You may not consider yourself a spiritual person, but when given bad news at the doctor’s office, many of us turn to prayer. In fact, nine out of 10 Americans have relied on healing prayer at some point, according to the National Institute of Health's National National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.
Most people think of prayer as a religious activity, and for people who believe in God, there certainly is a spiritual aspect of communicating with the divine. But science also shows that prayer works.
Researchers have studied the impact of religion and prayer on health and wellness for years. In their book, “How God Changes Your Brain,” the authors researched from both a science and medical perspective what people need to do to have a healthier brain and life. What they found was that the most healing thing for the brain and nervous system is a belief in God and prayer. Exercise was a distance second.
One particular double-blind story noted in the groundbreaking book, Reinventing Medicine by Dr. Larry Dossey, is one of the most prominent. There were two groups: a group of hospital patients who were being prayed for and a group not being prayed for. The patients all had the same type surgery, length of stay, etc and the results were just off the charts. The people prayed for were better in every way! Their surgeries went better, their recovery time was quicker, they had fewer post-surgical complications and they scored higher on post-surgery emotions.
Even agnostics have difficulty disproving that meditation and prayer really work. One thing that really fascinates me is throughout history there is 97 percent belief rate of people believing in God or spiritual reality. So across the board on this one issue we believe against what our physical eyes see and at an overwhelming 97 percent rate. It’s difficult to get 97 percent agreement on anything but this has 97 percent agreement around the world!
I've written a lot about how today's society really pushes us to be in constant fight or flight mode and the negative impact that has on our health due to spikes in stress and a weakening immune system. Several studies have shown that prayer and meditation actually create physical change in our bodies. According to Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a marriage, family and addictions therapist, prayer and meditation are powerful because they focus our thoughts on something outside ourselves. During times of stress, our central nervous system becomes hyper-activated. We launch into survival mode wand our executive functioning shuts down and prevents us from thinking clearly. This is why when we’re stressed out we can lash out and make rash decisions.
There have been numerous studies over the years about the positive impact that religion has on health, from cancer to heart patients. Research at San Francisco General Hospital looked at the effect of prayer on 393 cardiac patients. Half were prayed for by strangers who had only the patients’ names. Those patients had fewer complications, fewer cases of pneumonia, and needed less drug treatment. They also got better quicker and left the hospital earlier.
Dr. Andrew Newberg has scanned the brains of those who practice prayer and meditation regularly, from nuns to Buddhists. He studies the relationship between the brain and religious experience, a field called neurotheology. His book, Principles of Neurotheology, outlines how prayer and meditation literally change the brain and he’s witnessed this first-hand through brain imaging studies he’s conducted.
The anti-prayer people would scream from Mt. Everest that all of this is not conclusive and that maybe I am making connections where there are none. But if you do try to make sense of all of these things together it certainly appears that if a person believes in God and prays that their brain and nervous system either get healthier, healthier and healthier OR they get unhealthier much much slower. So they have more and better brain power than a person who does not believe in God and does not pray.
Through prayer you can plug into supernatural power. And if you give me the choice between natural and supernatural I don’t care if it’s playing tennis or doing my job, sign me up for supernatural.
I have taught and believed for decades that every issue ultimately boils down to a relationship issue and I’ve seen this time and again with my clients. God, myself and others are the three main relationship categories and as people resolve and make right those three areas they get better even with cancer, heart disease, etc virtually every single time.
I lectured all over the world for four years with Dr. Ben Johnson a medical doctor and cancer specialist and a flight surgeon in the army. People would tend to ask about the power of prayer and positive thinking. To illustrate, Ben would walk over to the table and pick up a book he’d brought with him called the Physician’s Desk Reference which is essentially the bible for every medical doctor in their practice. If you look within its pages, approximately 40 percent of all pharmaceutical drugs listed say mechanism of action unknown, which means we can prove that it works but not know how it does it. So not knowing how is actually very common in our society and in the field of medicine. We don’t know how about a lot of things...we just know what.
Whether you believe in God or not, the power of prayer certainly cannot be discounted. The spiritual plays a tremendous role in the physical in our lives. Here’s to healing, health and happiness.