People have believed for thousands of years that appealing to a higher power in times of illness, despair, or trouble of any sort through prayer, has a certain power in it that can ultimately lead to healing and deliverance. This practice is common to basically all faiths but differs in the approach taken.
The word “prayer” is derived from the Latin word “precarius” which means to obtain through begging or to entreat. Regardless of which higher power one believes in, the positive power of prayer is one element shared by all religions which is what leads people to look beyond themselves and turn matters that are out of their control over to a higher power.
Prayers come in many different forms, depending on the particular religion and personal preference of the believer. Some people prefer to pray aloud, while others are more comfortable praying quietly to themselves. One may pray for a specific outcome, or just in general. People may pray for themselves, or for others, which is called intercessory prayer.
Other types include petition, contemplative, distant healing, and centering prayers, as well as meditations. The purpose of each of these is to connect with a higher power in mind and spirit to receive guidance and assistance.
When people are faced with an illness and are experiencing pain in their bodies, they will often turn to prayer in hopes of experiencing recovery and relief of suffering. In surveys conducted on patients afflicted with a serious illness, it has been indicated that approximately 90 percent of them will pray to their higher power for healing and wellness. In fact it is the most common form of non-drug, complementary medicine people use for pain management.
There are specific health benefits that have been associated with the act of praying as well as various forms of meditation, which is closely related to it. Psychological and biological changes which have been noted include; lowered blood pressure levels both when moving and still, lowered heart rate, improved cardio-respiratory synchronization, boosted immune response, decreased levels of reactive oxygen in the bloodstream, less anxiety and an overall improved disposition. Studies have also indicated that faith-based prayer tends to produce better results than secular meditation.
The empirical nature of science dictates that it cannot readily acknowledge the possibility that the fate of human beings may in fact be out of their control and instead determined by a higher power which is why this discipline attempts to justify the positive physical response that praying has on the body. Science purports that perhaps the state of relaxation, peace, and expectation produced when one prays and turns his or her concerns over to a higher power, in turn lowers blood pressure and the production of the stress hormone cortisol, improving immunity against illness, and the body’s ability to heal itself.
People who have a religious affiliation and active spiritual life normally pray, amongst other expressions of their faith. Some research indicates a correlation between a person’s mental, physical, and spiritual health in that those with religious beliefs and most likely involvement with a place of worship of one kind or another, generally enjoy better mental and physical health. This is believed to be a result of the attitudes of belief, hope, and faith which these individuals mostly live by.
When someone prays, it has been found to stimulate a “relaxation response” in the body, as opposed to a stress response. The body’s cardiovascular system responds with a lower heart and respiratory rate, reduced blood pressure and need for oxygen resulting in lower production of carbon dioxide. Patients suffering from clinical depression have also demonstrated better response to treatment when they have faith. It is also believed that the stronger support network of those who are spiritually or religiously influenced, besides praying itself, may also contribute to these beneficial effects on body and mind.
Less evidence exists pertaining to intercession, or the act of praying for another person, with most findings being limited to prayer for oneself. As one may expect, there are some obstacles encountered when it comes to studying the effects of prayer from a scientific point of view; there is the problem of having too small a sample size, determining the most effective way to select subjects, control group uncertainty, the fact that there is no standard form of methodology for this purpose, and finally that there really is no way of knowing for certain that a higher power is actually intervening to produce results, or if it is just due to other physical or psychological phenomena.