Prayer is a practice inherent to most of the world’s major religions. Generally speaking, it involves deliberate communication with a deity, spiritual entity, deceased person, or other object of worship. Prayer may be conducted in both group and individual settings. Prayer may be spontaneous or the individual may choose to recite or read a written prayer, such as a formal creed. Some prayers, such as hymns, are sung. The purpose of prayer varies according to the individual and the religious affiliation, if any. Some people pray for protection, assistance, and guidance, while others pray to confess or express their thoughts and feelings or ask for help on behalf of someone else. A poll conducted in 2013 by Pew Research indicated that over 50% of Americans pray every single day. Even atheists admitted to praying on occasion.

Forms of Prayer

Prayer may take a number of different forms. Some spiritual traditions pray before meals or in the morning or in the evening, before bed. Physical gestures, such as kneeling on the ground or bowing the head, may be part of praying. Native Americans have traditionally regarded dancing as a form of prayer. Sufis may whirl around while they pray. Hindus often chant mantras. In the Jewish tradition, prayer may include swaying and bowing. Muslims may prostrate themselves on the ground in what is called salat. Some spiritual traditions involve prayer that follows a specified format or ritual, while others promote unrehearsed prayer. Some religions involve a combination of the two. Prayer may be conducted individually or may be involved in a worship ceremony.

Elevated View of a Crowd of People Praying


Prayer has been around for centuries. Some would argue that it has been around since humans became smart enough to contemplate their own existence. Today, many health professionals now recognize prayer as a form of contemporary alternative therapy. In the past decade, research has shown that prayer can have a positive effect on the mind and the body. The following are some of scientifically-proven benefits of regular prayer:

  • Self-control: Research has shown that praying on a regular basis can have a positive effect on self-control. In one study, participants who were asked to say a prayer prior to a mentally difficult task were more likely to maintain self-control during the task.
  • Kindness: Some studies have shown that individuals who pray for those in need are less likely to be aggressive when they are angry.
  • Forgiveness: Those who pray for their loved ones on a regular basis are more willing to offer forgiveness to their loved ones, according to one study.
  • Trust: Findings from a study examining the effect of prayer on trust revealed that praying with a close friend or significant other increased feelings of unity and confidence in each other.
  • Stress: Prayer is thought to cancel out the negative effects of stress. In one study, findings indicated that the negative health effects associated with financial stress, including high blood pressure or insomnia, decreased significantly when the participant engaged in prayer for the benefit of others.

Serene young woman doing prayer pose in the desert


Scientists and intellectuals may be highly critical of groups and individuals who believe in a higher power, including religious traditions. While the existence of a higher power cannot be proved empirically, there are scientifically-proven benefits to expressing spirituality, whether through religion or as an individual. Prayer is one of those benefits and can serve as a sort of mind-body medicine that decreases the physical effects of stress and improves social relations.