Thinking about prayer? A chaplain offers some guidance
When you think of prayer, you may associate it with an organized religion and automatically dismiss it if you don’t consider yourself religious. But prayer can be applied to any kind of spiritual practice — even if there isn’t a deity involved — and the act itself can benefit your health.
Rev. Kevin Massey, system vice president of Mission and Spiritual Care at Advocate Aurora Health, isn’t a stranger to the benefits of prayer. After working for 7 years in disaster response, including as a chaplain during recovery operations at Ground Zero, he’s seen firsthand the power of prayer in times of crises.
“We’ve long known that spirituality is a powerful tool that people often turn to that help them keep a sense of perspective, meaning and purpose,” Massey said. “In the middle of all the chaos the last few months, many people have turned to familiar spiritual practices, like prayer, mindfulness and meditation. I’ve even heard examples of people who didn’t have a regular spiritual practice prior to now but developed one recently.”
While prayer is experienced differently among practitioners, studies have shown noted health benefits like a decrease of stress and aggression. It has also been a way for people to cope with their current situation, feel a greater connection with a sense of purpose or meaning, a feeling of peace and even lower blood pressure, Massey said.
“There’s evidence that spiritual yearning really is human and universal because every religious practice ultimately has this centering practice that leads to a greater sense of self-awareness and a greater sense of peace,” Massey said.
For those looking to start praying, Massey encourages people to identify if there is a religious tradition they are interested in or are currently participating in. People find comfort in familiarity, he said, and sometimes the use of ancient words, chants or mantras can be helpful in decluttering your mind, even if they are not in your primary language.
But even if a specific world religion doesn’t appeal to you, you can still partake in prayer. Massey offers some tips to start:
- Turn off distractions like the TV or your laptop
- Declutter your mind of day-to-day worries
- Take several deep breaths, breathing in slowly in through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Focus on a single word, like “God,” “One,” “Peace,” “Calm,” or a sound like “Ohm”
- Take several more breaths while focusing on your word of choice
“Many of us have already found that drawing on a spiritual practice has helped us during these challenging months and I’d say there are still many challenges ahead,” Massey said. “There is still time for people to draw upon those traditions and develop new ones.”
Learn more about Advocate Aurora Health’s spiritual care here.