Tag Archive | neuroscience

The Brain Connection: Prayer and Meditation 

"Alot of horrible things have happened to me, some of which actually occurred" - Mark TwainThe Brain Connection: Prayer and Meditation

By Hwaa Irfan

As modern science increasingly explores the unknown within man, to the dismay of some scientists and secularists, the man-made boundaries between faith, spirituality, religion and Western science is disappearing. From quantum physics, to neuroscience, we find revelations that prove aspects of faith.

Allah (SWT) provides for us many signs, which depending on our level of openness and readiness brings us one step further towards the essential “I”. By the very nature of being given at birth the name Yi = One, Yuan = Source, and Tang from Tao = principles in nature and human beings, Dr. Yi – Yuan Tang grew up learning different methods of body-mind training from 20 different teachers. On his path towards becoming professor at the Dalian Medical University, founding director of the Institute of Neuroinformatics and Laboratory of Body and Mind, Center for Social and Organizational Behavior, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the PLA General Hospital in Beijing among others, Tang explored the truths of the body-mind relationship, nature and life, nature and humans working with colleagues from all over the world barriers began to fall between eastern wisdom and western science. On his journey he also sought to improve and enlighten himself.

Tang has found that short-term meditation induces change in white matter in the anterior cingulate cortex, ACC. The anterior cingulate is a fibrous bundle in the brain that responsible for relaying impulses/signals of the nerves between the right and left hemispheres of the brain. Scientists are still discovering what the function of the ACC is, but so far it has been discovered that the ACC is responsible for regulating blood pressure, heart rate, rational cognition (reward, decision-making, empathy, and the emotions. White matter is brain tissue also found in the spinal cord, which allows for the speedy passing of messages within the nervous system. If this is damaged in childhood, the brain circumvents alternative means bypassing the white matter. White matter changes in volume as a result of leaning new motor (physical) skills.

Tang has also found that there are changes in the central and autonomic nervous system as a result of short-term meditation, as well as improvement in attention and the ability to self regulate. As a result of 21 years of experience research and training, Tang developed the Integrative Body Mind Training, IBMT (a form of mindfulness meditation), which in turn he used to train thousands of children and adults to improving their attention span, ability to self-regulate, and performance. His work in IBMT has spawned further research elsewhere including the understanding of brain connectivity.

In the U.S. the National Neurotechnology Initiative has federal support as a $30mn project in 2009 with the aim of mapping the circuitry of the brain in follow-up to the Human Genome Project, the Human Connectome Project. Now researchers and scientists in neuroscience have found the value of emotions, which registers as brain activity, with negative emotions (anxiety, depression etc), and positive emotions (happiness, enthusiasm etc) increasing in activity in the right prefrontal cortex. During meditation the theta waves, which are responsible for enhanced creativity and deep relaxation increase dramatically in the front and middle parts of the brain. This has been revealed through EEG scans. Gamma waves have also been measured. Gamma waves are linked to optimal functioning of the brain, oscillating at 38 Hz – 70 Hz. Gamma waves increase when focusing on compassion and are linked with decreased negative emotions, higher intelligence, better memories, and an increased desire to open up to the world. Magnetic resonance imaging, MRI has been used to detect a thickening in the grey outer layer of the cortex during meditation, associated with sensory input and attention, especially during creative thinking. In general the cerebral cortex is thicker in older people, and for people aged 40 – 50 years who meditate, the cortex has the same thickness as those aged 20 – 30 years.

Psychologist at the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York, Dr. Michael Posner found that only after 5 days of training Chinese participants half an hour each day, changes occurred in moods, reaction to stress, with a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol. The training was replicated with U.S. students, who improved on their ability to attend the training. Using an unspecified relaxation technique; the aim was to relax, and keeping the mind of the participant in the present state — without wandering around – a precursor to the meditative state. Neuroscientist Richard Davidson observed employees at a high tech company over a two month period of meditation for 1 hour a day. The results showed that there were indeed changes in the brain, and the immunes system as well. Those that meditated had developed more antibodies against a flu virus than those who did not meditate.

Other Approaches
For those who are interested in increasing their own brain connectivity, and have no access to or cannot afford IBMT, then maybe after dawn one should do what Nelson Mandela does, go for a 4-hour long walk before breakfast – nothing good comes easily! Researchers in the U.S. have found that walking for 40 minutes three times a week increases some degree of brain connectivity which leads to increased cognition. Sixty-five sedentary people aged 59 – 80 joined a walking/stretching/toning group for a year.

With practicing Tibetan Buddhist, Michael Baime, when meditating he feels a oneness with the universe and that time slips away. Dr. Andrew Newberg, father of neuroscience, who views meditation and prayer as the kind focused attention that becomes the reality of those who pray/meditate scanned Baime’s brain. Baime’s frontal lobes lit up on the screen, and his parietal lobe went dark. Newberg commented to NPR:

    “This is an area that normally takes our sensory information, tries to create for us a sense of ourselves and orient that self in the world,”

    “When people lose their sense of self, feel a sense of oneness, a blurring of the boundary between self and other, we have found decreases in activity in that area.”

    “There is no Christian, there is no Jewish, there is no Muslim, it’s just all one,” said Newberg.

The Effect of Prayer
Harvard scientist, Herbert Benson explains that prayer involves the repetition of sound and words that precipitate some form of healing, and that every single religion has its own way. The sound and words focused upon lead to a deeper state of concentration, increasing activity in the parietal lobe of the brain. The parietal lobe is responsible for one’s orientation in space. A quietude envelops the brain, and the frontal and temporal lobes, responsible for time, and self awareness becomes disengaged, and the mind-body relationship dissolves said Benson. This brings about a sense of oneness with all that is, trust in Him, and trust in one’s self. When we view our selves in a limited context, using only the five senses, we become limited in our perception of ourselves, others, and remove what is possible. Instead of schools discouraging Muslim children from praying, they should be making it possible for all to pray, for with concentrated prayer comes greater connection, and cognition which aids and abets team work, and learning.

Let us pray that the human potential is not reduced to the brain though, as our souls and well being is not all located in the brain!

Davis, J. “Can Prayer Heal”. http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=50874
Flatlow, I. “Meditation for a Stronger Brain”. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=129324779
Hagerty, B. “Prayer May Reshape Your Brain … And Your Reality” http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104310443
Lynch, Z. “ Human Connectome Project Launched to Reveal Brain Connectivity” http://brainwaves.corante.com/archives/2009/07/24/
Yates, D. Attention, “Couch Potatoes! Walking Boosts Brain Connectivity, Function”. http://www.usnews.com/science/articles/2010/08/30/attention-couch-potatoes-walking-boosts-brain-connectivity-function.html
Tang, Y. “Integrative Body-Mid Training”. http://www.yi-yuan.net/english/tyy.asp

Related Topics:
Happiness Doesn’t Grow on Trees!
Night Prayer and the Human Body Clock
The Healing Sounds of Life
From the Symbolic Ascension to the Ascension of Our Lives
Can You Just Change Your Mind Just Like That!

Women are Emotional and Men are Pragmatic!

Women are Emotional and Men are Pragmatic!

By Hwaa Irfan

Women… how many times have you found yourself in a series of misunderstandings because the discussion was with a male who just did not seem to register your emotions? You might have even reached the point whereby you have had enough from what has become an exasperating scenario, because they just do not seem to get! An example is the character Khan played in the film “My Name is Khan”. However with Khan, he had a form of autism known as Asperger’s Syndrome (occurs mainly in males), where he could not register emotions. The difference is, Khan knew that he could not register emotions, and he let everyone else know that.

Autism is one of those diseases that fall under the category of diseases which have a strong gender component. Some researchers have been focusing on this issue. A team from the Université de Montréal Centre de recherche en neuropsychologie et cognition (CERNEC) looked into the problem with physically and mentally able men and women. The aim was to establish whether women are better at distinguishing emotions than men.

To help assess the reaction of the volunteers, real people were used to demonstrate feelings through facial expression. The importance of facial expressions in the experiment was as described by one of the researchers, Olivier Collignon:

    “Facial movements have been shown to play an important role in the perception of an emotion’s intensity as well as stimulate different parts of the brain used in the treatment of such information.”

Auditory stimuli, visual stimuli, compatible audio-visual stimuli, and contradictory audi-visual stimuli were used. The emotions that were focused on were fear, and disgust, as these two emotions have been considered as prerequisites to human survival as they are protective, and cannot easily be supplanted by the nature or nurture reasoning.

The study proved conclusively that men are less efficient at distinguishing and expressing emotions than women, reaffirming previous studies. Women responded more quickly to expressions portrayed by a female than a male, and women were faster than men at responding to multisensory expressions.

Improving Husband and Wife Communication

How men communicate and how women communicate is not the same. In general, men use different parts of the brain to women. This may have something to do with genetics, but there are other factors involved including evolution, as women have always multi-tasked.

Men think mainly with the left brain although in schooling (factory education) the left brain of girls functions faster than boys in a coed environment. The left brain is seemingly logical and rational. Reasoning is linear, task orientated and holds the navigational skills.

The bundle of nerves between the left and right brain, the limbic system, is thicker in women; so women use both their left and right brain simultaneously.. The right brain is where memories are stored, were the skills are better for phonetic language (reading). The right brain is also where the communication and visual skills are located.

Women are more expressive and in touch with their feelings due to their larger limbic system. Women are raised to be in touch with their feelings and the feelings of others.

Women communicate multimodal in verbs (rapport speech), and men communicate in nouns and to the point (reported speech). Men tend to use only one side at a time for either logical thinking or for feeling. Asking one’s husband to focus on their feelings may preclude logic temporarily and the wife might be asking for more than she bargained for.

If you expect someone to do more than he is able to do, then expect him to fail you by as much as you have exceeded his capacity” – ‘Ali ibn ‘Abu Talib

Wife/Husband Scenarios

The wife wants her husband to do the little thing that show he has thought about her, and cares about her feelings. If the husband does not want to be misunderstood, he can show more of his himself in a way that his wife can understand. This will let the wife know that he is not trying to push her away, and that he does want to be close to her.

Men are more biologically reactive, focus on negative words, and criticism. They stay upset for longer following a conflict, and will withdraw to protect themselves in general. Men must feel that they can achieve their goals, in order that they may feel good about themselves.

Women tend to share with others through their feelings, and the quality of relationships to feel good about themselves and to negotiate closeness, but men tend to communicate to negotiate status. So how do the two get together!

“You just never listen!” might be a wife’s response, as the husband moves to a solution and problem solving right away, without her. He just jumps in with a solution before the wife has had a chance to process her options, when the wife wants to talk about the problem and solve it collaboratively. The husband may understand that processing is a way for women to include others and build relations, and the wife may know this so to override the problem the wife needs to be upfront. Say what you really need from your husband otherwise he might just feel manipulated.

“I’d really appreciate it if you’d help me process this problem by listening and asking questions”.

If the husband is really not sure what the wife wants from him he should ask upfront.

“Do you want my advice or just someone to listen to you?”

Women must learn that the kind of intimate talk they are used to with their girlfriends should remain just that. Trying to turn the husband into a girlfriend will usually fail because men, in general, do not create feelings of closeness in that way. Observe and listen rather than process out aloud.

“But he won’t let me help!” This is where the wife needs to understand that the husband is resisting help and support because to him, help may infer a lack of trust in his ability. The wife is preventing him from learning what he needs to learn for himself so do not be so quick to offer advice. But when the husband offers to help, this presents an opportunity to show support and care.

However, if a wife is doing what she wants the husband to do, or expects him to do it, one has to think consciously about what makes a spouse feel valued and cared about.

Ask yourself:

• What is the purpose or the goal of that communication?

• What do we mean when we say/feel we want to communicate?

What we really mean, way deep down inside, is that we want to feel good about ourselves. Both husband and wife want that! We want to love and be loved, be appreciated, be recognized, be honored, and to be respected and supported – don’t we?

{ If He pleases, He causes the wind to become still so that they lie motionless on its back; most surely there are signs in this for every patient, grateful one} (Ash Shura 42: 33)

True or False?

Someone might be saying, well, that’s not true of the women/men that I know. Well, I have to say, that the context of the above is western and/or secular. As we increasingly live in individualist societies, certain polarities are likely to develop where one is only responsible to one’s self or those one


to be responsible to/for. I grew up in a generation where men and women did share their concerns, and were sisters and brothers to each other, and I still come across types who do not fall under the above categories. In fact some women are becoming to pragmatic, and some are men overly emotional but disguise it with pragmatism – some would call this politics!

{And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are guardians of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer, and pay the poor rate, and obey Allah and His Apostle (as for these), Allah will show mercy to them} (Al-Baraat 9: 71)

Science Daily. Women Outperform Men When Identifying Emotions http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/10/091021125133.htm

Related Topics:
The Missing Link in the Education of Our Boys
The Tresses of Forgetfulness.
Discovering Your Emotional Intelligence
The Brain Says Men and Women are Different When It Comes to Stress