As part of my morning spiritual reading and meditation, I’ve just finished studying – and working to apply – a fascinating new book entitled How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist. Co-author Andrew Newberg M.D. is the director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania. Co-author Mark Robert Waldman is a therapist and associate fellow at the Center. This unique new book is exactly the type I love because it combines solid research with mystical teachings, powerful anecdotes and personal experiences, along with very practical application exercises.

Based on their extensive brain scanning, surveying, and analysis, the authors and their research team found that active and positive spiritual belief changes our brains for the better. But, they conclude, “actual faith isn’t always necessary: atheists who meditate on positive imagery can obtain similar neurological benefits.” They also found that there is no one faith or approach healthiest for our brain – as long as it’s rooted in love and compassion. Extreme and negative beliefs rooted in anger and prejudice can permanently damage our brains. When we look at the havoc wrought on this world by religious extremism and hate, these findings have deep implications for global security and humanity’s collective well being.

My copy is full of underlining and lots of notes. Here’s just one passage summarizing some of their intriguing findings:

“We can evoke or suppress specific emotions and focus our thoughts in ways that biologically influence other parts of the brain. From a neuroscientific perspective, this is astonishing because it upsets the traditional view that we cannot voluntarily influence non-conscious areas of the brain. Only human beings can think themselves into happiness or despair, without any influence from the outside world. Thus, the more we engage in spiritual practices, the more we gain control over our body, mind, and fate.”

The book has a series of chapters with many simple and practical application exercises that I find very useful. As I’ve struggled to learn how to tame my “monkey mind” through mediation, some of the techniques they’ve outlined are very helpful for starting my day and relaxing at bedtime for a better sleep.

This research further illustrates the power of positive choice that I’ve written quite a lot about. Two fairly recent blog posts are (click on the titles to read them) Which Framing Level? Wallowing, Following or Leading, and Harnessing the Phenomenal Power of Self-Hypnosis With Affirmations. In the March issue of The Leader Letter I included an item on our Range of Reality: Choosing the Best or the Worst of Times excerpted from Growing @ the Speed of Change.