TLC for your heart and brain: Meditation and Prayer!
Meditation and prayer has been around for thousands of years. According to 101 Questions & Answers on Prayer, “Anthropologists have found evidence of prayer even among Neanderthals.” And that the first record of prayer was recorded in the Epic of Gilgamesh. The Epic of Gilgamesh is an ancient Babylonian poem from roughly 2750 BCE written on a series of tablets.
Prayer and meditation is fundamental in many ways, it has been shown that people who pray or meditate actually have less stress than people who don’t. This could be because prayer and meditation increase positivity. Also, one hour of meditation is shown to be as beneficial as one hour of sleep. During meditation, a person takes deep breaths. Oxygen travels to the parts of the lungs where the most blood is found. Despite this, the body actually intakes less oxygen, which creates the relaxed state of meditation.
A major factor in both is brainwaves. There are five different types of brainwaves: alpha, beta, delta, theta and gamma. Beta brainwaves are the brainwaves people experience going through an average day. While brain waves such as alpha, theta and delta are most occupant when meditating. Alpha brainwaves focus on “being in the present” and is considered a state of resting.
Theta brainwaves go farther than alpha brainwaves, acting as a gateway to memory and learning. However, delta brainwaves are when someone enters a deep sleep, or one of the deepest forms of meditation. Slow and the loudest of brainwaves, it is when the body begins the healing process. Parts of the brain that are affected by meditation are the lateral prefrontal cortex, the medial prefrontal cortex, the insula and the amygdala.
The lateral prefrontal cortex modulates the emotional responses we have. This part of the brain also perceives how people can look at things from a logical level. The medial prefrontal cortex has two sections it uses. The ventromedial medial prefrontal cortex allows us to process our view of people and how we react to others. The other section, the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, is what allows us to empathize. The insula is what gives people their “gut feelings” and the amygdala is what runs the fear center, also known as what controls our “fight or flight” response.
Meditation also increases immunity, emotional balance, fertility and calmness. It relieves irritable bowel syndrome, and lowers blood pressure. These are some of the benefits that meditation can provide. One of the better perks of meditation: it is considered to be anti-inflammatory. Meditation is such a relaxed state, it helps prevent and treat symptoms by switching off the stress response. This is because stress is a key factor in inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and various skin conditions.
Prayer, however, affects the heart and brain differently. Prayer has just as many benefits as meditation; this includes relaxation responses, secondary control, positive feelings and spiritual connection. The relaxation response lowers factors that are increased by stress. Meanwhile, secondary control brings the idea of letting go to something greater, this releases the person from being in charge.
Spiritual connection uplifts a person’s behavior. This can make someone feel loved and wanted. Prayer can release cortisol and other hormones. This speeds up the healing process. However, there was a study done in 2005 titled, Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer, in this study they tested three groups with intercessory prayer and the effects it had on people undergoing a coronary artery bypass graft surgery.
In group one, people were informed they would receive intercessory prayer, but were then informed they may or may not receive it. Group two didn’t receive prayer, but they were also told they may or may not receive it. While group three received prayer and were all told they would receive prayer. Prayer went on for fourteen days, starting the night before the surgery.
The findings were, “Intercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications.” Interestingly the study found that, “patients who were certain that intercessors would pray for them had a higher rate of complications than patients who were uncertain but did receive intercessory prayer.”
With regard to this, meditation is a focus on oneself to become healthier. Prayer can be for oneself or another. With this in mind, prayer gives thoughts and well wishes, meditation is putting a person in a calm state of mind. Still, meditation and prayer leave a person feeling positive and calm. They both provide a healing presence, which can bring a sense of stability to others. This can create a placebo-like state of mind, altering a person’s outlook and expectations, which can positively impact their health. In general, positive feelings are healthy, and the power of belief has a strong impact as well.
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2. Anonymous. The Epic of Gilgamesh. Web.
3.Benson, Herbert, M.D., Hibberd, Patricia L. M.D., PhD., Dusek, Jeffery A. PhD., Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP) in Cardiac Bypass Patients – A Multi-Center Randomized Trial of Uncertainty and Certainty of Receiving Intercessory Prayer. Massachusetts: 2005.
4. Kelley, Joseph. 101 Questions & Answers on Prayer. New Jersey: Paulist Press, 2008.
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6. Singh Khalsa, Dharma. M.D. How Meditation Affects Your Body and Mind.