During the majority of the modern era, religion and medicine were two things that stood on the opposite sides of a great divide. Religion was for the soul; medicine, for the body. For little over a decade now, medical therapies combining the two have bridged the gap and have been making their way into mainstream medicine.
Prayer, in one form or another, is a part of nearly every religion in the world. As with meditation, it has been found that prayer promotes a feeling of relaxation that leads to an increase in both mental and physical wellness. Not surprisingly, many people feel a deep sense of calm or inner peace after praying. Visible changes in brain activity during prayer have been documented in clinical studies time and time again.
Prayer is expressed in a variety of ways: spoken out loud or in thought, alone or in groups. Most types of prayer can be divided into the four categories of meditative prayer, ritualistic prayer, petitionary prayer or conversational prayer.
Meditative prayer induces a state of relaxation through focus on a particular topic, word, sound, or phrase. Ritualistic prayer involves reciting learned texts as part of a particular religious tradition or training. Petitionary prayer consists of addressing a divine being directly to request something. Conversational prayer involves speaking on a personal level with God about the individual’s thoughts or feelings.
According to polls, many Americans believe that faith and prayer in any form can benefit health, and as a result, medical schools have begun teaching courses on religious and spiritual issues with many hospitals and clinics setting up centers for spirituality and healing.
The study of prayer in medical terms means studying the physiology of the relaxation response. Areas of the brain that control relaxation show increased activity leading to physical changes in the body. Researchers find that when people pray, there’s decreased metabolism, decreased heart rate, decreased blood pressure, decreased rate of breathing, slower brain waves and feelings of control, peace, and tranquility. Can prayer be a cure by itself? Researchers do not believe that it can. However, data shows that those who do pray are healthier and in fact, recover quicker when they are using medicine. As people pray, they begin to believe and feel that they are contributing to the well being of the order of things on a universal level. This also provides a sense of belonging and necessity, which in effect, also promotes healing.
The question of whether or not people’s prayers for others have an effect on a cure is also a point of interest in studies. Results have been mixed and at best inconclusive. While many doctors believe in the healing power that prayer can have, most are skeptical of ‘distance healing’- a mental effort or concentration with the intention of improving or changing the circumstances/well-being of another. Researchers prefer to rely on data from those practicing prayer in one of the four categories.
Just as time has bridged the gap between medicine and prayer, who knows what may further develop down the road. The study of religion and medicine is only in its beginning stages. Even after a decade, the surface of using prayer and medicine in the mainstream has barely been scratched. With the convergence of religion and science, nowhere is more headway being made than in medicine and it remains an open and unexplored territory with many discoveries to be made.
The informational content of this article is intended to convey general educational
information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.