January 2014: From TBS President Bryan H. Pines
This time of year many people are making New Year resolutions to improve their health. After the recent holidays, they are interested in restoring a daily routine. Holistically, our goal should include a spiritual as well as physical component to improving health. I hope that this brief article will provide incentive for your increased participation in TBS religious services for the coming year.
Nearly five years ago, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a five part series on the Science of Spirituality. Barbara Hagerty was interviewed during the show All Things Considered in an episode titled: Prayer May Reshape Your Brain…And Your Reality. She explains that the study of neurotheology has shown significant changes in the brains of individuals who devote hours to daily prayer.
Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at University of Pennsylvania has written a book titled: How God Changes Your Brain. With the use of a dye, he observed the blood flow in the brains of individuals during prayer and meditation. The SPECT scanner allowed him to view an image of the parts of the brain which illuminate during prayer. He was not surprised to see the increased activity in the frontal lobes of the brain since this is a region for intense concentration. He was intrigued that the parietal lobes were quiet. He explained that “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.” One of his subjects, a Tibetan Buddhist described that moment as “It’s as if the present moment expands to fill all of eternity… that there has never been anything but this eternal now.” Essentially, the goal of the study is to map the brain activity during a heightened spiritual moment with a scientific understanding of brain physiology.
It doesn’t require the commitment to prayer observed by these professionals in the study in order to gain an advantage for the average individual. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin states that neuroplasticity allows us to sculpt our brains just like our muscles through exercise. Davidson stated that “just two month’s practice among rank amateurs led to systemic change in both brain as well as the immune system in more positive directions. For example, they developed more antibodies to a flu virus than did their colleagues who did not meditate.”
I can’t think of a better for us to celebrate the year than by attending Shabbat and weekday prayer services together. As a group, I am confident that we will be able to benefit from the positive effects of communal prayer. I look forward to seeing you at Shul!
Bryan H. Pines