A Lifestyle Prescription for Optimal Health: The Power of Prayer is Mightier than the Skeptic & the Computer – 18‏

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  • “I know that when I pray, something wonderful happens. Not just to the person or persons for whom I’m praying, but also something wonderful happens to me. I’m grateful that I’m heard.” – Maya Angelou
  • “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” – Sir Isaac Newton
  • “It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.” – Albert Einstein
  • “But who prays for Satan? Who, in eighteen centuries, has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most?” – Mark Twain

praying

Most of us have heard of it, and some of us believe in it: the power of prayer to overcome disease or poor health may save your life.  Is there any truth that we can ask God to intervene for the recovery of a loved one or for our personal health, and that he will respond to our prayers?  This is an enormous question that previously had little scientific basis to support the claims, but with much improved technology, some questions are now being answered.

 

The goal of prayer “therapy” is to seek and receive divine healing for the person in medical need.  Dr. Mitchell Krucoff, a cardiovascular specialist at the Duke University School of Medicine says, “There are a lot of questions about what healing means.  At this level of this work, there are many philosophical debates that can emerge. The basic concept is this — if you add prayer to standard, high-tech treatment — if you motivate a spiritual force or energy, does it actually make people better, heal faster, get out of the hospital faster, make them need fewer pills, suffer less?”

 

Can physical & emotional healing occur with the power of prayer behind it?  Dr. Andrew Newberg, Director of Research Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine with Thomas Jefferson Hospital & Medical College in Philadelphia, PA, claims to have answered this age old enigmatic.   Dr. Newberg is a neurological pioneer in the areas of religious & spiritual experiences, a scientific field now known as “neurotheology.”  The doctor has been studying neurotheological effects of prayer on our brain by injecting radioactive dye into his patients, then looking to see what changes occur within the brain while they are engaged in prayer.

 

Here he explains, “You can see it’s all red here when the person is just at rest,” while pointing to brain activity on the computer screen, “but you see it turns into these yellow colors when she’s actually doing prayer.”  These changes are actual images of the brain while praying, showing the effect prayer has on the brain.  He adds, “We see not only changes in the activity levels, but in different neurotransmitters, the chemicals in our brain.”

 

Like the heart and blood pressure and the immune system, the basic functions of the brain can be controlled, and he added, “There’s evidence to show that by doing these practices, you can cause a lot of different changes all the way throughout the body, which could have a healing effect.  As far as we know, it is not a cure for cancer.  It is not going to cure somebody of heart disease. We can’t tell people to pray in order to get better — that doesn’t really make sense. The reason that it works is because it is part of the person’s belief system.”

 

Following are a series of five brain imaging technology scans called SPECT – single photon emission computed tomography – that were used to observe the amount of blood flow each area of the brain contained.  The greater the blood flow in the brain, the more stimulated the brain becomes.  Color coordination for brain activation is: Red > yellow > green > blue > black.  All of these brain scans come from Dr. Newburg’s study.

Vange18-1Scan

 

These brain scans allow researchers to observe the neurophysiology of religious and spiritual practices that affect brain stimulation.  It is theorized that by blocking sensory & cognitive input in the orientation area while meditating as is being done here by Tibetan Buddhist meditators, space and time becomes meaningless, giving the meditator a peace of mind, possibly allowing for neurogenesis to occur.

From Dr. Newberg’s study.

 

Vange18-2Scan

 

Here the front part of the brain is more stimulated by focusing attention & concentration while meditating.  This blood flow activity is expected and makes sense as these activities require increased blood flow.  As more activity is shown in the frontal lobes, less activity is shown in the parietal lobe, lower right side, another feature of improved concentration when meditating.

From Dr. Newberg’s study.

 

Vange18-3Scan

 

Here Franciscan nuns were praying, again showing increased brain activity in the frontal lobes, with the inferior parietal lobe (the language area) also showing increased activity as the nuns were involved in prayer involving verbally based prayer, and not visualization as with meditation.

From Dr. Newberg’s study.

 

Vange18-4Scan

 

Here the superior parietal lobes in the orientation areas of the brain show decreased activity by the nuns during prayer, just as the Buddhists monks had shown in the first scan.

From Dr. Newberg’s study.

 

Vange18-5Scan

 

Here we are seeing the brain of a meditating atheist.  The first image is of the brain at rest; the second while meditating on the concept of God.  It can be seen that there was no significant increase in blood flow with the frontal lobes as seen with other meditation practices.  The inference here is if the person does not believe in the concept of God, there would be no need to increase activity in the frontal lobes that normally takes place during meditation. From Dr. Newberg’s study.

 

Dr. Newberg’s study found that the power of prayer is somewhat similar to an exercise workout for the brain: the more intense the workout, the greater the increase in blood flow to the brain and muscle areas that are being stimulated.

 

Dr. Newberg states, “When we look at how the brain works, it looks like the brain is very easily able to engage in religious and spiritual practices. … It only makes sense if God is up there and we are down here that we would have a brain that is capable of communicating to God, praying to God, doing the things that God needs us to do.” Yet when atheists and non-believers meditate envisioning God’s existence, the brain displays no observable changes in the frontal lobe.

 

According to the test results, which were the same whether the nuns were praying or the monks were meditating, we can see that the benefits derived by the brain from both meditating and praying can actually shape the brain.  Newberg continues, “There are multiple parts of the brain that seem to get involved and it really does look like the brain is easily able to have these experiences.  It has something to do more generally with how we can improve the function of the brain that these kinds of practices can actually help with.”

Prayer is able to create a neurological experience with those that practice prayer, regardless of the religion they are affiliated with.

Dr. Newberg concludes, “It helps us to understand that at least when they (participants) are describing it to us, they are really having this kind of experience. … This experience is at least neurologically real.”

Dr. Newbery again, “You become connected to God. You become connected to the world. Your self sort of goes away.” The areas of the brain linked with the sense of “self” appear to be shutting down, allowing the brain to take on another dimension not possible within the totally conscious state.  Is it possible that through prayer [or meditation] we can achieve another dimension to our being because our communication with God gives our brain a component of peace best derived when we are with God as when children are with their parents?

What is different about us when we are praying?  What do we do differently that we ordinarily do not do when not praying?  Are we that much different if our “self,” our ego turns to humility?  Can you really imagine yourself with an inflated ego, speaking to the Lord?

In Scripture we are told, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you:  Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.”

–         Romans 12:3

Sounds of Silence

Another very effective method for improving our lives and our children’s lives is through Meditation.  Just to say a few words on meditation, let us take a quiet look at what is taking place at the Visitacion Valley Middle School (grades 6 – 8) in one of San Francisco’s toughest areas.  For years the school experienced two to five student fights each week, with student behaviors challenging well-intentioned teaches and students alike, and with suspensions handed out very frequently.  Then in the spring of 2007, the school began its Meditation Program allowing students and staff two periods of 15 minutes each to either sit quietly or meditate; once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

Since beginning the elective meditation twice daily, the school has experienced a 50% reduction in suspensions, a 65% reduction in truancy, and a 98.3% attendance rate while student overall grade point averages have increased by 0.5%.

prayThe students practice Transcendental Meditation (or are they praying?) as an optional activity that promotes deep relaxation and a sense of well-being they rarely experienced before the program.  This quiet transformation from numerous negative student behaviors that required many suspensions is now replaced with students feeling relaxed and positive about attending school and wanting to improve their school experiences because they now have a sense of well-being they did not experience before.  Quieting the mind does not necessarily require communicating with God as the mind benefits from experiencing a sense of peace that cannot be achieved when peace is not found from within.  Evolving a peace from within can then be shared and projected to others.  Alas, more school systems are beginning to see and understand the many benefits to be derived by quieting their student’s minds, so that they can also quiet their classrooms.

Of course initially the program met up with significant skeptism, but all the skeptism has been replaced seeing and personally experiencing what a Quiet Mind can do for one’s life.

While there are some similarities between meditation and prayer, the two are very different.  With prayer we are asking for divine help or intervention; with meditation we are trying to achieve on our own without God.  But God tells us very directly what to do with our ego (when we do not meditate) and how we need to conduct our everyday lives:  Submit Yourselves to God

“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? 2 You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. 3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud

but shows favor to the humble.”

7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.

11 Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12 There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.”

–         James 4: 1 – 17

 

 

Here the Book of James is telling the faithful, those that pray and believe in God, that their ACTIONS are evidence of our faith; faith results in GOOD actions by the humble person.  We are not at Vange18-7Ego-Soulthe top of a hierarchal pyramid to do to others, man or animal, as we please.  Rather, in order to display our “greatness” and please the Lord, we are a part of Nature, a part of his creations – not to destroy one another, but to love one another in order to bring about the happiness and peace that can only be found through humility, GOOD words, and GOOD deeds, and faith in the Lord.  In order to please God, and to attain the world we all wish to see, it is our duty to speak GOOD words and to do GOOD deeds; we are the world, and the world is us.  By ridding ourselves of inflated egos, the world will be changed, and this is what we pray to God to see, but this is dependent upon OUR actions, in God’s name, to emerge.  God will not turn the world into a living paradise until God is ready, not man.  But until that happens, it is up to us to HEED God’s words given to us in Scripture.  This IS the reason billions throughout the world pray to God every day and every evening of their existence.

 

 

Egoism must turn into altruism; materialism into spiritualism; blame into understanding; power into humbleness; resentment into forgiveness, and me into we.  These ACTIONS will bring about what we all wish God to give us, but God has also given us Free Will in order that WE can create for ourselves what He has given us the power to do when I am you, and you are me, found in the hearts that love Our Lord.

Separate studies done by Duke, Dartmouth, and Yale Universities have reported specific data about folks that use prayer in their everyday lives:

  1. People that do not go to church at all remain in the hospital THREE times longer than people that attend church regularly

Heart patients that were areligious were 14 times MORE likely to die from the surgery

Senior citizens that did not or rarely went to church suffered from strokes DOUBLE the rate as those that went to church regularly

Church attending smokers had lower blood pressure, similar to nonsmokers not attending church

Religious people living in Israel have a 40% lower death rate from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

  • Handbook of Religion and Health, Harold Koenig, Dana King, Verna B. Carson, February, 2012

 

  • “Positive Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in a Coronary Care Unit Population, “Southern Medical Journal 81, 1988

 

  • “The Impact of Religion on Men’s Blood Pressure,” Journal of Religion and Health 28, 1989

 

Dr. Harold Koenig, associate professor of medicine & psychiatry at Duke University says, “People who are more religious tend to become depressed less often. And when they do become depressed, they recover more quickly from depression. That has consequences for their physical health and the quality of their lives.”

Several years ago Dr. Mitchell Krucoff said,  “[Today,] we’re seeing systematic investigations — clinical research — as well as position statements from professional societies supporting this research, federal subsidies from the NIH [National Institute of Healthcare], funding from Congress.  All of these studies, all the reports, are remarkably consistent in suggesting the potential measurable health benefit associated with prayer or spiritual interventions.” Today, there is considerably more research and studies on this remarkable topic.

Where do you stand in your relationship between prayer, God and your personal health?  Here are several more quotes from noted personalities regarding their beliefs about God and our relationship to him:

 

  • “In the absence of any other proof, the thumb alone would convince me of God’s existence.” – Sir Isaac Newton
  • “I have a fundamental belief in the Bible as the Word of God, written by those who were inspired. I study the Bible daily.” – Sir Isaac Newton
  • “The question of whether there exists a Creator and Ruler of the Universe has been answered in the affirmative by some of the highest intellects that have ever existed.”– Charles Darwin, founder of evolutionary biology, cited in his book Descent of Man.
  • “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.” ― Gospel of Thomas

 

 

When you believe in God, you can bring forth the Peace that is within you through prayer – the Peace that God wants you to have in order to save you.

For the Skeptic, meditation can bring forth the Peace that is within you – the Peace that must emanate from within you in order to save you.

For the Faithful, the Power of Prayer fills our soul, keeping us from being alone.