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How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist Hardcover – March 24, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 170 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Over the past decade or so, numerous studies have suggested that prayer and meditation can enhance physical health and healing from illness. In this stimulating and provocative book, two academics at the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Spirituality and the Mind contend that contemplating God actually reduces stress, which in turn prevents the deterioration of the brain's dendrites and increases neuroplasticity. The authors conclude that meditation and other spiritual practices permanently strengthen neural functioning in specific parts of the brain that aid in lowering anxiety and depression, enhancing social awareness and empathy, and improving cognitive functioning. The book's middle section draws on the authors' research on how people experience God and where in the brain that experience might be located. Finally, the authors offer exercises for enhancing physical, mental and spiritual health. Their suggestions are commonsensical and common to other kinds of health regimens: smile, stay intellectually active, consciously relax, yawn, meditate, exercise aerobically, dialogue with others and trust in your beliefs. Although the book's title is a bit misleading, since it is not God but spiritual practice that changes the brain, this forceful study could stir controversy among scientists and philosophers. Illus. (Mar. 24)
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Review

“To this musty debate, Newberg, perhaps America's leading expert on the neurological basis of religion, brings a fresh perspective. His new book summarizes several years of groundbreaking research on the biological basis of religious experience. And it offers plenty to challenge skeptics and believers alike.”--Michael Gerson’s editorial dedicated to the book for The Washington Post

“The authors present an elaborate, engaging meditation program to reduce anger and fear and increase serenity and love. They embrace faith (not necessarily religious), diversity, tolerance, and “compassionate communication. . . . A substantial advance in the self-help/spirituality genre and an excellent choice for general collections.”Library Journal

“Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman give us a magnificent, comprehensive explanation of how spiritual beliefs and experiences enhance changes in our brains and yield better health and well-being. They bring science and religion closer together.”—Herbert Benson, M.D., author of The Relaxation Response

How God Changes Your Brain is a highly practical, easy-to-read guide on the interface between spirituality and neuroscience, filled with useful information that can make your brain and your life better, starting today!”—Daniel G. Amen, M.D. author of Change Your Brain, Change Your Life

“Not since William James’s The Varieties of Religious Experience has there been a work that so exquisitely integrates science and spirituality. Newberg and Waldman have written a book that is wise, up-to-date, scholarly, mature, and imaginative. At the same time it is a down-to-earth work that will surely inspire repeated readings.”—George Vaillant, M.D., author of Spiritual Evolution

How God Changes Your Brain boldly explores the relationship between the structure of our brains and our ability not only to experience but to cultivate innate compassion and deep inner peace.” —Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., author of My Stroke of Insight

“The authors present an illuminating and encouraging view of the inner and outer workings of our neurological perception of reality and how profoundly it is affected by our spiritual practices. Their practical exercises for a brain tune-up are revolutionary, and I’m enjoying immensely including them in my daily spiritual regime.” —Michael Bernard Beckwith, author of Spiritual Liberation

“Stimulating and provocative. . . .The authors conclude that meditation and other spiritual practices permanently strengthen neural functioning in specific parts of the brain that aid in lowering anxiety and depression, enhancing social awareness and empathy, and improving cognitive functioning.. . . this forceful study could stir controversy among scientists and philosophers.”—Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 24, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345503414
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345503411
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (170 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #380,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: 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.
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Format: 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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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
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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Format: 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.
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