifetime.

      P.S. Somebody get these people a spell checker.

      October 27, 2010 at 5:18 am |
    • Jyoti

      An enhanced and quick form of meditation is Neurofeedback..... !!!!

      October 27, 2010 at 6:06 am |
    • tocayo

      The news is not that meditation changes the mind (haven't we known this for thousands of years?), it's that we've finally improved the imaging equipment enough to see it.

      October 27, 2010 at 8:14 am |
    • schnekv


      October 27, 2010 at 8:41 am |
    • raman

      Yes, we can. My friend has a gym for the mind in India. It is not just about meditation. He developed it for his use and perfected it over the last 20 years. He used to stammer and was not able to speak two words properly. Now, he speaks for hours together with the power of his mind gym.

      October 27, 2010 at 10:55 am |
    • GypsyKingAdventures

      Here's an interesting scenario for debate – in my opinion as far as evolution goes, the reason most of us don't sit around and meditate and make our brains stronger is because while we are sitting quietly and practicing lovingkindness to the rest of the world; the rest of the world is taking advantage of our weakened state and kicking our ass in every way imaginable. While you are working your empathy muscles the very same people you are desiring to be empathetic towards are yearning to make your life a living hell once you come back to the real world.
      Sit on your cushion and contemplate on that one for awhile...:)

      October 27, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • neuromancer

      There was an interesting article in Huff Post about a brain study that looked at the content of mental activity (what people are thinking about) while measuring brain patterns, and found that people thinking about God, compared to thinking about more mundane things, showed absolutely no change in brain patterns. But mere thinking is a different process from practicing a meditation technique that can actually change your state of consciousness and style of brain function.

      The first studies on the brain patterns of meditation were done on TM meditators in 1970 at Harvard and UCLA, showing high alpha synchrony during meditation and carrying over after meditation. Those early studies (published in American Journal of Physiology and Scientific American) have been independently replicated dozens of times over the past 40 years. Now the brain pattern of 'transcending' is well known.

      'Transcending' is a specific and very different experience from mindfulness, concentration or controlled focus — and the differences in brain patterns verify the distinctions.

      TM enables mental activity to settle down as consciousness itself "expands" during meditation; one experiences the state of "pure consciousness" — or the Self, awareness by itself with no thoughts or sensations.

      Alpha synchrony in the prefrontal cortex recorded during TM is definitely a strengthening of the neural circuitry, a strengthening of the brain's connectivity — the brain's CEO gets better connected with all other parts of the brain.

      This article goes deeper into it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeanne-ball/keeping-your-prefrontal-c_b_679290.html

      October 27, 2010 at 5:04 pm |
    • boriss

      Interestingly, I found this passage in the Bible: "Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts." -Proverbs 4:23. Now, technology has a way to prove this.

      October 28, 2010 at 9:05 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.