Prayer and Meditation are ancient spiritual practices. They have 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 can imagine someone in a church, mosque, or temple. Meditation, on the other hand, conjures up an image of someone sitting quietly with their eyes closed.
While it is true that prayer and meditation are different in some respects, they share some commonalities. They help people to create a connection to the divine or the universe, as well as to seek inner peace and comfort. These practices can also bring physical and mental benefits.
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?
Prayer is typically practiced by people who 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, divine, or the universe.
In prayer, you are offering your heart and mind to the higher power. You are focusing your thoughts on the divine. You are giving your past, present and future to God. You are seeking to strengthen your connection with the divine spirit so that it can affect change in and through your human existence. The way you pray is often tied to your belief system. For example, a prayer session in a Hindu temple could be different from what you would see in a Catholic church.
Prayer is a deeply personal experience. So there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong way to do it as long as you believe that you are connecting with the divine.
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 recognize the greatness of the divine and your faith in the higher power.
Petition – Most of us are familiar with this. A petition prayer is where you ask God for a particular result, be it spiritual or material. You can 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 case your prayer is not answered in the way you expected.
Thanksgiving – A thanksgiving prayer is when you are 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 giving thanks in advance.
Hymns or songs – 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.
If you’ve never prayed before, your first step may be to connect with those who share your faith in your community. If you follow a big religion, there should be an organization somewhere near you. You can also search for religious communities online to see if there are local gatherings.
And, of course, you can always start 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 has gained popularity in the Western world in recent decades. But like prayer, meditation is an ancient practice that dates 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 consciousness.
Many people think of meditation as an Eastern practice, namely Buddhism and Hinduism. While those religions practice meditation, it has also been a part of other cultures around the world. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have their versions of meditative practices.
A common misconception about meditation is that it is a religious practice. But it’s not like that. Anyone who wants greater awareness can meditate, whether they believe in a higher power or not. Religion has nothing to do with it.
Like prayer, there are different forms of meditation. But the most common method is to practice a form of concentration and focus.
It could be as simple as concentrating on your breathing and you can repeat a word or “mantra.” The idea is that by focusing on one thing, you eliminate all distractions, it’s allowing you to reach a higher level of awareness.
How are prayer and meditation alike?
Prayer and meditation techniques are different, as is their purpose and to some extent. But there are quite a few similarities between them.
Like meditation, prayer can be a contemplative practice. Many people experience a heightened state of consciousness during worship. In advanced stages, both methods can alter your consciousness. By focusing on your connection to God, you are eliminating distractions, which can help you achieve greater awareness, such as meditation.
During meditation and prayer, you would try to reduce distractions as much as possible. You can find a quiet space where make you relax and practice in peace. Often times, a place of prayers such as a church, temple, or mosque will aim to create a calm and meditative environment so that you can focus on your prayer.
One of the reasons you see meditation being practiced in so many religions is that the two practices can complement each other. If you believe in a higher power, a meditation practice can improve your prayer and your connection to God. Vice versa, praying beforehand can have similar effects on meditation.
Why are prayer and meditation important for older people?
Now that we’ve discussed prayer and meditation, let’s see how you can benefit from these practices in your golden years.
Prayer improves mood in older adults
Mood disorders such as depression and anxiety among the elderly is a growing concern. Older adults are prone to mood disorders for various reasons, such as loneliness and boredom, among others.
A regular prayer practice can help improve the mood of older people
A published study looked at two groups of older adults diagnosed with depression. One group had a regular prayer practice, and one did not. The group that prayed had a significant reduction in depression symptoms compared to the group that did not.
And it’s not just about 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-worth compared to those who did not pray.
Prayer can provide community
Loneliness is another challenge older people face, due to various reasons such as 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 in your place of worship. People in churches, mosques, and temples are connected through their faith and tend to care for each other.
Being part of a tight-knit group can provide the emotional security that is vital to your well-being.
Meditation can improve brain function
As we age, our cognitive function naturally declines. You may have realized that your memory is not what it used to be or that it takes you a little longer to process the information.
The good news is that with meditation, you can improve your cognitive function at any age. It found that those who meditated regularly experienced improvements in memory, concentration ability, and processing speed.
Related post: How to do Mindfulness Meditation
Meditation can improve mood
As we mentioned earlier, older people are more susceptible to disorders like anxiety and depression. There is a study to suggest that meditation can help reduce stress and improve mood. At the very least, meditating will help you feel calmer and more relaxed, which can have several positive effects on your mental health.
Meditation can improve health
It’s not just your mental health that can benefit from meditation. There are indications that mindfulness practice can also improve aspects of your physical health, such as circulation and digestion.
The role of meditation in relaxation and stress reduction could play a role in its various potential health benefits.
Which one is right for me: prayer or meditation?
As we have discussed in the article, both meditation and prayer can have a positive effect on your well-being as an older person. These practices can improve your mood, your sense of well-being, and potentially even your health.
If you are someone who believes in a higher power, you can try prayer, meditation, or both. If you don’t believe in a higher power, then meditation might be more suitable for your belief system.
The vital thing to keep in mind is that one is not better than the other. Both can significantly improve your life if you practice them consistently. Therefore, you should choose the practice that you will enjoy and are more likely to follow in the long term.
Related post: 40 Ways to Create Peace of Mind and Happiness