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Meditation vs. Prayer

Sunday, January 12, 2020


Prayer and meditation are both ancient spiritual practices. They’ve been practiced by different cultures and religions around the world for thousands of years.


But we tend to think of them differently. When you think of prayer, you might imagine someone at a church, mosque, synagogue, or temple. Meditation, on the other hand, conjures an image of someone sitting quietly with their eyes closed. 


While it’s true that prayer and meditation are different in some ways, they share some commonalities. They help people create a connection with the divine or the universe, as well as seek inner peace and comfort. These practices can also come with physical and mental benefits.


For these reasons, and more, prayer and meditation can be effective practices for the elderly.


Prayer and meditation for seniors 


As we get older, we face new challenges. 


We may struggle with disabilities and lose some of our independence when it comes to things like daily tasks. We may also have to deal with boredom, which often leads to depression. And sometimes, friends and loved ones pass away, and we are left with a sense of loss and sadness. 


At times when we feel lonely or vulnerable, prayer and meditation can bring us peace and hope, along with other benefits.


In this article, we’ll cover both meditation and prayer. 


We’ll discuss their similarities, differences, and their benefits. We’ll discuss both practices in detail so that you can decide which one might be a better fit for you.


What is the difference between prayer and meditation?


Before we delve into the benefits of prayer and meditation, let’s look at the differences (and similarities) between these two ancient practices.


What is prayer? 


Simply put, prayer is the practice of communicating with the divine. 


Prayer is typically practiced by people that follow a religion. But you don’t have to be part of an organized faith to pray. You can pray as long as you believe in a higher power, whether you call it God, the divine, or the universe.


In prayer, you’re offering your heart and mind to the higher power. You’re focusing your thoughts on the divine. You’re surrendering your past, present, and future to God. You’re looking to strengthen your connection with the divine spirit so that it may affect change in, and through, your human existence.


What does prayer involve? 


How you pray is often tied to your belief system. For example, a prayer session at a Hindu temple might be vastly different than what you’d see in a Catholic church. 


Prayer is a profoundly personal experience. So, there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to do it as long as you believe that you’re connecting with the divine.


But here are some common forms of prayer that people practice around the world.


Worship - Worship is a form of prayer where you express your adoration for God. You acknowledge the greatness of the divine and your faith in the higher power.


Petition - Most of us are familiar with this one. A petition prayer is where you ask God for a particular outcome, whether that’s spiritual or material. You may ask for better health for yourself or a loved one, better finances, or harmonious relationships, among other things. But you also profess your trust in the divine, and accept God’s will in the event your prayer isn’t answered the way you expected. 


Thanksgiving - A thanksgiving prayer is when you’re thanking God for the blessings in your life, past, present, and future. You can also interpret this as a petition prayer in some cases. If your faith is strong, you expect God to answer your prayers, and you pray by giving thanks in advance.


Hymns or chants - Chanting, hymns, or even songs can be used to express your faith in the divine. There are various forms of these prayers, depending on religion and culture.


This is not a complete list by any means. Your religion might have its unique way of praying, and that is just as effective as any others. The critical thing is to pray wholeheartedly and have a strong desire to connect with the divine spirit.


If you’ve never prayed before, your first step can be to connect with those that share your faith in your community. If you follow a major religion, there should be an organization somewhere close to you. You can also look for religious communities online to see if there are local meetups. 


And of course, you can always get started on your own. All you need to do is set aside a few minutes each day to sit quietly and talk to God. 


What is meditation? 


Meditation (also known as mindfulness) has been gaining popularity in the western world over the last few decades. But just like prayer, meditation is an ancient practice dating back thousands of years. 


The purpose of meditation is to alter your consciousness, to change your state of mind. It is a mental practice that allows you to experience a heightened state of awareness. There are various benefits of meditation, as we’ll discuss below. 


Many people think of meditation as a practice from the east, namely Buddhism and Hinduism. While those religions do practice meditation, it has also been a part of various other cultures around the world. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all have their versions of meditative practices.


A common misconception about meditation is that it is a religious practice. But that’s not the case. Anyone who wants greater awareness can meditate, whether they believe in a higher power or not. Religion has nothing to do with it. 

What does meditation involve?


Just like prayer, there are different forms of meditation. But the most common method is to practice a form of concentration or focus.


It could be as simple as focusing on your breath, or you can repeat a word or “mantra.” The idea is that by focusing on one thing, you eliminate all distractions, which allows you to reach a higher level of awareness. 


The other popular meditation techniques are visualization and mind-body awareness.


With visualization, you relax your body, close your eyes, and imagine a situation that you find calming and relaxing.


The mind-body awareness technique involves scanning through and intentionally relaxing each part of your body. The idea is that by attaining physical relaxation, you would also calm your mind and reach a higher state. 


To get started with meditation, you have a few options.


If you have access to a yoga studio, they typically offer meditation classes. You can also check with your local senior centers to see if they have any meditation sessions scheduled. Otherwise, Headspace is a meditation app designed for beginners.

How are prayer and meditation similar?


The techniques of prayer and meditation are different, as is their purpose, to some extent. But there are quite a few similarities between them. 


Just like meditation, prayer can be a contemplative practice. Many people experience an elevated state of awareness during worship. At advanced stages, both methods can alter your consciousness. By focusing on your connection with God, you’re eliminating distractions, which can help you reach greater awareness like meditation.


Also, during both meditation and prayer, you’d try to reduce distractions as much as possible. You might look for a quiet space where you can relax and practice in peace. Often, a place of prayer like a church, temple, or mosque, will aim to create a tranquil and meditative environment so you can focus on your prayer.


One of the reasons that you see meditation practiced in so many religious cultures is that the two practices can complement each other. If you do believe in a higher power, a meditation practice can enhance your prayer and your connection with God. Vice versa, praying beforehand can have similar effects on meditation.

Why are prayer and meditation important for seniors? 


Now that we’ve discussed prayer and meditation let’s look at how you can benefit from these practices as a senior.

Prayer improves mood in elderly adults


Mood disorders like depression and anxiety among the elderly is a growing concern. Older adults are prone to mood disorders for various reasons like loneliness and boredom, among others.


A regular prayer practice can help improve mood for seniors.


One study published looked at two groups of elderly adults diagnosed with depression. One group had regular prayer practice, and one did not. The group that prayed had a significant reduction in symptoms of depression when compared to the group that did not.


And it’s not just mood disorders. According to a Baylor University study, older adults who prayed regularly enjoyed greater well-being. They had a greater sense of optimism and self-esteem compared to those who did not pray.

Prayer can provide community 


Loneliness is another challenge that seniors often face, due to various reasons like limited mobility and a changing social circle.


One of the benefits of prayer is that it can connect you with a community of like-minded people at your place of worship. People at churches, mosques, synagogues, or temples are connected through their faith, and they tend to look after each other.


Being a part of a closely-knit group can bring you emotional security that is vital to your well-being.

A prayer practice can provide purpose


Similar to the previous point, a prayer practice can bring purpose and structure to your day. 


You might start your day off with prayer as a part of your morning routine. Or you may have events scheduled at your local church, like a prayer group meetup, for example. Either way, creating a prayer ritual and having a community that supports you can bring you a sense of purpose.


Through your place of worship, you might also find opportunities to be of service to others. Not only do you get to help your community, but you might benefit as well from the sense of purpose that comes from helping others.


Meditation may improve brain function 


As we age, our cognitive function naturally declines. Maybe you’ve noticed that your memory isn’t what it used to be or that it takes you a bit longer to process information.


The good news is that with meditation, you can improve your cognitive function at any age. 


A 2014 review looked at numerous studies involving older adults and the effects of meditation on their brain function. It found that those who meditated regularly experienced improvements in memory, ability to focus, as well as processing speed. 


Meditation can enhance mood


As we mentioned before, seniors are more susceptible to disorders like anxiety and depression. There is evidence that suggests that meditation may help reduce stress and improve mood. At the least, meditating will help you feel more calm and relaxed, which can have various positive effects on your mental health. 


Meditation may improve health 


It’s not just your mental health that can benefit from meditation. There are indications that mindfulness practice can improve aspects of your physical health as well, like circulation and digestion. 


Meditation’s role in relaxation and reducing stress might play a role in its various potential health benefits.


According to one study, mindfulness meditation seemed to prevent colitis flare-ups by reducing stress. Also, the American Heart Association has stated that there is a possible link between meditation and a reduction in heart health risk.

Which one is right for me: prayer or meditation?


As we’ve discussed in the article, both meditation and prayer can have a positive effect on your well-being as a senior. These practices can improve your mood, your sense of well-being, and potentially even your health.


If you’re someone that believes in a higher power, you can try prayer, or meditation, or both. If you don’t believe in a higher power, then meditation might be more suited to your belief system.


The vital thing to note is that one isn’t better than the other. They can both significantly improve your life if you practice them consistently. So, you should pick the practice that you’ll enjoy and more likely to stick with over the long run. 


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