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407 of 417 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A SPECTACULAR BOOK (for believers and disbelievers alike)
Details about this book appeared in Time magazine a few weeks ago, featuring Newberg's and Waldmans research on spirituality and the brain. They touted it as a "self-help field guide to the health benefits of spirituality" and meditation practice. Then it was featured in Oprah magazine, so as a mental health professional, I had to see what their research was all...
Published on March 24, 2009 by Neil Schuitevoerder

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59 of 73 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, repetitive, oversimplified
I barely got myself to finish this book, mostly because I am a voracious reader who hates not finishing a book.

The first half or so is full of somewhat superficial and repetitive descriptions of the brain and what different parts do, plus some unrepresentative surveys of people of different spiritual or religious backgrounds. Some very non-mainstream beliefs...
Published on May 3, 2010 by Alberto Vargas


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407 of 417 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A SPECTACULAR BOOK (for believers and disbelievers alike), March 24, 2009
This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Hardcover)
Details about this book appeared in Time magazine a few weeks ago, featuring Newberg's and Waldmans research on spirituality and the brain. They touted it as a "self-help field guide to the health benefits of spirituality" and meditation practice. Then it was featured in Oprah magazine, so as a mental health professional, I had to see what their research was all about.

What I found was a brainstorm of some of the most amazing research on how spiritual practices change the structure and function of our brain. Like the classic book, Varieties of Religious Experience, by William James, the authors, who are neuroscientists at the University of Pennsylvania, summarize a dozen different ways the human brain processes spiritual experiences.

For example, one part of the brain can generate images of an angry god; another, feelings of a compassionate god; yet another part of the brain can generate doubtful thoughts, and so on. They also present new data showing how Americans are becoming less religious but more spiritual as they embrace images of a universe that is scientific yet mystical. Their online survey of a thousand participants shows that nearly everyone holds radically different concepts of "God." They even track, using people who draw pictures of God, how this concept begins as a face in a child's brain, and that the more a child thinks about god, new abstract conceptualizations begin to form in different parts of the brain.

The authors show many brain scans of many different practitioners (religious and secular) which demonstrate that the more intense one contemplates any spiritual issue-or even evolution or the Big Bang-the more it changes the structure and function of other parts of the brain in healthy ways (for example, meditators from Christian, Buddhist, and nonreligious backgrounds permanently alter their thalamus, and thus their perception of reality), which makes their deepest beliefs feel "neurologically real." This explains the book's title, for even atheists, when they try to make sense out of religion, grow new dendrites in important areas of the brain that appear to slow down the diseases we get as we age.

Fortunately, the authors put the neuroscience in terms anyone can grasp, and they proceed to give explicit instructions that the reader can use to stimulate their precuneus (a key center of consciousness), the frontal lobes (logic, reason, motivation), and the anterior cingulate (compassion, intuition, and social awareness). There's so much practical and provocative material, that the best way to review this book is to briefly describe each chapter:

Ch 1: "Who Cares About God?" - We all do, argue the authors, who introduce basic concepts of neuroplasticity, the neurologal "war" between beliefs and disbeliefs, and why any religious concept generate both anger and compassion in virtually everyone's brain.

Ch 2: "Do You Need God When You Pray?" The authors describe a new study showing how a 12 minute chanting meditation practice improved memory in older people with mild cognitive impairment (a precursor to Alzheimer's disease)in less than 8 weeks. They also show you how to create your own "brain enhancement" exercise program.

Ch 3: "What Does God Do to Your Brain?" This chapter explores the neural varieties of meditation and prayer, and how different parts of the brain create different perceptions of God. They also discuss how different neurochemicals and drugs alter spiritual beliefs and realities.

Ch 4: "What Does God Feel Like?" The authors' data shows that, for most people, God is more of a feeling than an idea, that everyone's spiritual experiences are unique, and that mystical experiences often generate long-lasting states of unity, peacefulness, and love.

Ch 5: "What Does God Look Like?" The authors collected adult drawings of God and compared them with pictures drawn by children. It turns out that the most sophisticated drawings are made by liberal believers, atheists, and agnostic college students. However, many atheists maintain childhood images, which could explain why god doesn't make any rational sense to them. The authors suggest that everyone has "God" neuron or circuit in their brain, and they show you where it is.

Ch 6: "Does God Have a Heart?" They examine the Baylor University survey depicting four "personalities" of God, but they present their own survey evidence showing that a previously unrecognized and large segment of Americans maintain a mystical and loving vision of nature, God, and people.

Ch 7: "What Happens When God Gets Mad?" Surprisingly, the authors (one is agnostic, and the other describes himself as being personally guided by evidence-based natural science)both find value in all spiritual practices and traditions. They found little evidence to criticize religious fundamentalism, except when it involves angry rhetoric. They point out the neurological dangers of hostility, fear, authoritarianism, and idealism, and they suggest that we all have a fundamentalistic and an atheistic mentality hardwired in the brain.

Ch 8: "Exercising Your Brain" Included are eight ways to keep your brain physically and mentally tuned-up. Even yawning appears to be an amazing way to calm down a dysfunctional brain, and they have about 40 references to support this claim. In fact, they include over a 1000 endnotes and references to support what many might think are widely speculative claims. For me, as a professional, this is wonderful, because it shows that they didn't cherry-pick the research; indeed they admirably point out the weaknesses to their own conclusions and work.

Ch 9: "Finding Serenity" This chapter, and the next, are filled with simple, well-tested meditation techniques to help any reader, of any religious or nonreligious persuasion, to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression while enhancing cognition,memory, and greater sensitivity and empathy toward one's self and others. This well-documented research shows that nearly any meditation technique can be removed from its theological background to provide beneficial neurological and psychological changes. The authors also provide convincing evidence that only a few minutes of meditation, throughout the day, improves the functioning of the brain.

Ch 10: "Compassionate Communication" This is an original meditation exercise that can be used when dialoguing with others. It takes fifteen minutes to learn, and their research shows that it improves compassion social intimacy by 11%, even when done with with strangers. They then include nearly a dozen ways to quickly resolve interpersonal conflicts,all of which make sound psychological sense.

Finally, in the epilogue, the authors talk briefly about their own journeys into the murky domain where science and religion intersects.

This is a "must read" book for believers and nonbelievers alike, and it might even help, as the authors suggest, to bring a little more peace and tolerance into this world. God knows we need it!
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62 of 65 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of Kindle edition, May 23, 2009
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The title of "God" in the book does not bias this book in any way. The book doesn't advocate for any religion or for God, but instead rationally and objectively discusses how thinking about "God" -- whatever one's vision of god is, that's not the point -- affects your brain. It isn't a book on how GOD affects your brain, but rather, a book on how YOUR THINKING of God affects your brain. It contains numerous graphics and illustrations which came out very well on the K2. It is an interesting book to read, and thankfully has very little to do with theology. It's about studying the brain. Atheists, agnostics, fundamentalists, spiritualists, westerners, easterners, etc ... -- everyone will find this book interesting, and non-offensive. Recommended.
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58 of 62 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tavis Smiley Interview on PBS National TV on 4-10-09, April 9, 2009
By 
Andrew Davidson (Thousand Oaks,CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Hardcover)
If you want to get a flavor of what this book is about, check out the Tavis Smiley PBS national television interview with co-author Mark Waldman. If you google "tavis smiley pbs waldman" you'll easily find on the Public Broadcasting Station's site the brief interview that aired on April 10, 2009. It captures Waldman's and Newberg's "mission" to use neuroscientific research in practical, pragmatic ways, especially when dealing with conflicts between people who hold different points of view, be they relational, political, or religious. When you engage in any form of gentle contemplative spiritual practice - meditation, prayer, even positive thinking and affirmations - the brain-scan studies clearly show that you can permanently change its neurological structure and function in ways that improve memory, cognition, and compassion, while simultaneously suppressing anxiety, depression, anger, fear, and rage. To paraphrase the authors, "spiritual practice, be it religious or secular, helps to bring a little more peace into one's personal life, and if you take that sense of peacefulness into conversations with others, it may even help to bring a little more peace into the world."
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59 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars PROVOCATIVE AND USEFUL: 5 STARS+, March 24, 2009
By 
Chris Manning (Los Angeles, CA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist (Hardcover)
I'm a professor of business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and I have to say that I was blown away by this book, for the simple reason that I have a deep love for science, and a deep appreciation of meditation and spiritual practices. Like the previous reviews, I was surprised to see a neuroscience book be simultaneously recommended by Time Magazine and Oprah. I have followed Newberg and Waldman's research for years, and have actually used some of the focusing exercises they describe in their book to help my students do better in class. I think this is their best book yet, because anyone can use their simple exercises to help stay focused on their commitments, goals, and personal values. I plan to try out their new exercises, like Compassionate Communication, to see if I can improve social empathy with my fiance' as well as my students. I believe that they have solid documented research to show that the exercises in the book actually improve the sales potential of business people (this is based on a Stanford University study that taught a forgiveness meditation to executives at American Express). I recently found out that Waldman is conducting research at Moorpark College showing that sitting quietly or yawning for a few minutes before taking a class can improve student test scores by an entire grade point. This book goes beyond the normal self-help books because it is solidly grounded in Newberg's brain scan research showing how the simple exercises they offer in the book change the structure and function of the brain. Here are some of the points that particularly interested me:

1. Different parts of the brain construct different perceptions and experiences of the world, including one's concept of God.

2. Every human brain constructs a unique image and conception of reality and God.

3. Spiritual practices can be stripped of their religious beliefs and still benefit the brain. And they can also be adapted to traditions with different theological beliefs.

4. Meditation is good for everyone, whether you believe or disbelieve in God.

5. The longer you meditate, the more you change your brain in very positive ways.

I particularly like the research that showed how optimism, hope, faith, and positive thinking is the most important thing we can do to maintain a healthy brain.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars 2 Years Later, November 9, 2012
It was 2 years ago I read the book How God Changes Your Brain.

I picked it up because it suggested that if I was spiritual, I could change my brain and make a transformative change in my life.

I felt I could trust the book because it was written by a neuroscientist and a therapist.

They had been doing extensive research on the subject.

The book is vast in scope.

In this review, however, I will focus only on meditation.

Because it's what I learned from the book.

The Man With The Memory Loss...

The authors give an example of a middle-aged man who came to them seeking help with memory loss.

They taught him to meditate and had him meditate for just 12 minutes a day for 6 weeks.

After those 6 weeks, the man performed 50% better on memory tests.

Meditation had changed the neural connections in his brain.

Wow, if only I could change my brain, I thought to myself.

There would be so much to gain.

Perhaps I could pray or meditate away anger, judgmentalism, criticism, self-centeredness, anxiety, guilt and other bad mental habits.

I had to give it a try.

There are many ways to meditate.

My brother-in-law Arun prefers Twin-Heart Meditation and for Candy Crowley, the mediator of the 2012 VP debate, it is some form of TM.

I used the technique right out of the book How God Changes Your Brain.

The same technique used by the man with the memory loss.

I set aside 12 minutes a day, during which I would

Repeat a simple mantra.

Keep time with my fingers.

Focus my thoughts on what I wanted to change.

And since it was beneficial to add an additional physical activity if possible, I rode a stationary bike at the gym.

And so I began meditating thanks to reading how God Changes Your Brain.

From Small Beginnings...

At first, 12 minutes was tough - I'd keep checking the time on my cell phone.

But after a week of keeping at it, I was able to go for 20 minutes.

20 minutes then became an hour.

Soon I found I could meditate at will.

I was meditating before going to bed...when I woke up in the morning...when I was stuck in traffic...when I was waiting at the end of a phone line.

And I abandoned the fingers and the mantra. I had learned to focus my mind without those.

Intrinsic Satisfaction...

I discovered an intrinsic satisfaction from meditating itself.

I did not care if the meditation was succeeding or failing, if I was doing it right, or if indeed my mind was changing.

It just felt like the right thing to do - a worthwhile use of my time.

Harvesting the Fruits...

And slowly, but surely, I began to harvest the fruits...

Peace...

One of the first fruits was peace.

I began to feel more peaceful than I had ever felt before in my life.

Even if I got rattled by anything, I found that all I had to do was meditate for 15 minutes after and I would become peaceful again.

What Was Bad Was Now Good...

Dark moments became light moments.

For example, if I woke up in the middle of the night, instead of worrying and getting anxious, I would have flashes of insight and inspirations for my writing and creative solutions to problems I needed to solve.

Living In the Moment...

More and more, I found myself living not in the past, nor in the future, but in the moment.

An unintended consequence of being fully present in the moment was I became a better listener - completely available to anyone who was speaking to me.

Calmness...

My responses to provocations and problems changed. Where before I used to get riled, criticize, become defensive, blame, issue ultimatums, or adopt a stony silence, more and more, I was able to watch those negative emotions and words bubble up and then subside; they would come and go and I was able to just observe them with compassion.

Acceptance and Patience...

I learned to accept and move on from things I could not change.

I gave up being stuck on ideas, rules, and my own perfectionism, replacing expectations with expectancy.

In time, it would transform my relationship with my daughter as I went from Tiger Mom to Helicopter Mom to Hippie Mom - a change you can read about in my post It's Called Motherhood -2 on my blog Minoo Jha Life Strategies.

2 years later I am still meditating and enjoying all these fruits of meditation.

And it's all thanks to reading How God Changes Your Brain.

Note: This was previously published on my blog Minoo Jha Life Strategies in a post Connected Minds which is about synchronicity.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evidence based "medicine", January 12, 2011
I enjoyed greatly the first two-thirds of the book (i.e. pg 1 - 144). The authors give lots of evidence (with clear references mostly from peer-reviewed journals) on how religious practices, e.g. meditation and prayers, can physically change the brain. Meditation and prayers can enhance the functioning of the anterior cingulate gyrus, and subdue the activation of the parietal lobe and amydala - essentially giving you a sense of compassion and removing the sensation of self-centeredness and negative emotions like anger and fear.

The book does talk about the concept of God. But don't expect a totally comprehensive account. As there is an underlying assumption that the mind is the physical brain, certain traditional Christian concepts have to be discarded by the authors outright. Personally, in spite of being a physician, I believe in the existence of a non-physical soul. My disagreement with the authors does not significantly diminish my enjoyment of the book.

The last part of the book (pg 149-248) talks about relaxation, meditation, and communication skills. It is difficult to assoicate these topics with God or religion. Although engaging on their own right, I find them slightly out of place.

As a practisting medical specialist, I am deeply fascinated by the scientific facts presented in this book. I particularly liked checking out the original articles in the endnotes section (pg 259-333). For instance, learning that yoga can change the level of NK (natural killer) cells is a revelation.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Psychologist Suggests This Book For Patients withTreatment Resistant Depression, August 2, 2011
Periodically I am asked treat a patient who has been unresponsive to cognitive behavioral and or psychodynamic psychotherapy as well as psychopharmacologic interventions by medical specialists.
In these cases I explore spiritual dimensions of the patients life. At times, when clinically appropriate, I have suggested that patients consult with clergy to experiment with prayer as an adjunct to traditonal mental health treatment. Often times these patients ask " why would I pray?"
I have responded with a statement such as "It may help your brain".
Now, I suggest they read Newberg and Waldmans book "HOW GOD CHANGES YOUR BRAIN".
Chronically depressesd, demoralized, and hopeless patients have at times been struck by the scientific evidence of the effects of prayer on brain functioning.
I highly recommend this book as bibliotherapy for that subgroup of treatment resistant patients.

Martin E. Keller, Ed.D.ABPP
Diplomate in Clinical Psychology
11020 North Tatum Blvd.
Phoenix, Arizona 85028
602 996 8619
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59 of 73 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, repetitive, oversimplified, May 3, 2010
By 
Alberto Vargas (San Francisco, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
I barely got myself to finish this book, mostly because I am a voracious reader who hates not finishing a book.

The first half or so is full of somewhat superficial and repetitive descriptions of the brain and what different parts do, plus some unrepresentative surveys of people of different spiritual or religious backgrounds. Some very non-mainstream beliefs are represented, while major faiths like Catholicism, Islam, or many Protestant branches are virtually absent. These survey subjects are asked to think about God and either describe or draw what they imagine, or their brains are MRI/CAT scanned. The endnotes are 25% of the book. So this leaves a couple of useful chapters: one on how to exercise your brain (smiling, relaxing, yawning, meditation / prayer, mental exercises, physical exercises), and one on compassionate communication. All in all, turns out that religious faith, or meditation without religion, are both good for your brain and can bring about lasting and observable changes if practised regularly over long periods of time. Hence the major thumbs up and positive reviews "for believers and atheists alike".

The book is short enough and contains enough up-to-date brain science (in popular, easy-to-read form) that it is probably worth reading. It is also worth skipping :)
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Dubious Disciple Book Review, January 17, 2011
I see this as two books in one: first, a basic look at the malleability of our brain and how it can be trained--specifically, how spiritual practices rebuild neural paths within our brain--and second, a practical guide to basic meditation.

I give the first half five stars. I didn't read all of the second half. Guess that means I should drop my rating one star. It's not that I'm not interested in meditation, because I'm thoroughly convinced of its spiritual and mental value; it's that, like 95% of the rest of you, I ignore what's good for me in favor of what I enjoy. And I enjoy learning about the brain.

This isn't an evangelical book. It won't direct you to Christianity or Eastern religions or any other belief system. Nor is it ragging on the evils of religion, as the title might make you think. It's a very positive-minded book about the value of prayer, meditation, and belief. "God" does change your brain, because repeated mental exercise and directed thinking rebuilds neural paths for a healthier, happier life. If--as is my observation--Christians in general live happier, healthier lives than non-believers, there is a solid, scientific reason for that. The Christian brain is wired for spiritual well-being.

I emphasize Christians only because Christianity is my heritage. This book is written for skeptics and believers alike, and definitely worth reading.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your brain on God, May 29, 2012
By 
Sam "SamUVA" (Charlottesville, VA USA) - See all my reviews
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Twelve minutes of meditation or prayer a day will increase blood flow to your frontal lobes. Keep at it for as little as eight weeks and you will "take charge of your life," "more easily accomplish your goals," and live in more "loving and compassionate ways." This works even if you don't contemplate God. The meditation can be religious or secular.

How God Changes the Brain isn't entirely about God (I'll describe the parts that are about God at the end.) It's about attention. The authors have conducted numerous studies on how paying attention to the virtues often associated with religion--love, joy, optimism and hope--changes brain chemistry. "[I]t counteracts our biological propensity to react to dangerous situations with animosity or fear," the authors write. The benefits are too numerous to list: less likelihood of depression, slowdown of Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and stronger memory. Kids miss less school and don't get into trouble as often. Your risk of death goes down 35 percent.

35 percent! Who wouldn't buy a prescription to extend your life by 5 to 10 years? And every strategy in this book is free. Yes, the authors recommend DVDs and CDs in the appendices, but all the practices can be done without those.

My favorite meditation was Kirtan Kriya. You sit and chant four syllables, while moving your thumb across your four fingers with each syllable. The four syllables could be "sa-ta-na-ma," which is traditional, but it also could "peace, love, hope, and joy." Anything that gets you in a compassionate frame of mind.

The candle meditation was new to me as well. "Bring your focus to the flame. Let it fill your entire consciousness as you observe how it dances and flutters. What colors does it make? Does the flame grow taller, then retreat? Keep watching all of the qualities of the flame for three or four minutes."

Here's a method for adding centeredness and compassion to conversation: "Bringing meditation into any conversation is surprisingly simple. All you have to do is maintain consistent eye contact and stay physically relaxed and mindful of your responses as you participate in a flow of spontaneous conversation. You say a few sentences slowly, then return to your breathing awareness while the other person responds. The unstructured conversation that follows will quickly move into surprisingly intimate areas. And, like the walking meditation we discussed in the previous chapter, the more you practice, the easier it becomes."

The authors are big on yawning. You might be too after reading about all the benefits of yawning on a regular basis, even consciously.

Finally, back to religion: The most explicitly religious portion of the book discusses the differences between different understandings of God. There is the authoritarian God, the critical God, and the distant God. About 72 percent of Americans believe in one of these three. "[O]nly 23 percent see God as gentle, forgiving, and less likely to respond with wrath." The authors strongly encourage us to embrace the latter God. Doing so is how we can tame our "selfish brain." "The more compassionate we become," they write, "the more generous those around us become. And when we perceive others as being sensitive to our needs, our brains respond with greater generosity, a condition known as reciprocal altruism." Even they admit, however, that their views are unlikely to be convincing to a "true believer." That truth, unfortunately, is what is preventing many from embracing religion, despite the benefits recounted in this book.
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