New Neuroscience Research Helps Explain Our Growing Attraction to Spiritual Retreats

The findings, although preliminary, suggest that engaging in a spiritual retreat can have a short-term impact on the brain’s “feel good” dopamine and serotonin function — two of the neurotransmitters associated with positive emotions. Researchers studied the effects of attending a week-long retreat involving silent contemplation and prayer based on the Jesuit teachings of Saint Ignatius of Loyola. They scanned the brains of 14 Christians who participated in the study, ranging in ages from 24 to 76, before and after the retreat. The study subjects showed marked improvements in their perceived physical health, tension, and fatigue, as well as reporting feelings of self-transcendence.

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