It is breathtaking to learn that we have the ability to physically and functionally change our brains. Dr. Andrew Newberg, director of the Center for Spirituality and the Mind at the University of Pennsylvania has devoted his career to examine how the practice of meditation changes both the structure and the function of the brain. These changes have been revealed by sophisticated imaging techniques.

Newberg’s work has shown that the practice of meditation enhances blood flow as well as function in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate.

The anterior cingulate mediates empathy, social awareness, intuition, and compassion. The anterior cingulate mediates communication between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The anterior cingulate helps determine whether our behavior is reflexive or reactively fear motivated! Spiritual practices strengthen the anterior cingulate while calming the primitive amygdala.

The amygdala is a small almond shaped structure that sits in front of each temporal lobe, so there are two. The amygdala governs our “fight or flight” instantaneous responses to real or imagined threat.

Anger basically shuts down the communication to the prefrontal cortex, also known as your frontal lobes. When your frontal lobes shut down, it’s impossible to listen to other people, let alone feel empathy or compassion.