Prayer and Meditation, A Healthy Spirit
Happy Sunday! Well, it’s almost over now, but I thought it was the perfect day to talk about prayer, or meditation, or both….I know that prayer AND/OR meditation are good for me and I wanted to make sure that I got your creative juices flowing and focusing on your own health and your own meditation/prayer “practice.”
I came across an article last week about a new field of study called neurotheology. It’s attracting very prominent researchers in America and they have some really amazing things to conclude. It’s the study of the effect that prayer or religion have on the brain. This field of study is still very new but one thing they have concluded from one study is that people who spend two to three hours a day in prayer developed more antibodies to the flu virus than those who did not. I found a link to a book that I am going to order today and read on my upcoming vacation, I’m fascinated. It’s called, “How God Changes your Brain” by a neuroscientist, named Andrew Newberg. Sometimes books like this can be too scientific and wordy and not fun to read but this one looks to have information that I am extremely interested in. I will report back in another post after I read it but feel free to order one yourself, just click on the link above, and after you read it, please give me your feedback! The thing that I’m fascinated about is the concept that prayer or religious commitment can change the make up of the brain but for me, I’m more interested in it’s ability to keep my body healthy.
This led me to the question, is there a difference between prayer and meditation?
Do you pray or do you meditate? Both? Neither? Are they the same thing? These were the thoughts going through my head over the weekend. I do both and I see them both differently but really, they can and should be synonymous. The root words have different meanings but at the root of it all is the reality that it’s good for your body and it’s the core of the spiritual side of mind, body and spirit connection.
The word prayer comes from the Latin word “precari” which means “to beg.” The English definition, in the dictionary, is “a solemn request for help or expression of thanks to God or an object of worship.” It sounds by definition as if prayer is the act of actually asking for something. I was raised Catholic and still practice Catholicism to this day. Learning to pray in the Catholic church wasn’t always about asking for something. It was more of a quiet, retreat into the mind, repeating the same prayers over and over that didn’t specifically request “things” but instead verbalized love and admiration for God, Jesus, Mary or the Holy Spirit. Often times, we just ask to be comforted and to be at peace with God’s Will for our lives.
Then, what is meditation? The word comes from the Latin root, “meditari,” meaning, “to think over, reflect, consider,” or the Greek root,”medesthai ” meaning to think about. I see the difference, in meditation, one isn’t generally asking for something or attempting to get the attention of a God or a higher power, it’s more about being in a calm state of mind while reflecting on a thought or desire. I still think there’s a connection and I want to not only explore it but prove that the two are one in the same, or at least, I think they should be.
I’ve spent many hours of my life praying but I’ve also spent many hours in quiet meditation. I’ve always found prayer to be very comforting. When I pray, I feel like someone is hearing me, like I’m letting out my deepest desires. I feel relaxed and at ease. It would be unimaginable to feel stressed or anxious while I’m praying. I can’t imagine sitting in a quiet church, rosary in hand and feeling hyper or nervous, when I’m praying, I’m so calm. Praying the rosary brings me to a point. When I pray the rosary, I repeat the Hail Mary over and over and over and over. After a while, it becomes a mantra of gratitude. I get into a meditative state of being where I’m not asking for anything, I’m completely lost in the meditation. Later in my life, I learned that the period of time after we receive communion is called “the meditation,” go figure. It’s a quiet time to reflect on the sacrament and the beauty of receiving the Eucharist. This perks my curiosity about the Jewish faith and it’s customs, do Jews have a meditation during the services at the Temple? I have one Jewish Grandmother, I will have to call Meme and get back to you on this subject! I know that many aspects of our Catholic Mass are direct derivatives of the Jewish traditions and often related to what Jesus did, I’m thinking meditation and prayer, or both, were a big part of life, even 2000 years ago, when the Catholic Church came to be. Even if you’re not a Christian, you have to admit, Jesus was so cool : -) .
About 20 years ago, I was exposed to meditation for the first time. It wasn’t love at first site. I actually didn’t like it at first, I thought it was ridiculous, because the teacher was banging on this gong and the whole “zen” “chanting” “mantra” thing was so foreign to me and definitely overwhelming . I just didn’t get it at all. Somehow, through the years, it continued to be presented to me over and over again, either in books or by gurus of natural living, touting that meditation is healing. The first time that I read Louis Haye’s book, “You Can Heal Your Life,” I was mesmerized. She had these mantras that I could repeat over and over in quiet meditation to achieve what I wanted in my life. Wait a minute, I’m sitting quietly, very relaxed, repeating over and over again what I want. Isn’t this prayer? That’s when I realized that meditation isn’t scary or foreign at all. It’s whatever I need it to be for me. Seeing it as prayer made it more familiar and that is when I began to love meditation.
Saying the rosary is a meditation. Sitting in a quiet Cathedral praying for peace in my life is a meditation. It all brings me calm and resolve. After I read that book about how God changes the brain, I will know more, but for now, I know that prayer and/or meditation is good for me. It’s good for my brain, my spirit and apparently even my immune system. Did you know that prayer is the most common non drug method of pain management? More than acupuncture, more than massage, even more than physical therapy, prayer is the most common non drug method of pain management, I love that.
Here are some ways that prayer/meditation have been proven to improve your health:
•Prayer/Meditation creates a relaxed state of being, which can your lower blood pressure.
•Placebo! Prayer enhances a person’s hopes and expectations, and that can positively impact your health.
•Positive feelings 🙂 Prayer/Meditation can bring about feelings of gratitude (check out my previous post!!), compassion, forgiveness, and hope, all of which are associated with healing and wellness.
•Mind-body-spirit connection, the concept that the mind and the spirit have an effect on the body! When prayer/meditation calms us, it inhibits the release of cortisol and other hormones, thereby lowering the negative impact of stress on the immune system and promoting healing! Another plug for a previous post! I must say, this has to lower estrogen levels!!
There is a well respected study by Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular specialist at Harvard. Dr. Benson documented the potential healing benefits of spiritual practices, such as prayer and meditation. In his book, Healing Words, Larry Dossey writes that Dr. Benson showed that the body responds to prayer and meditation with what he calls the relaxation response, which includes “a lowering of the heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate; a reduced need for oxygen; less carbon dioxide production.” that shows that the relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response and can be consciously used to manipulate the impact of stress on the body.
I meet so many different people doing what I do. I’ve met Christians ( even Christians who don’t like Catholicism), Jews, Buddhists, and even a few atheists. My goal with this blog is to inspire you to improve your health and to take control of your body and do what is best for your overall well being. I believe that prayer or a meditation practice or a religious commitment can help you to center your mind and relax your body, helping you find your calm. You are in charge of your life, your health and well being. Let me know below in the comments if prayer and meditation are a part of your healthy life and why you love it!! I’m off to order some of these new books and hopefully learn more….I hope you’ve had a beautiful weekend and that you are off and ready for the busy work week. I hope to see or hear from you soon!