Yoga & Prayer

How Should You Pray?

There are as many approaches to prayer as there are people in this planet. And, despite what experts say, there is no right and wrong way to pray. One way is to look at prayer as a communication between you and the Supreme Being. The relationship is similar to that of a father and child. William Carr Peel, in his book, 'What God Does When Men Pray', cites the following distorted approaches to prayer:

  • The Spare Tire Approach – Use prayer for emergency needs. You pray when you are in trouble.
  • The Stained Glass Approach – The prayer requires certain "right" formulas and especially "Thee" and "Thou" of Elizabethan English.
  • The Blue Book Approach – God is perceived as similar to a college professor who grades on the number of pages you fill. The more words, the more apt God is to respond.
  • The Monte Hall Approach – "God, let's make a deal. If you answer my prayer and give me this, I will do this (pay so much to church, donate such and such to church, etc.).
  • The Aladdin's Lamp Approach – The God is seen as a celestial genie. Rub Him the right way, and He'll grant your wish.
  • The Wrestling Match Approach – God is forcefully reminded of His promises and obligations.

There are no hard-and-fast rules, no right or wrong, although some images of God may prove to be more effective than others. Dossey suggests that you begin by clearing away any preconceptions you may have about prayer. "Most people think prayer is this: Talking out loud to a white, male parent figure that prefers to be addressed in English. More Americans have this image of prayer than any other, and it's horribly inadequate.

The style, content, and location of your praying is entirely up to you. You can pray silently or out loud; in the shower, in a hammock, at the ironing board, or in the boardroom. You can invent your own prayer or recite from a book. You can pray in a word, a whisper, a plea, a song. Above all, pray from your heart.

Gandhi, father of India, said of prayer: Prayer is the very core of man's life.

It is either petitional or, in its wider sense, is inward communication. In either case, the ultimate result is the same. Even when it is petitional, the petition should be for the cleansing and purification of the soul, for freeing it from the layers of ignorance and darkness that envelops it.

Prayer is no mere exercise of words or of the ears, it is no mere repetition of empty formula. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart. It must be in clear response to the spirit which hungers for it.

Prayer is the only means of bringing orderliness and peace and repose in our daily acts. Take care of the vital things and the other things will take care of themselves.

Begin your day with prayer. Make it so soulful that it may remain with you until the evening. Close the day with prayer so you may have a peaceful night free from dreams and nightmares. Do not worry about the forms of prayer. Let it be any form, it should be such as can put us into communion with the Divine. Only, whatever be the form, let not the spirit wander while the words of prayer run on out of your mouth.

A heartfelt prayer is not a recital with the lips. It is a yearning from within which expresses itself in every word, every act, nay, every thought of man. When an evil thought successfully assails him, he may know that he has offered but a lip service to prayer."

Peel says that "prayer is simply a conversation between a child and his Father – verbal or non-verbal, formal or informal, public or private- concerning the topic of child's choosing. It takes no special training, no specific language, no specific formula, no certain place or posture. No topic is off limits. The child of God can pray anywhere, any place, any time, about anything."

"All types of prayer appear to work," says Jeffrey S. Levin, Ph.D., associate professor of family and community medicine at Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk. "Some people offer a very directed prayer to a Father God asking that someone be healed. Others send their love or feel empathy for the person who is ill."

Empathy, in fact, is the key element in prayer, say Dr. Levin and Dr. Dossey.

"There has to be caring," says Dr. Dossey. "The desire for recovery has to be genuine, authentic and deeply felt. It has to come from a feeling of love and compassion."

Styles of Prayer

In its quest for evidence, science may never have all the answers about healing and prayer. And "that's okay," says Dossey. "If we're ever to understand the role of prayer in healing and the relationship between spirituality and health. We shall have to grow more tolerant of ambiguity and mystery. We shall have to be willing to stand in the unknown."

Do you think of God as benevolent and responsive or punishing and cruel? It matters: The latest research on prayer suggests that the way you approach your higher power may predict your ability to recover emotional setbacks such as depression and anxiety.

Kenneth Pargament, Ph.D., a psychologist and researcher at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, examined many cases, from patients struggling with serious illnesses to battered women. Three religious coping methods emerged:

  • The deferring style: The deferring style: A person leaves a problem fully to God. "It's a good response to a situation when it's truly out of your hands," says Pargament. "But it's not helpful if people use it to sidestep their own responsibility."
  • The collaborative style: The collaborative style: Here, God is the co-pilot. "You talk to God, listen, consult, and the responsibility for solving a problem is shared," says Pargament. He cited a 69-year-old heart patient who needed to choose between risky surgery or life as an invalid. "He prayed for guidance to a supportive, loving God and decided he wouldn't make a very good invalid."
  • The self-directing style: The self-directing style: You're in charge. "God gave us the resources to solve our problems and now it's up to us to handle them," explains Pargament. "These people aren't really looking to God for help, either because they just don't think it's God's place to solve their problems or because they're cynical."

Pargament concluded that during troubled times, collaborators gain the most from their religious coping. They come with a strong sense of spiritual support from God. A crisis becomes an opportunity to grow spiritually, to learn more about God.

Pergament also noted that there is some evidence to suggest that people who are angry at God, who feel punished or abandoned by God, have higher levels of depression and distress than those who feel supported. More long term studies are needed before a conclusion can be drawn, however.

How Does Prayer Work?

It has been found that belief in a higher power can enhance the relaxation response we get when we're in a meditative state (which is, of course, very similar to prayer). This means that when you pray and really believe that you will derive benefit from it, your blood pressure lowers, your anger vanishes, and you are more quickly able to tap into your potential for healing. Sometimes, just calling on God in the way you've done countless times over the years can start the positive effects. Saying, 'Our Father," or 'sh'ma Yisrael,' or "Om" gets the mind ready to pray.

There are several factors that make prayer beneficial in the healing process.

  • A deep faith tends to encourage discipline with lifestyle change, so that if you've committed to following a new holistic program, you'll stick with it.
  • People who truly believe that they can get well again seem to have a better memory of what feeling good was like before they fell into a slump.
  • Faith itself calms and supports these individuals, which gives them an extra boost every minute of every day.
  • You can alleviate mental and emotional problems with prayer. If you truly believe that you can be changed-through your own intercession or that of a divine being-then your possibilities are limitless. It's not easy to rid yourself of depression if you think that no one cares and that you are fighting a losing battle by yourself. But if you are encouraged by the thought that a friend is offering prayers for your increasing mental health and even more, if you feel that those prayers are reaching the "ear" of a power greater than your despair, you may be able to heal.

The best co-mingling of mind, body, and spirit takes place when we direct our heartfelt energies to getting well.

When you are really down, when you feel that nothing can help, that your friends and family have failed you, that you have little reason to get up in the morning, this is the best time for prayer. Those individuals who have been in real danger-for example, hostages who are completely at the mercy of their captors-have said that although they personally could do nothing to alter their circumstances, they knew beyond a reasonable doubt that they would be protected by some higher authority. If you can hold that hope even in your darkest moment, think what you can do on a daily basis with prayer.

Some useful hints on prayer:

  • Prayer works best on your mind and body when it's cumulative. Daily prayer is a good idea, even if you think you have nothing to pray about.
  • Pray for others as well as for yourself. This is not simply an admonition not to be selfish; rather, the force of your actions is too powerful to be directed inside only. By including those you care about in your prayers, you are solidifying the bonds between you.
  • Try not to think consciously; rather, as in meditation, let the feelings flow inside you. You may find your prayer moving in a very different direction from the one you thought you'd take at the beginning of your practice.
  • Over time, change the organization and location of your prayer. You don't need a church, synagogue, or shrine; your kitchen or the backyard will do just fine.