“I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual!” Have you ever heard anyone say that? Do you wonder what they meant when they said spiritual? There are many different understandings of what spirituality is. However, there is one common element in all depictions of spirituality, a strong sense of connectedness. To make sure we are all on the same page (no pun intended), this is how spirituality will be alluded to - a strong sense of connectedness.
There is a field called “Neurotheology” which studies the connection between spirituality and the brain. With fMRIs scientists can now look inside the brain and see the activity in different regions both before and during spiritual experiences. Here is what they have noticed when a Buddhist Monk meditates and when a Pentecostal speaks in tongue…
- There is an increase in the activity of the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is thought of as the source of “higher human cognition.” That is, this part of the brain allows us to plan, empathize, and philosophize. This area is located at the front of our brain, just above our eyes.
- There is a decrease in the activity of the right Parietal lobe (above the right ear). This is the part of the brain associated with orientation. This part of the brain analyzes the space and separation between objects. As this part of the brain lowers in activity, the separation between objects gets blurred. People who have strokes or concussions to the right Parietal lobe become more prone to spiritual experiences.
The most important aspects of spirituality are the benefits that it provides. It has been shown to help prevent depression (depressed individuals are 85% more likely to get diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease1). Spirituality has also been associated with reduced suicide rates, better prognosis in Schizophrenics, and better recovery in Alcoholics.
If you feel as though your sense of connectedness with yourself, or something greater than yourself is lacking, then perhaps this is a great opportunity for you to improve upon your mental health. As always, bear in mind what your GOFI (Greatest Opportunity For Improvement) is. If you are very spiritually aligned, then perhaps eating healthier foods, or exercising more will best serve your brain. What ever your GOFI is, figure it out, and make it happen!
Diniz et al. Late-life depression and risk of vascular dementia and Alzheimer's disease: systematic review and meta-analysis of community-based cohort studies. Br J Psychiatry. 2013 May;202(5):329-35