Did you know that there is a growing body of scientific support for the benefits of spirituality, meditation and the power of prayer? "Prayer involves the deeper parts of the brain which are involved in self-reflection and self-soothing", says Dr. David Spiegel, Stanford University School of Medicine. As more research is dedicated to figuring out how to reduce chronic stress and the widespread negative effects that this can have on our health, healing prayer and meditation are two techniques moving into the spotlight.
Results from many clinical studies show spirituality is a simple healing tool that can help strengthen the mind-body connection and immune functions. Various forms of spiritual practices, such as meditation, visualization and other mindfulness techniques, can generate inner-peace and personal power that can help improve someone’s quality of life — both mentally and physically. This all comes back to our mind-body-connection, which means the way our thoughts influences our physical state of health.
According to a report in the Indian Journal of Psychiatry, meditation and prayer have been found to produce significant health benefits, including a reduction in blood pressure, altered levels of melatonin and serotonin (neurotransmitters that boost immune response), reduced stress, enhanced self-esteem and favorable influence on quality of life. All good things for your health & wellness!
What Spirituality Does to Our Brain and Body to Reduce Stress
Numerous studies show that spiritual health promotes bodily health, impacting our hormones, neurotransmitters, gut health, digestion and more. Regularly practicing a form of spirituality is tied to reduced stress, balanced hormones, improved attitudes, better sleep and more.
What exactly happens to our body when we pray?
According to authors Chet Tolson and Harold Koenig, the authors of Healing Power of Prayer, “Praying helps people function at their best when life serves them the worst.” It strengthens our defenses against stressors and the corresponding rise in hormones like cortisol. Dr. Larry Dossey, author of Prayer Is Good Medicine, tells us, “an attitude of the heart whose content is neither shaped nor limited by a single religious tradition.” In other words, there are infinite ways to pray and grow spiritually, all of which can fit into a holistic plan that reduces stress and helps fight serious health issues.
5 Health Benefits of Prayer, Meditation and Spirituality
- Lowers Inflammation
For many people, the simple act of praying results in a greater sense of well-being. But how does slowing down and becoming more in touch with a higher being or your “true self” help you live a healthier life? The answer has to do with chronic inflammation caused by stress.
Inflammatory responses are the body’s natural reaction to stress, but unfortunately when it reaches high levels, it can do serious damage to the body. Bad or chronic stress can come in many forms — whether it’s a poor diet, not getting good sleep or holding a stressful job.
Small amounts of stress can be a good thing — for fighting off illnesses, helping us heal, or preparing us for an important event or work obligation, for example — but when we chronically trigger inflammation, our bodies can turn on themselves and essentially start attacking our own tissue. There’s a lot of strong evidence showing that elevated stress hormones, such as increased cortisol, can lead to hormonal imbalances; low immunity; and increased rates of infection, food cravings, and anxiety for this reason.
- Raises Immunity
Many experts believe that there’s a strong relationship between chronic inflammation and aging, likely due to stress’s negative impact on the thyroid and adrenal glands, which can cause burnout or adrenal fatigue. Over time, the negative effects of inflammation build up to create conditions in the body that are a result of low immune function and promote serious brain and heart health issue. That’s because inflammation increases free radical damage and oxidative stress, which are accelerators of “aging.” Slowing down, getting in touch with the things in life that really matter most and purposefully practicing relaxation techniques like healing prayer can help keep the chronic inflammation in check, immunity high and health issues at bay.
- Increases Longevity
Want to know how to be happy and healthy, like some of the oldest living people in the world, such as those who live in the so-called Blue Zones? Many centenarians report that their spirituality is something that keeps them going every day, giving them a purpose to wake up in the morning. Some studies have shown that a spiritual practice maintained by older adults can act as a natural buffer against chronic stress and helps reduce the changes of serious health and other common age-related conditions. According to researchers of The Blue Zones, spirituality and purpose can help increase longevity because it helps people enter into a “zen-like state of total oneness … you feel fully immersed in what you’re doing. It’s characterized by a sense of freedom, enjoyment, fulfillment, and happiness.”
- Reinforces Good Habits
Healing prayer and meditation both help increase “mindfulness,” which really means living in the present moment, letting go of limiting or challenging beliefs from the past, and getting to know your own thoughts and tendencies better. As a result of making time for these mood-boosting relaxation practices, you’ll likely find yourself able to stick with other important habits related to a healthy lifestyle — for example, eating right, sleeping well, exercising, and spending time with and appreciating friends or family. These are all things that become easier when our mind is in a good place, our hormones are balanced and our neurotransmitters are working properly.
Even though in the U.S. and many other developed nations we generally hold working and being very productive in high regard, “burning ourselves out” and neglecting time to relax or take care of ourselves casts a wide, negative shadow on our lives and health. Creating a schedule when we mediate or pray daily at home, or joining an institution or community that exists to encourage us to do this, is a powerful way to regularly slow down, unwind and de-stress.
- Puts Us in Touch with Our True Purpose, Which Fights Anxiety and Low Energy
Dr. Robert Butler and his research team led an 11-year comprehensive National Institute of Health-funded study that looked at the correlation between “having a sense of purpose” and longevity. His team followed highly functioning people between the ages of 65 and 92 and found that individuals who expressed a higher purpose and clear goal in life — something to get up for in the morning and something that they felt truly made a difference — on average lived longer and were sharper than those who did not. What do they mean by “a sense of purpose?” This can be something as simple as seeing and helping children or grandchildren grow up well, doing volunteer work that helps other people, or teaching younger people important life lessons.
New to Praying or Meditating? Here’s How To Get Started
- Form a Spiritual Habit or Routine - praying regularly, ideally at the same time each day, allows us to set aside time for us to focus on “the big picture” and connect with our Creator. Many people find it’s most helpful to pray or mediate in the morning, before “life gets in the way.” Any time is beneficial, as long as you practice consistently. Even five to 10 minutes a day can have a big impact.
- Craft a Personal Mission Statement - if you don’t have a sense of purpose, forming and writing down your personal mission statement can be a good start. Begin by answering this question in a single, memorable sentence: Why do you get up in the morning? Finding your purpose is critical to your life and spiritual health. One great book to begin understanding this is The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Consider what you’re passionate about, how you enjoy using your talents and what is truly important to you. Keep these things in mind as you pray, practice visualization, write a gratitude list daily or meditate.
- Keep It Simple: You can pray or meditate anywhere and at any time, which is the best part. Create a space in your home that’s quiet, a comfortable temperature and moderately lit. Make the space feel special and free from clutter. Deep breathing, saying what you’re grateful for and visualization are also great ways to connect with God and grow spiritually.
- Find a Partner or Community - find a group with which you can share your life purpose. This can be a spiritual teacher, church or healing prayer group, friend, family member, or spouse — as long as it’s someone who can help you honestly assess your plan and your successes while reinforcing your sense of connection to God and others.
- Put Aside a Time, Hour or Entire Day Specifically for Unwinding and Connecting - going back to the example of the longest-living populations on earth, one common habit among them all is practicing a “Sabbath” or dedicated day for focusing on your relationship with God, resting and building peace. For example, the Seventh Day Adventists living in California practice a weekly Saturday Sabbath as do many practicing Jews that they report acts as a powerful stress reliever. This dedicated day creates a “sanctuary in time” during which they focus on God, their families and nature. They don’t work and kids don’t play organized sports or do homework, but instead families do things together, such as hiking, that brings them together and makes them feel closer to God and their families.