There is a growing field of neuroscience that aims to understand the specific impacts of spirituality, religiosity and meditation on the brain functions and correspondingly on the mental and the physical health of the human beings…
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In recent years however, there is a growing interest in how spirituality or religion may play a role in managing mental and physical health and this interest has led to the exploration of the changes that spirituality or meditative practice may bring about in the human mind. This chapter contains a review and critical analysis of the available literature and research on the topic of neuroscience and spirituality. The aim of the chapter is to present and evaluate the evidence that backs the linkages between spirituality or meditation and brain activity using scientific empirical methods. There is a growing field of neuroscience that aims to understand the specific impacts of spirituality, religiosity and meditation on the brain functions and correspondingly on the mental and the physical health of the human beings. The current review is an attempt to collate and critically assess the available research in terms of the validity of the findings and claims and the validity of the methodology that has been employed by the numerous scholars. This niche field is still in a growing stage and most of the research undertaken is exploratory in nature, and hence a review of the available work in the area is expected to provide an understanding of what is already known and what potential future research may hold for the topic. This chapter is divided into sections that follow a logical structure from an overview of the methods, tools and techniques that are being employed and the approaches or hypothesis used in recent meditation studies. Next, the review focuses on the changes that occur in the brain during spiritual experience or among people who are high on religiosity. Finally, the literature review delves deeply into the analysis and evaluation of available research that are aimed at specific impacts of meditation, namely, attention and arousal, immunity, self-regulation and emotions, and pain management. 2.2 Meditation Studies There has been a large number of scholars who have aimed to assess the impact of meditation on the human brain and hence on the body functions. The studies are methodologically designed to assess autoimmune indicators like the blood pressure or the heart rate, hormonal indicators or immunity markers, and more recently, electroencephalographic (EEG) and brain scanning techniques to directly view the changes in the neural reactions. Meditation is the technique of focusing on the breath and proactively ignoring the thoughts. It is said to lead to physiological changes that are found to produce a body relaxation response (Newberg and Iversen, 2003). Several researchers have found that the physiological indicators of blood pressure and heart rate are decreased during a mediation phase. Early research conducted by Banquet (1973) had already established that the EEG patterns for people doing meditation are different from those people not doing meditation. In addition, it has also been found that sleep EEG patterns are different from the meditation EEG patterns, indicating that meditation involves a more powerful neural activity that is not seen during sleep. There are studies that have found that an increased alpha-wave activity in the frontal area associated with meditation (Al-Kandari), a change in heart rate and blood pressure (Koeing et al, 1998) and cortisol levels (Sudsuang et al., 1991). Most of the studies mentioned above have been done from an earlier era where neuroimaging was not available. However, with the advent of technologies like functional imaging
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