Anyone who prays regularly and has faith, at a minimum, that the world we see is not the end of existence, already knows how beneficial prayer and meditation can be to our spiritual health. It “recharges our spiritual batteries” and makes us feel connected.
But did you know that religion and prayer have more positive impact on mental health and physical health than medication?
Physicians can no longer ignore the impact of spiritual health on physical health
Care of the sick originated from religious teachings. The first hospitals were built and staffed by religious orders. Many hospitals even today are religiously affiliated. The first nurses and many early physicians were from religious orders.
Not until the mid-20th century did a true separation develop. This was partly a result of the teachings of Freud. Freud believed that religion is immature and outdated. Science, for Freud, is the only rational and mature way of thinking and discerning humanity. He laughed at the argument, which he posed himself, about the permanence and intuition of all mankind. He says, “it is once again merely an illusion to expect anything from intuition and introspection…” (Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1961), 41.) Freud put no faith in human intuition and all faith in science. He stated “Scientific work is the only road which can lead us to a knowledge of reality outside ourselves.” (ibid) Largely due to Freud’s influence, there developed a huge rift between healing and religion. Today religion is seen in medicine as irrelevant, neurotic, or bothersome and conflicting with care. Spiritual needs of patients are often ridiculed or ignored.
There are a number of studies looking at well-being, hope and optimism, purpose and meaning in life in the 20th century, and these are the studies that show a positive relationship with religion.
There is scientific evidence: Prayer and Meditation Improve Health Outcomes
Without even getting into the metaphysical, there are lots of reasons to believe that prayer is an excellent way to promote physical health.
Out of 212 studies performed on a control group, 75% showed that religious commitment has a positive effect on health. Out of 15 studies done on drug-use and religion, 100% showed that religion has a positive effect on diminishing illicit drug use. (Matthews, Dale A. The Faith Factor. National Institute for Healthcare Research: Earnhardt and Company Productions, 1995.)
“This gives you a sense of the research that is out there. In three of three studies you find a connection between religious involvement and immune and endocrine function; in five of seven studies, the religious experience lower mortality from cancer; in 14 of 23, they have significantly lower blood pressure; in 11 of 14, they have lower mortality.” (By Stuart M. Butler, Ph.D., Harold G. Koenig, Ph.D., Christina Puchalski, M.D.,Cynthia Cohen, Ph.D., J.D. and Richard Sloan, Is Prayer Good for Your Health? A Critique of the Scientific Research, The Heritage Foundation, December 22, 2003).
A responsible physician now owes it to his/her patient to obtain a spiritual history in addition to a physical history, thereby truly offering a wholistic evaluation and treatment.
According to Maimonides (Rambam): “The physician should make every effort to see that everyone, sick and healthy alike, should always be cheerful, and he should seek to relieve them of the spiritual and psychological forces that cause anxiety. This is the first principle in curing any patient, especially if his illness is bound up with his mind and emotions, as in the case of those who are depressed. In all such cases the physician should do nothing before improving their state of mind.” (Hanhagot HaBriut Ch. #3:13-14)
Even Einstein, the father of medicine, believed that there is more to humanity than science can see:
“To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of true religiousness. In this sense, and in this sense only, I belong to the ranks of devoutly religious men.” (Lewis, Stephen and Slawson, Evan. Sanctuary: The Path to Consiousness. Ingram, New Leaf and PArtners/West, 1999.