With each trend, notification and tool that pops up to ‘enhance’ our day to day, we find ourselves plunged deeper into the noise.
The world outside is buzzing, making it difficult to focus on the one within, adding to stress and anxiety.
For millennia, people have nurtured their inner worlds through spiritual practices which modern science is starting to link with mental and physical wellbeing.
In this article, we look at 14 spiritual, health and mental health benefits of prayer and meditation confirmed by scientific research and/or the great minds across cultures and ages.
“The mind is a powerful instrument. Every thought, every emotion that you create changes the very chemistry of your body.”
The Key Differences And Similarities Between Prayer And Meditation
Meditation refers to the mental and physical techniques that help us get centered, relieve stress and increase our ability to focus – at the very basic level.
Prayer is communication with the Higher Power.
“Prayer is when you talk to God, meditation is when you listen to God.”
The main differences between prayer and meditation are in:
- Their focus: Meditation is inwardly focused, leading the practitioners to seek their answers within themselves. Prayer is the exact opposite, focused on seeking answers and blessings from the Higher Power.
- Cultural context: While meditation has found its place in secular lives, prayer remains rooted in religion for most practitioners.
- Methodology: Both practices are exercised in a variety methods. The way we pray is usually determined by our religious customs, while the way we meditate is usually determined by the type of meditation we choose to practice (ex. mindfulness).
The main similarities between prayer and meditation are in their:
- Spiritual nature: Both practices help us nurture our spiritual beings, whether through the being itself or its relationship with the Higher Power.
- Healing effects: Science is slowly awakening to the fact that our spiritual wellbeing informs our mental and physical health.
Studies On The Benefits Of Prayer And Meditation: How Much Has Science Confirmed?
As people of faith, we wish we could confidently say that spiritual practices come with a set of clear, indisputable benefits.
Unfortunately, spirituality is not something we can easily contain in a science lab.
Research in this field has proven to be immensely difficult to design and carry out.
For instance, of hundreds of clinical studies on various types of meditation, only 10% have been deemed to be of good quality.
There has been even less research on the benefits of prayer both in terms of volume and validated conclusions.
What makes these spiritual practices so hard to study is their deeply personal nature.
Both prayer and meditation, no matter how common and streamlined they may be within our communities, are largely defined by the individual – by you.
- Your motives for praying or meditating are yours only.
- The intensity with which you commit yourself to these practices stems from the depth of your own conviction.
- Your connection with the Higher Power, with your inner self, your environment, your community, is intimate.
- Therefore, your methods, even the most ritualistic ones, are inherently unique.
This makes designing and executing studies, as well as generalizing conclusions on the effects of spiritual practices a challenge to the scientific community.
In many ways, how we embrace prayer or meditation in our lives determines the benefits it will have on our wellbeing.
- If we meditate to find peace, our minds and bodies are more likely to listen.
- If we pray for guidance, the Higher Power is more likely to provide it.
In this article, we will look at the benefits research has confirmed or found strong evidence to support.
When talking about spiritual benefits, we will rely on the wisdom of the great minds, as well as the experiences we can all relate to.
Studies On The Benefits Of Meditation
Psychological and neurological studies have produced some well-received results on the effects of mindfulness meditation on mental health.
The studies that have tried to determine the effects different types of meditation have on physical health have not been as successful.
This by no means implies that meditation is not beneficial to physical health. It only means that links between the cause and the effect require more research to become universally acknowledged.
As you will see in the latter parts of this article, several studies have established a strong correlation between the practice and better heart rate, blood pressure stabilization and even prolonged lifespan.
Studies On The Benefits Of Prayer
As mentioned earlier, there have been far fewer studies on the benefits of prayer than those on meditation.
Unlike meditation that has become religiously agnostic and found its place in secular lives, prayer remains largely rooted in religion for the majority of those who practice it.
As such, it becomes a more delicate research subject – one that brings in the complex sociological and, more specifically, cultural aspects to it.
This goes beyond methodology, i.e. how and how often you pray.
It also has a lot to do with how you feel about the practice.
Think about your own experience with religious prayer.
- For instance, if your parents had insisted on daily prayers while you were a rebellious child, your relationship with it may feel the strain of this obligation.
It may become more of a habit you were pressured into than a communication channel with God that you willingly seek.
- But think of the times you would get down on your knees and feel every word you utter; When you would feel the light of grace tingling on your skin and a soothing energy fill up your chest.
This stark contrast between a social obligation and a personal connection with the Higher Power is something we all have to acknowledge when discussing the benefits prayer.
“Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”
- Mahatma Gandhi
Spiritual Vs. Health Benefits Of Prayer And Meditation
We have segmented the benefits of prayer and meditation into three categories: spiritual, health and mental health, so they are easier to follow.
What is important to note is that these effects are interconnected in that one often causes another.
Spiritual peace underpins the state of our mental health, reducing stress and anxiety. These in turn can have a calming effect on our nervous system which can reflect on our heart rate and blood pressure.
With that in mind, let us look at the spiritual benefits of meditation and prayer.
5 Spiritual Benefits Of Meditation And Prayer
We listed these benefits based on the research into the greatest minds and universally shared experiences.
Spiritual practices are known to:
1. Soothe & Strengthen The Mind
One of the primary purposes of both prayer and meditation is to strip the mind of the inessential; To hit pause on the outside clamor and listen to the voice within, or let it flow to the power above.
After committing to either -or both- of these practices, most find themselves better able to focus, think clearly and remain calm in the face of stressful events.
“Quiet the mind, and the soul will speak.”
- Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati
2. Help Overcome Judgement & Prejudice
Through introspection and/or appealing to the unconditional love of the Creator – however you choose to name the Higher Power – we learn patience and acceptance.
In fact, multiple studies have linked different types of mindfulness meditation to a significant decrease in bias against particular social groups.
Similarly, the function of prayer in various cultures is to uplift the soul to a state of unconditional love which is in and of itself free of judgement.
“The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.”
- Soren Kierkegaard
3. Develop A Clearer Sense Of Self
Tying into the previous point, introspection and unconditional love provide a safe space to analyze and take better care of our own beings.
We learn that our perception of the world is merely the reflection of the one within, so we employ more attention to nurture it.
We start to let go of fear and anger like plucking out the weeds to make way for the garden.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
- Carl Gustav Jung
4. Deepen Interpersonal Connections Through Increased Empathy
Some research has found strong correlation between mindfulness meditation and increase in compassion.
We would extend this claim to prayer as well, as both practices tend to promote oneness, thus increasing or awareness and sensitivity to others.
Another logic we can apply to this claim is that by promoting self-awareness and unconditional love, these practices equip us with patience, understanding and love to share with others.
As the airplane safety instructions famously say: “Apply the oxygen mask to yourself first before attending to others.”
5. Deepen The Environmental Consciousness
Most spiritual practices teach us that we are one:
One with God; One with everything.
Through these and similar mantras, they are known to improve self-perception, increase empathy and emotional intelligence, and, as a result, increase our awareness of the ecosystem that we are a part of.
Additionally, on a more practical level, those committed to their spiritual wellbeing tend to eat healthier (at least when fasting) and consume less – both important aspects of environmentally friendly behavior.
5 Health Benefits Of Meditation And Prayer
Here we only look at the benefits that science has confirmed or found strong evidence for.
We invite you to read through each of the referenced studies for more insight.
Let’s get into it.
Spiritual practices can help:
1. Stabilize Our Heart Rate
Multiple studies on the effects of mindfulness meditation, specifically, show strong correlation between the consistent practices and the alleviation of prehypertension as well as a better response to heart disease treatment.
Another study has identified the soothing effects of reciting prayers like Ave Maria or yoga mantras as these have shown the ability to “synchronize inherent cardiovascular rhythms.” The authors of the study write:
“Both prayer and mantra caused striking, powerful, and synchronous increases in existing cardiovascular rhythms when recited six times a minute.”
2. Reduce Blood Pressure
Several studies on the effects of transcendental meditation have linked the practice to reduced hypertension and blood pressure.
The American Heart Association has recognized these findings, though not as conclusive evidence, but rather as “potentially beneficial.”
This has given wing to more research that is starting to show more substantial evidence of the links between transcendental meditation and improved systolic blood pressure, in particular.
3. Decrease Sensitivity To Pain
Mindfulness meditation may be beneficial in the alleviation of physical pain.
Researchers from the Wake Forest University School of Medicine have studied the neural mechanisms in healthy patients’ response to pain after having practiced mindfulness meditation for four days.
They found that these participants reported 40% lower pain intensity and reduced unpleasantness by 57% compared to the group that was not exposed to the practice.
4. Strengthen Our Immune System
Though research is yet to produce conclusive evidence to support it, different types of spiritual rituals may have a beneficial effect on our immune systems.
For instance, mindfulness meditation has shown some success in the treatment and recovery from illnesses like HIV or breast cancer that require a strong immune system.
Other studies have shown some degree of correlation between mindfulness meditation and wound healing.
Meditative practices do seem to have an impact even on the cellular level.
5. Decelerate Aging And Prolong Lifespan
Speaking of the cellular level, mindfulness meditation has been linked to the lengthening of telomeres – the protective caps over our chromosomes that allow them to replicate during cell division.
As we age, the telomeres in our bodies become shorter, directly impacting our cell activity, specifically division.
Research shows that mindfulness meditation may influence the telomere length positively, improving our cellular functions, decelerating aging and, thus, potentially prolonging our life span.
4 Mental Health Benefits Of Meditation And Prayer
There has been significant research in field of spiritual practices and their relationship with mental health – a lot of which has shown promising results.
Here are the top four:
1. Spiritual Practices Increase Our Ability To Focus, Stabilizing The Conditions Like ADHD
One of the most effects the practitioners of meditation and contemplative prayer observe is the increased ability to “get centered”.
Some surveys have found that mindfulness meditation and calming physical exercises like yoga have a positive effect on the conditions like the Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Whether it is ADHD or simply a wish to reduce stress and improve focus, incorporating spiritual practices into our day-to-day can do wonders for our psychological wellbeing.
“Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt.”
- Francis de Sales
2. Build Or Restores Self-Esteem And Promotes Constructive Behavioral Patterns
Different types of contemplative practices can help ‘reprogram our minds’ -so to speak- to automatically identify destructive thoughts and behaviors, and default to the constructive ones.
It posits that:
“This highest level of nonjudgmental awareness [produced by mindfulness meditation and yoga] may help in obtaining a better-adjusted resilient self.”
3. Control Memory Loss, Potentially Decreasing The Symptoms Of Alzheimer’s And Similar Conditions
A two-years-long study measured how patients with Alzheimer’s responded to different physical and cognitive therapies.
Each group was exposed to one kind of experiential treatment on top of their prescribed therapy.
One group went through progressive muscle relaxation treatment, another through cognitive stimulation, the third was introduced to mindfulness meditation and the fourth received no additional therapy.
Among all groups, the one that practiced mindfulness meditation “showed significant scores” compared to the other types of treatment.
Besides increasing memory retention in patients with Alzheimer’s, the practice has also shown success in the deceleration of age-related memory loss.
4. Studies Point To Their Effectiveness In Treating Depression, Eating Disorders And Even Psychosis
By alleviating stress and promoting constructive behavior through the “better-adjusted resilient self”, spiritual practices have shown positive results in the overall mental wellbeing and the treatment of various types of psychological conditions.
In his literature review of meditation and psychiatry, Dr. Michael McGee of McLean Harvard Medical School observes that we all meditate to some degree or another, whether consciously or not.
He identifies the therapeutic effects of the practice and concludes that it should be explored further and even applied in psychiatric care.
As research and experience establishes stronger links between spiritual practices and psychological wellbeing, the psychiatric community is becoming more receptive of these as supplemental treatments to various conditions.
How Often Should You Meditate And Pray To Feel Healthier, Energized And At Peace
There is no general prescription for this.
How often you should meditate or pray depends on many factors, but primarily your need and ability to commit to these practices.
Many experts recommend daily practice.
If you are introducing spiritual practices into your daily routine, we recommend slotting 10 minutes for it in the morning and/or in the evening.
This will help you create the habit and become diligent about it.
PLinXs prayer app can help you keep track of your prayer and meditation schedules, log your sessions and observe your progress over time, giving you the incentive to remain consistent in your practice.
Takeaways On The Benefits Of Prayer & Meditation
The key points to take away from this article are:
- Science has shown links between spiritual practices and physical as well as mental health, but a lot of these studies are still pending conclusive results before they are introduced in mainstream healing.
- The benefits we receive from the spiritual practices remain in the domain of our personal experience. In other words: How we embrace our spiritual practices internally will largely determine the effects they will produce for us.
- And finally, consistent dedication to our spiritual practices is more likely to yield significant, long-term benefits.
Best of luck!