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For example, if a person is repeating the rosary, or meditating on a chant, both involve focus and language centers of the brain, and we can expect those parts to be in use. There are some generalizations he can make. The frontal lobe and particularly the prefrontal cortex, which help us to concentrate, are very frequently activated in different meditation and prayer practices, where there's a focus of attention, he says. The parietal lobes tend to quiet down, which is the region of the brain that involves our sense of self, and sense of space and time.

Practices that evoke emotions, like the feeling the love of god, or loving-kindness meditation, will activate parts of the reward system in the brain, which has to do with dopamine and serotonin, and can affect the limbic system, the emotional centers of the brain. The other piece of the puzzle is the autonomic nervous system, which regulates our heart rate and blood pressure, and helps us to feel that sense of relaxation, not only in the brain, but in the body.

Doing a meditation practice that involves calming ourselves down causes the heart rate to go down, blood pressure to go down, and stress hormones go down. Even with all that knowledge, he says we don't yet know enough about each kind of practice to start using them therapeutically. We know that many of these practices work.

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We know that many of these practices affect the brain. They all affect the brain a little bit differently.

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But we don't know if some work better or worse. This is where Sloan's argument could rebut: that everything changes the brain, not just spiritual practices.

While Newberg agrees that these practices utilize the same basic brain areas that we use to read, talk, and think—he argues that they do so in more complex ways. Our brain and our body are meant to be used, and the more we use them, typically, the better off we are. The reasons why these practices can show benefits has little to do with god, then, and more to do with the fact that you're simply using your brain.

Think of it like exercise, Newberg says.

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It's an overall strengthening of important brain regions, like attention and emotional regulation, that can help other cognitive processes, since they all share the same brain networks. She tried yoga for physical therapy, and when she began the practice—which included meditation—she started to feel its effects.

Like Newberg, Lazar's first studies were in long-term meditators. When compared to non-meditators, she found they had distinct differences in the insula, an area involved in integrating sensory and cognitive information and areas in the front of the brain that's involved in cognition, and is the number one region associated with fluid intelligence, or IQ. The front of the brain result interested her, because of its relationship with aging.

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You may not have to be a long-time meditator to reap its rewards. Yi-Yuan Tang, a professor of psychological sciences and presidential endowed chair in neuroscience at Texas Tech University, has put people through five-week meditation training courses, and found improvements in participants' attention and self-regulation, along with changes in white matter in related brain areas.

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He looked into changes in the body as well, and found that even after only five days of integrative body-mind training, people showed better physiological reactions in heart rate, respiratory amplitude, and skin conductance response SCR than a control group. He also found significant decreases in stress hormones measured from blood or saliva samples after the five sessions.

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He's previously shown that two weeks of meditation training—just five hours total— could help reduce smoking. His smokers also showed increased activity for the brain areas related to self-control. To Lazar, these kinds of results make sense. People think you're just sitting there spacing out. That's not it at all. It's actually quite the opposite.

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Like Newberg, she thinks of it as exercise. Training specific centers of your brain makes them stronger, and can have overall benefits to the body, like stress reduction. Prayer and meditation overlap in many ways, and within those similarities, she says they probably help just the same. Prayer : to make a request in a humble manner; to address God or a god with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving. In theory, there are 7 billion different types of prayer. There are also 7 billion different types of meditation.

Each person has a different goal for their session. Thousands of different prayers exist, as do thousands of meditations. Both can be silent or spoken aloud. It would be silly to try and generalize, saying that all prayers are a certain way, and all meditations are a certain way. Prayers are an integral part for monotheistic religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

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There are prayers for the sick and for those less fortunate than the one praying. There are prayers for forgiveness. Most prayers, though, include a part or all of these components. Meditations are found all over the world, especially in Eastern religions. Most of these meditations come from Buddhism and its founder, Siddhartha Gautama, aka Buddha. Meditations follow a certain formality; sit in silence and put certain thoughts or no thoughts in your mind.

You sit there and follow your breath. Scientific studies on meditations are much more prevalent, possibly because meditations are secular in nature. While the aim of meditation includes longevity, happiness, and peace of mind, the peril of such a self-focus is that it can lead to an ever-expanding ego instead of providing a pathway to greater humility and love.

This pathway is found in Christian prayer which purposefully seeks salvation and eternal life with God, which is union with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So having briefly considered both disciplines, it is clearly more profitable to invest time in prayer. This illumination would reveal that the difference between prayer and meditation is prayer is speaking our desire while meditation is listening for the answer.

My first choice would be prayer, for we must quiet and focus our mind to open the dialog with our spirit. Clear focused intent, stating what we are seeking, is the first step. Prayer is communication with God. It includes speaking with God and hearing from God. The Bible reveals that there are many different kinds of prayer including intercession, praise, confession and thanksgiving.

All of these forms of prayer are beneficial. Prayer can also include silent listening or contemplative reflection on a Bible verse or on one of the attributes of God. Other religious traditions refer to this as meditation. But for Christ followers these are simply ways we connect with God through prayer. Thus, meditation for Christians is a contemplative form of prayer. Unfortunately, today in our fast-paced society meditative prayer is rarely practiced by Christ followers. This is to our detriment.

Jesus regularly drew away from the crowds for prayer We will greatly benefit by following Jesus' example.

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Our spiritual lives are enriched by connecting with God through meditative prayer. He is generally considered an individual responsible for popularizing yoga to the west through his television program in the s. The yoga best known in the United States is the primarily physical program called hatha yoga. There are a multitude of different kinds of yoga. By contrast, Raj Yoga is a distinctly psychological kind of yoga practiced by Hindus and Buddhists, and an essential feature of it is meditation.

Meditation essentially involves stilling the monkey-chatter of our minds, and its essential purpose is to put the individual into contact with the divine. Prayer, by contrast, essentially involves thought, which meditation strives to supplant. This stillness distinguishes prayer from meditation. Faith Forum is a weekly dialogue on religion produced by religious statesman Rajan Zed.