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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "God... I cannot think of any other word that stirs up the imagination more.", 14 Aug 2009
By 
Sam Woodward (UK) - See all my reviews
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The title of this book may give some people the wrong idea. 'How God Changes Your Brain' discusses Newberg & Waldman's latest neuroscientific research into how the brain is affected by various spiritual practises - particularly meditation, prayer & contemplation of God or a positive secular image. The tone is objective & the authors are not interested in pushing either a religious or anti-religious agenda.

Whether or not God actually exists is not discussed. For the authors, whether someones' beliefs are factually correct is secondary to whether or not they are actually good for their physical & mental health. Which for the most part, they are - apparently different methods of meditation & prayer have different, yet universally positive, effects on our neurological functioning & physical & emotional health. According to the authors, "even minimal religious participation is correlated with enhancing longevity & personal health". Conversely, there is a chapter on the damaging effect of beliefs in a punitive, wrathful God (increased stress & paranoia) but the main message is a positive one.

A sizeable seciton of this book outlines practical exercises for enhancing various mental processes, which have been scientifically proven to work. These mainly consist of different forms of meditation but bizarrely include yawning - which is apparently so good for improving alertness & creating feelings of empathy that the authors recommend 10-20 forced yawns before meditaiton or prayer.

This an inspiring book on a number of levels. For instance, I personally don't believe in the literal existence of God & while this book has not changed my opinion, the authors' respect for people with different beliefs has rubbed off on me. In fact, they emphasise that spiritual/religious beliefs will always differ widely because how our brains physically experience 'God' or trascendent states differs considerably from person to person. It has further encouraged me in my meditation practise by prooving that it has tangible, measurable benefits. Plus it has provided some fascinating, clearly-explained insights into how the brain actually works. Whatever your viewpoint, everyone has strong feelings on this subject, making this book essential reading.

I also recommend Newberg & Waldman's Born to Believe: God, Science, and the Origin of Ordinary and Extraordinary Beliefs which covers their earlier research in this fascinating field.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How God changes your brain, 16 Oct 2010
By 
J. P. Marsh "John" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Paperback)
I found this book a mature well balanced read, bridging the findings of the mystics with neuro science. Thankfully the book distances itself from the myopic atheism of Dawkins and approaches the subject of spirituality with honesty and integrity. I found the authors findings are a little compartmentalised however, mapping certain meditational experiences within certain regions of the brain. If the reader is not careful then one could be lead into the conclusion that the spiritual experience is merely the by product of physiological processes. It is difficult to ascertain whether the authors attribute consciousness as a local phenomenon of the brain or not because of the acceptance of neuro plasticity, which the spiritual masters have advocated long before mainstream science addressed the topic. By accepting the premise that an individual can re wire themselves and so eventually start to create their own reality is the most empowering part of the book, but shys from actually embracing the more miraculous aspects of this premise.
The book includes quite a few meditation excercises, including "conscious yawning" detailing the benefits of each method. I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in spirituality rather than religion and also satisfies those with a scientific orientation.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The health benefits of spirituality, 29 Oct 2010
By 
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Paperback)
How God Changes Your Brain by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman, Ballantine Books, New York, 2009, 364 ff.

The health benefits of spirituality
By Howard Jones

The health benefits of various forms of spiritual meditation have been known for many years - hence the popularity of yoga and other eastern meditative practices. Meditation generates endorphins and thereby reduces heart rate and blood pressure; it produces relaxed breathing and a general feeling of wellbeing. The associated mind-set promotes an attitude of beneficence towards our fellow man, and that can only be a good thing for all concerned. The well-being produced by spirituality is the subject of this book.

Andrew Newberg is an Associate Professor of Radiology and Psychiatry in the School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Mark Robert Waldman is an Associate Fellow at the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the same university. Newberg earlier wrote a book with his mentor, Eugene d'Aquili, called The Mystical Mind, on the same theme and he has a number of books and papers on mind and meditation to his name.

The important point emphasised by Newberg in his books and lectures is that you do not have to believe in the God of western religion in order to be spiritual and to benefit from meditative practices: `Spiritual practices, even when stripped of religious beliefs . . . improve physical and emotional health.' It is important therefore to distinguish, as the authors do, between religion and spirituality. Even the term `God' is used here in a generic sense to denote the highest of our spiritual values. This `God' exists in the world, in our subconscious perception and in our conscious images and concepts.

The authors make the interesting observation that `each part of the brain constructs a different perception of God.' The effects on our health are governed by our view of God, as benevolent, forgiving, angry, and so on. The authors also endorse the beneficial effects of Herbert Benson's `relaxation response'. Meditative techniques, whether based on eastern mystical beliefs or western religious practices, if performed regularly produce permanent beneficial structural effects on the brain.

The authors defend religion against the atheists' charge that it is bad for our health, citing lack of evidence. Religious persecutions throughout human history are not sufficient? They accept however that religion is harmful when it is authoritarian, generates fear or fabricates fantasies as truth. Newberg and Waldman criticise atheist writings that treat all religion as if it were intolerant fundamentalism and the authors cite many positive aspects of religion. Focusing on these positive aspects encourages neuroplasticity or positive structural development of the brain. The aim is to generate compassion or empathy with other brains.

The meditation practice on which the authors focus is that of Kirtan Kriya from north India. They have conducted tests that show the benefits of this practice, even in the short term, in producing peace of mind and in improving memory in age-related disorders through selective attention - focusing on constructive objectives in our lives.

This is a fascinating and uplifting book which, though technical, would qualify as a self-help manual. The title is perhaps not strictly accurate, since it is the meditation or contemplation that is effective, and the book makes it clear that neither religion nor God is necessary. The few anatomical details of the brain used in the descriptions are all explained. Its message is encouraging for readers of all ages. The book has a generous 74-page section of Notes and references and an Index at the end.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

The Mystical Mind: Probing the Biology of Religious Experience (Theology & the Sciences)
The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles
Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the power of mental force
Timeless Healing: The Power and Biology of Belief
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How God Changes Your Brain., 17 April 2012
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I found this a fascinating and informative book. The author is a practicing neurologist and has researched this subject of religion and mediation over a long period of time with a colleague, as regards how this state of mind improves ones cognitive pathways. They discovered that stimulation of the anterior cingulate slows down activity in the amygdala, which means we are calmer and more reasonable. It is well written and I would encourage any one who is interested in the brain to read it. I would think agnostics and atheist would find it of equal benefit.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How God Changes your Brain, 15 April 2013
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This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Paperback)
I enjoyed this very interesting, thought-provoking book very much and would recommend it to others. It was well worth buying.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How God changes your brain, 23 Nov 2011
This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Paperback)
Don't be put off by the title of this book. Very clear and understandable functions of the brain. Lots of de-stressing simple exercise for you do do. Lin
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5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing opportunity to better understand your relationship with yourself, 7 Oct 2014
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This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Paperback)
Amazing book, gives you the opportunity to think outside the box, gives you better skills, (tool box) to understand how your thoughts, beliefs, and culture affects, and effects your life. very inspiring. Thank you Highly recommended.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Why to meditate?, 10 Mar 2013
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This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Paperback)
For me this eased me getting to meditate regularly. Eastern concepts can sound little fluffy to western ears even if your appreciate eastern philosophy but this book which popularized neuroresearch done on meditators gives scientific reasons why it would be good idea to meditate. So its maybe even more about meditation than God, even though it deals with religion as well.
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23 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understand the Biological and Biochemical Changes That Prayer, Meditation, and Focus Bring to Your Brain, 1 April 2009
By 
Donald Mitchell "Jesus Loves You!" (Thanks for Providing My Reviews over 124,000 Helpful Votes Globally) - See all my reviews
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Not that many years ago, scientists were fond of telling you that you didn't ever add any more brain cells and your brain structure was pretty fixed at a young age. That so-called information was wrong. Today, we know that new brain cells and connections are being made all the time. By changing the way we live and think, we can make major changes in our brains . . . which, in turn, make other changes in our lives. What makes this book unique is that it addresses the effects of various mental, spiritual, and religious practices on the brain, body, and biochemistry. Spirituality isn't just for the spiritual world any more!

This book is a great blessing to me in explaining the major changes I've experienced over the last 14 years since I've been very active in meditation, prayer, and Bible study. I could tell that my mind was working differently . . . as well as my body, but I haven't found a book before this one that could explain all that has been occurring. I was also pleased to learn that I can expect to continue to experience positive changes. What a joy!

My pastor is fond of pointing out that whenever things seem a bit overwhelming that we should focus on Jesus and ask for His help. I knew from the Bible why that is good spiritual advice. Now I know why it's also good neurological and emotion-calming advice.

When I speak with people who are of different faiths or don't have much faith, I can tell that they are experiencing the world much differently than I am. In fact, I often describe part of the Christian faith as being experience based . . . feeling Jesus acting in my life, which can make it hard to comprehend when you haven't had the same experiences due to your focus being elsewhere.

I suspect that this book can be a great benefit to those who are interested in developing their brains and now realize that spiritual practices are very helpful in that regard. As a result, I suspect some will find faith who weren't looking for it. What could be nicer?

Anyone who is stressed out and has no idea how to calm down will clearly find very helpful ideas from here to apply.

The book's main weakness is in the authors' desire to describe to optimize the brain in ways that don't necessarily relate to any spiritual practice (such as the stout encouragement to yawn regularly and enthusiastically). I think that subject would have been more appropriate in another book, but I was mildly interested in what they had to say.

The book also advocates that people of all religions should accept that all other religions are equally valid, and no one should share views that their own religion offers special benefits. I don't think the authors made their case for that point being correct--it's just their personal opinions. I let that go in grading the book because I got so much insight out of the parts of the book that describe how prayer, meditation, and focus affect the mind and body.

I like to share my faith because it has been the best part of my life, one that just keeps getting better. In the same way that I tell people about a good new book, I also tell them about Jesus Christ. The authors seem to always ascribe less altruistic reasons for telling others about your faith. I pray that they will discover the joys of a richer spiritual life in future.
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