The Neuroscience Behind Meditation

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

Proverbs 18:21

This famous proverb is a staple in Christian faith. The bible tells us that that God has set before us “life and death, blessing and cursing” (Duet. 30:19) and that it is a choice we can make.

Turns out, the bible is full of ancient wisdom that modern neuroscience is backing up.

Is life in death really in the power of the tongue? Can words really affect our health?

Are choices predetermined neurological responses or do we have freewill? The bible is clear on these issues–but what does the study of our brains say?

The same thing.

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar rolled her eyes when her new yoga teacher would talk about the medical and mental benefits of yoga and meditation.

She was surprised to find herself actually feeling them a few weeks later. Intrigued, Lazar began researching how it’s possible that something “as silly as a yoga posture or sitting and watching your breath” could decrease stress, reduce anxiety and depression, increase focus and deliver all around better quality of life.

What she found is that developing a habit can lead to changes in your brain. This is called neuroplasticity.

Through her studies, Lazar found fascinating evidence that meditation can “slow down or prevent the natural age-related decline in cortical structure”, a part of our brain that shrinks as we age, resulting in cognitive impairments.

She also found that meditating increases grey matter in areas of the brain like the hippocampus, which helps process and regulate emotions, and the temporo-parietal junction, which correlates one’s perception, empathy, and compassion.

The implications of findings like these are astounding! This means that what we think has physical repercussions. Immaterial thoughts produce OR reduce material changes in the brain in as little as seven hours!

My son, give attention to my words; Incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your eyes; Keep them in the midst of your heart; For they are life to those who find them, And health to all their flesh.

Proverbs 4:22

This affirms what the bible’s had to say all along: words of life do improve your physical and mental well-being by forming pathways and strengthening neurological responses.

Negativity does the opposite. Stress and trauma releases cortisol in the brain that eats away at the hippocampus and other areas of the brain, making it harder to overcome negative emotions and form new memories.

But what about freewill? Dr. Francis Crick, who won the Nobel prize for partly discovering the structure of DNA, wrote “a person’s mental activities are entirely due to the behavior of nerve cells, glial cells, and the atoms, ions, and molecules that make them up and influence them.”

However Neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield’s research suggests something much more metaphysical is going on.

Penfield operated on the brains of people who were awake (don’t worry they didn’t feel pain) and found that patients could differentiate between a forced response to Penfield prodding their brain and their own capacity to perform an action.

When Penfield stimulated the arm area of the brain, patients always said, “You made my arm move” and never said, “I moved my arm.”

Michael Egnor, more than material minds

This implies that the will is not a function of the brain. The mind is not simply a conglomerate of neurons firing and nothing else. There is something deep and ethereal that makes us ‘us’; something that can’t be measured or poked.

Dr. Benjamin Libet dug further, conducting an experiment about brain waves during decision making.

What he found is that there is a brain wave that comes shortly before a decisive action, however we can still veto this action without another brainwave being produced.

Libet concluded, “We are beset by a sea of inclinations, corresponding to material activity in our brains, which we have the free choice to reject or accept.

It is hard not to read this in more familiar terms: we are tempted by sin, yet we are free to choose.”

Bottom Line

  • There’s too many science-based health and emotional benefits of meditation to dismiss. Meditation can drastically improve your well-being, and there’s actual changes in your brain that correspond with it.
  • There’s nothing better than meditating on the truth of who God is and who you are in Him. By doing so you will experience abundant life.

“…therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live”

Deuteronomy 30:19


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