According to patient surveys 90% of patients do it, and doctors believe that those who do have better health and shorter hospital stays. Prayer works well for those who use it as part of their healing process.
While doctors can see that prayer works for those who use it, they have different theories of just how it works.
Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, MD, has conducted studies on prayer for over 30 years. He says that all forms of prayer evoke a relaxation response that quells stress, quiets the body, and promotes healing. These are some of the many other explanations have been offered as to how prayer helps improve health:
- The relaxation response - prayer elicits the relaxation response, which lowers blood pressure and other factors heightened by stress
- Secondary control - prayer releases control to something greater than oneself, which can reduce the stress of needing to be in charge
- The placebo response - prayer can enhance a person's hopes and expectations and that in turn can positively impact health
- Healing presence - prayer can bring a sense of a spiritual or loving presence and alignment with God or an immersion into a universal unconsciousness
- Positive feelings - prayer can elicit feelings of gratitude, compassion, forgiveness, and hope, all of which are associated with healing and wellness.
- Mind-body-spirit connection - when prayer uplifts or calms, it inhibits the release of cortisol and other hormones, thus reducing the negative impact of stress on the immune system and promoting healing
Larry Dossey (MD) had written several great books about using prayer for healing, maybe the best one I've had a chance to check out was Healing Words, The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. Together with Maggie Oman and the Dalai Lama, Dossey has also contributed to a prayer collection called "Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems, & Meditations from Around the World" (needless to say I love the name:).