How praying changes your brain structure

Thursday, 23 January 2014 - 12:05pm IST | Agency: DNA

If you are a religious or a spiritual person and pray every day, there is now proof that you might be doing your brain and body a huge favour. According to a new study spiritual or religious practice may fight off depression – particularly in people who are predisposed to the disease – by thickening the brain cortex.

The study conducted by Lisa Miller, professor and director of Clinical Psychology and director of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute at Teachers College, Columbia University, included 103 people who were at a high risk of depression. Their level of risk was based on their family history.

On mapping their brain activity and structure using an MRI, Lisa found that people who valued their religion more and regularly prayed had thicker cortices when compared to those who did not. The thinning of the cortice, especially in certain areas of the brain is an indicator of impending ill health, particularly due to depression.

Thicker cortices indicated a lesser chance of suffering from depression, suggesting that prayer and spirituality really does yield some stunning benefits to the human brain.

This study is just one in a slew of studies that have proved the exact same thing. When we compared the findings of all the studies, we zeroed in on all the benefits praying has on your body:

Makes you stress free: Praying influences your state of mind, helping you relax and thereby reducing the effects stress has on various body organs. It is known to not only help reduce mental stress; it also helps beat physical stress and evens out your emotional reaction to it.  (Read: 5 natural remedies to beat stress (Gallery))

Reduces your chances of suffering from depression and anxiety: According to a UK based study, published in British Journal of Health Psychology, praying can reduce your risk of developing depression and anxiety. It also found that you have a higher probability of being positive and less depressed if you prayed at a place of worship. (Read: Depression – understanding it is half the battle won)

Helps you deal with emotional onslaught: Praying is extremely useful in giving you the strength to deal with day-to-day stress. It offers you some quiet time alone, where you can think and gives you the opportunity to focus on yourself and reduce mental stress.

Keeps away common stress related disorders: Chronic diseases like heart diseases, diabetes, hypertension, ulcers and migraines are all considered to be a result of too much stress.

According to alternative therapies like Ayurveda, stress is the number one reason for the buildup of toxins in the body, which not only leads to chronic conditions like diabetes but also certain cancers. (Read: Ayurvedic detox diet — a step-by-step guide to cleansing your body)

Makes you happier: A study conducted by Dr. Andrew Newberg, Department of Psychiatry at University of Pennsylvania, found that praying can actually boost the level of dopamine or the ‘happy hormone’ in your brain. Making you happier and more peaceful.

Makes you a better person: The same study also found that the practice helps reduce the level of one’s ego by affecting the area of the brain associated with that emotion. It therefore makes you more humble, less greedy for material things and a better person.

Speeds up post-surgical recovery: Other studies have found that praying helps in the quicker healing of surgical scars. This is because when your body is out of sync and stressed, it focuses all its efforts in equalizing itself; thereby offering less resources to the healing of wounds. (Read: What to expect during an angiography)

Keeps diseases at bay: Praying has been known to improve one’s immunity. One particular study also found that praying also reduces the symptoms of asthma. The studies on why one sees this reaction is still on. (Read: Asthma megaguide – causes, symptoms, diagnosis, prevention and complications)

Is good for your heart: The practice of praying has shown a lot of benefits on the functioning of your heart. It is known to speed up the recovery of the heart after a heart attack and surgery. Apart from that it also helps regulate your heart beat, makes it stronger and less stressed. (Read: Natural remedies for heart disease)

Helps you live longer: Apart from all the other benefits of praying, one of the most striking perks is that it helps you live longer. By minimizing all the ill effects of stress and environmental factors it helps your body heal better and age more efficiently. All this put together helps the body heal faster and beat the common ailments that affect you when you get older. (Read: Why prayers are good for your health)
 


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