7 Oct 2015

Mental health week 2015: Meditation for mindfulness vs meditation in religion or spiritual practice

What effect does the type of meditation have
on your brain?
Dr Neil Bailey from MAPrc has co-authored a study which explores whether mindfulness meditation has the same effect on the brain as meditation in spiritual practice.

According to the study, individuals who practise meditation religiously or spiritually and those who practise mindfulness meditation often report a greater sense of compassion, wellbeing, feeling of wholeness, decreased anxiety, and faster recovery from mental illness.

The report examines neuroimaging research that has focused on groups of meditating individuals, groups who engage in religious/spiritual practices, and research that has examined groups who perform both practices together, in an attempt to assess whether the effects on people's mindfulness are the same.



Differences in the balance of activity between the parietal and prefrontal cortical activation were found between the three groups. A relative prefrontal increase was reflective of mindfulness, which related to decreased anxiety and improved well-being.

A relative decrease in activation of the parietal cortex, specifically the inferior parietal cortex, appeared to be reflective of spiritual belief, whether within the context of meditation or not.

Because mindful and spiritual practices differ in focus regarding the ‘self’ or ‘other’ (higher being), these observations about neurological components that reflect spirituality may continue work towards understanding how the definition of ‘self’ and ‘other’ is represented in the brain, and how this may be reflected in behaviour.

The study notes that future research can begin to use cohorts of participants in mindfulness studies which are controlled for using the variable of spirituality to explicitly examine how functional and structural similarities and differences may arise.

Reference: Barnby JM, Bailey NW, Chambers R, Fitzgerald PB. How similar are the changes in neural activity resulting from mindfulness practice in contrast to spiritual practice? Conscious Cogn. 2015 Nov;36:219-32. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.07.002. Epub 2015 Jul 11.

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