Prayer has been practiced for more than 5000 years. Billions of people around the world pray every day. So, could there be some benefits in the act of prayer?
Unfortunately, several studies proved that prayer did not improve the health of the person for whom prayer is offered. Surprisingly, one even concluded that patients with knowledge of receiving prayer had slightly more complications…
But what about the effects on the person praying? First, there are different types of prayers to distinguish:
Thanksgiving: expressions of gratitude,
Meditative and contemplative prayers, such as adoration,
Confession: admission of negative behaviors and request for forgiveness,
Supplication: requests for intervention in specific life events for oneself or others,
Obligatory prayers: fixed required prayers repeated at each worship time.
According to one study, less ego-focused prayers (thanksgiving, meditative, contemplative) positively affected optimism and well-being. In contrast, ego-focused prayers (confession, supplication, obligatory) actually had a negative or null effect!
“Egoless” prayers are similar to meditation and mindfulness practices that emphasize the negation of ego. The Mayo Clinic, in effect, describes prayer as “the best known and most widely practiced example of meditation.” And some see meditation as a “secular prayer.”
It is proven that people who express gratitude regularly are happier, feel better, exercise more, and have fewer visits to physicians, among other benefits. So it is no wonder that thanksgiving prayers improve well-being.
We know that contemplative prayers and meditation involve the same parts of the brain. And, contrary to prayer, there are many studies on the effects of meditation. There’s in particular evidence that meditation can reduce anxiety, depression, and pain.
But it seems that meditation—so probably also egoless prayers—can do more. A 2017 review indeed concluded that meditation might also strengthen the immune system by:
Increasing the number of CD-4 cells, the immune system’s helper cells,
Reducing markers of inflammation,
Increasing telomerase activity, avoiding cancer and premature aging.
Some results are mindblowing: for example, a 2008 study conducted at UCLA concluded that “mindfulness meditation slows progression of HIV”!
Someone recently told me that I should pray in order not to be sick. Raised in pure Cartesianism, I, of course, dismissed their advice. But they, and millions of other believers, may actually be right! Similarly, fasting is practiced in various religions, but it’s only quite recently that the health benefits of intermittent fasting have been identified. So what else could we learn from the ancient wisdom of religions?
What do you think? Do you meditate or pray and feel some benefits?