Spirituality Found in Brain Circuitry Supports Health Interventions that Include Faith Based Practices
by Rebecca E. Webber
New study lends evidence to idea that combining spiritual practices with modern health and wellness interventions can help any recovery journey be all the more effective.
“A new study led by investigators at Brigham and Women's Hospital takes a new approach to mapping spirituality and religiosity and finds that spiritual acceptance can be localized to a specific brain circuit.” (ScienceDaily) This research study helps add substance to the idea that a productive spiritual practice can have a positive impact on one’s ability to heal.
Our faith in “something more” than ourselves is a very old human trait. Brighman and Women’s Hospital’s study compliments this understanding of human development by providing evidence that the “brain circuit for spirituality is centered in one of the most evolutionarily preserved structures in the brain." The latest paleoanthropological findings indicate that very early humans shared in group meals, spiritually laden storytelling and collaborative art (Neuendorf). These hyper-social activities ultimately gave us a leg up over our Neanderthal cousins who were less likely to share resources, mythology and build large communities (Out of the Cradle).
In my work as an energy management coach and Reiki practitioner I combine modern neuroscience with old world healing methodologies every day. I also personally use and teach “magical self care” techniques which combine practical personal bodymind healing techniques with fun and habit-forming spiritual practices. For me, healing is all the more potent when we use the entire toolbox from cutting edge research to tried and true kitchen garden remedies.
One could argue that self healing activities such as breathwork, yoga and meditation successfully straddle the line between the spiritual and secular. Though there is much controversy surrounding the appropriateness of disconnecting these historic practices from their religious roots, there are endless studies to prove how effective these acts are even for non-believers (NCCIH). However, those who practice these healing modalities connected with their spiritual associations have access to a deeper and more potent set of experiences to aid them in their personal development.
Brighman and Women’s Hospital’s study also lends to the possible assistance spirituality can have on not only physical healing but recovery from mental and emotional pain associated with trauma as well. The “brain circuit [associated with spirituality] is centered in the periaqueductal gray (PAG), a brainstem region that has been implicated in numerous functions, including fear conditioning, pain modulation, altruistic behaviors and unconditional love.” Because these functions are physically linked in this part of the brain, one can argue that our faith can help alter our lived experience beyond the trials of post-traumatic living. When working with clients who have experienced trauma, we at Sapient Living spend the majority of our facilitated time helping individuals evolve the way they perceive their experience and how it affects their actions today.
There is new evidence that combining spiritual practices with modern health and wellness interventions can help any recovery journey be all the more effective. More research needs to be done to determine what the best way forward for implementing this in a clinical setting would be as well as the appropriateness in different environments. That being said, for those of us already practicing in both realms, this finding only supports what we already know to be true.