Healing with Prayer, Intention, and Meditation

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience” (“Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,” 2012). According to many world teachings, humans are more than just a body. The body is the densest part of our existence (Dunphy, Winland-Brown, Porter, & Thomas, 2007, p. 1205). The multiple layers interact and connect, starting with the physical body and going on to the mental, the emotional, and possibly the most importantly, the spiritual (Dunphy et al., 2007). “We are laid asleep in body, and become a living soul” (“William Wordsworth,” 2012).

Modern medicine tends to focus on the physical and to direct patients to look outside themselves for a magic pill or physical procedure to provide a cure. Many alternative treatments prior to the advent of modern scientific medicine and technology were based upon a connection with a higher source. This connection is formed through intention or prayer and meditation and has been shown to be beneficial for both stress relief and healing. These techniques can be learned and used successfully along with modern medical science to aid patients in improving their own health and well-being. Healing with prayer, intention, and meditation has been used in all cultures throughout history and into the present (Jonas & Crawford, 2003).

As nurses and healers, we are challenged to assist the patient with not only the physical aspects of illness, but the mental, emotional, and spiritual as well. We are faced with the task of engaging patients to be inspired to strive for wellness in all dimensions of their being and on a daily basis (Dunphy et al., 2007).

The Great Divide

“Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” (Yalom, as cited in Hunter, n.d., p. 14). There appears to be a great divide between alternative or complementary therapies and modern scientific medicine. Alternative medicine is often criticized because it tends to deal with unseen forces or faith and belief. The gap widens when we try to direct science to study the miraculous and alternative medicine to become something measurable and scientific (McTaggert, 2008). However, there have been studies that “prove” scientifically that there is a higher energy force, that have successfully and scientifically shown that there is a power in intention and that there are measurable benefits to positive intention. Some of these studies have been small, but there is enough positive data to warrant further expanded research and study.

Healing Energy of Intention

“Something is doing we know not what” (Schroedinger, as cited in Hunter, n.d.). Dr. Masaru Emoto, a Japanese researcher and scientist, has devoted years of his life to the study of the power of positive thinking and intention. He started with something as ordinary as cooked rice granules. With this first study, he set out to see if simple spoken words could produce a defined and measurable outcome. He started with cooked rice in separate jars. The first jars were told daily, “Fool!” the second group was told, “Thank you!” and the third was totally ignored. The rice in the jars that were told “Thank you!” fermented and had a pleasant scent. The rice that was called, “Fool!” became rotten and dark, and the ignored jars of rice turned black and had a foul odor (Emoto, 2005, p. 20). When Emoto sent all the jars to an elementary school, the students told all of them, “Thank you!” daily, and soon all of the jars were fermented with a pleasant scent, even the jars that had previously spoiled.

Following that study, Emoto (2005) went on to study ice crystals. He would collect water in petri dishes, freeze them, and wait for them to reach 5 degrees below zero. He attached words to the outside of the dishes—positive words to some of the dishes and negative to others. Depending on the words the water was exposed to, different ice crystals would be created. The positive words created beautiful, fully formed crystals; the negative created thin, half-formed, jumbled, or indistinguishable forms (Emoto, 2005). He also subjected the water to different music, which created multiple results depending upon the type of music and words in the songs. There are multiple clinical studies that show that the use of sound through music, chanting, and even drumming can have many positive effects on health and healing (Paul, 2012; Winkelman, 2003).

Other studies on seeds were conducted by biologists as far back as the 1960s. They studied the effect of seed growth on outside influences. Seeds that were watered from jars held by clinically depressed patients were stunted, while seeds that were soaked in salt water and then watered from jars upon which energy healers focused healing intent grew taller (McTaggart, 2008). In a study of skin injuries in mice, the mice treated by an energy healer healed better and more quickly than the untreated mice. There are other similar studies, all with similar outcomes; the majority of them were done on seeds, plants, or animals. A study done at the University of Arizona found that musical sound and intentional healing energy affected the number of seeds that sprouted, regardless of seed type, room position, and temperature (Creath & Schwartz, 2004).

One of the only studies of this type with human participants was performed with AIDS patients. This study was the most fascinating. The study was conducted using healers from multiple faiths and cultures: Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, and energy healers, Native American shamans, and even a Chinese qigong master. The study was created to be double-blind and randomized. Each patient started at baseline with the same diagnosis and T cell count. Each healer was given an envelope with a patient’s photo, name, and T cell count. They were asked to create the positive intention of health and well-being for the patient for an hour each day for 6 days. In a homogeneous group of 20 patients with the same T cell counts and illnesses, half were given the usual medical treatment and remote healing from 40 religious and spiritual healers, and half received the usual medical treatment. Each of the 10 remote healing patients received treatment from all of the remote healers in turn. By the end of the study, 40% of the control group had passed away, but all 10 patients in the remote healing group were alive and healthier than they had been when the study began (McTaggart, 2008).

Transcendental Consciousness

 These effects can all be attributed to a connection to a higher energy source, God, the Great Spirit, the Universal Energy Source, Love, or the Divine—whatever term a person feels is appropriate. This higher spiritual connection appears vital to life and wholeness. This connection can be termed transcendental consciousness. Transcendental consciousness is connection with something greater and beyond oneself, something outside the mundane (Cosmos, 2006). (2009) defines transcendental asbeing beyond ordinary or common experience, thought, or belief; supernatural.” It appears we are just recognizing how vital transcendental consciousness can be to counteract ill health and stress in our waking hours. The effects of sleep deprivation and dream deprivation have been extensively studied and are well known. Transcendental consciousness is a peace that is derived from the sacred, from prayer or daily meditation, and may be as necessary and vital to counteract stress-related diseases and disorders as sleep and dreaming are (Rector, 2009).

Description of Management Protocol and Application

Even with modern medicine’s scientific advances and high costs, Americans still are faced with multiple preventable illnesses. Data from multiple studies have shown that “90% of disease is caused or complicated by stress” (Institute of Science, Technology, and Public Policy, 1998). One easy, inexpensive, and effective tool to help relieve stress is a daily meditation program. Patients that are having problems with sleep, depression, anxiety, or stress management issues as well as chronic pain would benefit from learning meditation techniques (Brauser, 2011; Lowry, 2011; UW Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, 2007; Rector, 2009).

Assessment questionnaires such as the Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire and the Beck Depression Inventory Scale (Brauser, 2011), which are used for depression and PTSD, would be applicable to use at baseline and follow-up for patients being taught meditation to monitor progress and results. Meditation is beneficial as an adjunct to counseling, medication, and medication teaching. Recommendations are up to 20 minutes daily twice a day to achieve full benefit (Brauser, 2011). Morning and evening are opportune times. During the first few office visits, patients can be instructed on how to best meditate, and given a step-by-step handout to follow. Having the patient relax and guiding them through the process for 20 minutes of a visit would be an effective way to encourage and teach the method. If they have access to a computer, there are free Internet sites where one can listen to guided meditations or read more about tips and techniques.

In a successful study that treated children with PTSD, a particular meditation was consistently utilized. In the study, the participants were guided through the meditation. The steps and sequencing of the sessions were as follows:

[The sessions] started and ended with a 15 min breathing exercise, guiding the child to achieve relaxation by attaining a conscious focus in one’s mind on the incoming and outgoing breath. The middle part of the following sessions consisted of different meditation and relaxation techniques and exercises, including 'inner peace meditation' (session 2, 25 min), 'uchchadana mantra chanting' (session 3, 25 min), 'progressive muscle relaxation' (session 4, 25 min), 'ice cream body relaxation' (session 5, 25 min), and 'inner light meditation' (session 6, 25 min). (Catani, Kohiladevy, Ruf, Schauer, Elbert, & Neuner, 2009, para. 22)

In the ice cream meditation technique, the child was guided to stand up and gently directed to imagine he or she was an ice cream cone, melting in the warm summer air. As the ice cream slowly melted, the child’s body would also slowly relax. The tension in the body would slowly melt away, starting from the top of the head and moving down toward the feet, and by the end of the meditation the child was lying on the floor (Catani et al., 2009).

Critique of Approaches That Support Protocol

            Multiple studies have supported the use of meditation for a variety of health benefits. Studies on the benefits of meditation show that meditation produces a state of deep rest with measurable changes in respiration and heart rate, which in turn regulates cortisol and other stress-related hormones as well as serotonin, the neurotransmitter related to mood (Rector, 2009). The University of Wisconsin-Madison extensively studied the brainwave activity of Tibetan Buddhist monks in comparison to novice meditators. The studies showed that both at rest and during meditation, the monks showed markedly increased left-side prefrontal cortex activity. This area is “associated with positive affective mental states … and improved immune function” (UW Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, 2007, para. 7). Many studies also have shown that meditation displays positive effects of reducing anxiety and depression recurrence (UW Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, 2007).

A study done in 2011 and presented at the International Congress of the Royal College of Psychiatrists studied Indian monks and nuns using a 12-item General Health Questionnaire to monitor anxiety and depression. The results of the study showed that the longer the participant had practiced meditation, the better the mental health outcomes (Lowry, 2011). Meditation has also been used for veterans to combat PTSD. In a small study on Iraq veterans suffering from PTSD, the participants showed a marked reduction in PTSD symptoms, improvements in sleep and communication, and a significant increase in measurable quality of life after practicing transcendental meditation for 20 minutes twice daily for only 8 weeks. Four different outcome scales were used to measure the results. More research will be needed, as the study was comprised of only five participants (Lowry, 2011).

Finally, as was mentioned previously, a group of children treated with guided meditation and relaxation in Sri Lanka in 2009 (after the civil war and tsunami) achieved a 71% recovery rate in 6-month follow-up testing (Catani et al., 2009).

Client Considerations and Outcome Measurements

            Many clients have never tried meditation and do not know how or where to start. After introducing the subject, talking them into a relaxed state while they are with you at a visit may be enough to convince them of meditation’s effectiveness. Teaching clients that there are steps they can take to improve their health and well-being is very empowering. Dunphy et al. (2007) write that as nurses, we are taught to care for others as complete beings. Nursing concerns include the human belief system, inner conflict, and suffering, as well as a reminder of the interconnectedness of all life. Florence Nightingale taught that as nurses, we do not cure the patient, but instead help guide them into a position where nature can cure (Dunphy et al., 2007).

            A few simple but valuable tips for a person new to meditation are to first find someplace quiet where you will not be disturbed or distracted. Starting out with 15 minutes of time set aside using a soft timer may be useful. It is better to sit, rather than lie down, as it is easier to stay awake while sitting (Ho, 2012). Yogi meditation teaches that it is best to sit with a comfortably straight spine, either on the floor with back support or on a chair with your feet on the ground. If it is difficult to focus on “nothing” or you find yourself thinking of “everything but,” using a candle flame or attention to breath may help you focus. Chanting a repetitive word is another option (Paul, 2012). There are many books and CDs that may be helpful, but the key is to remember that meditation is hard work, and will take some time and practice to develop. The important thing is to encourage the patient to not give up (Ho, 2011, 2012).

Outcome measurements could be done at follow-up appointments. The study by Catani et al. (2009) on meditation for children with PTSD from civil war and the tsunami used a baseline UCLA post-traumatic stress disorder index measurement, with the addition of questions pertaining to life satisfaction, family, and social life; the children were tested at baseline and at 1-month and 6-month follow-up visits. A study on monks and nuns with 12 or more years of meditation experience used a 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) to measure time and meditation outcomes. In that study, for every year of added time spent meditating, the score on the GHQ showed a 0.21 point decrease (Lowry, 2011). Finally, in the study on PTSD and transcendental meditation, the meditation was taught directly to the veteran participants, and the instructors checked in regularly to make sure the veterans had support and assistance if needed. The veterans in this study were assessed at baseline and at 8 and 12 weeks follow-up. There were multiple scales used to measure outcomes:

The primary outcome measure was the Clinician-Administered PTSD scale(CAPS), and secondary outcomes included the Clinicians Global Inventory-Severity (CGI-S) and Improvement (CGI-I) scales, the Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire (Q-LES-Q), the PTSD checklist- Military Version (PCL-M), and the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) scale. (Lowry, 2011, para. 16)

For more general purposes, the General Health Questionnaire and the Quality of Life Enjoyment and Satisfaction Questionnaire would be good to use for patient assessment at baseline and follow-up for patients seeking help with generalized anxiety, insomnia, or stress-related disorders. The Beck Depression Inventory or a similar scale could be used for patients with depression or grief-related disorders.


            In conclusion, there are many benefits to meditation as a means to higher spiritual connection. The practice can both improve mental and physical condition and create a bridge to a stronger spiritual connection (UW Integrative Medicine, Department of Family Medicine, 2007). Dunphy et al. (2007) remind us that spiritual teachings throughout our history tell us that we are made up of much more than a physical body. We are comprised of mental, physical, emotional, and also spiritual aspects. Each of these areas interacts and connects us to each other and something both greater and beyond us. This “something greater” has been defined in psychology as the collective unconscious, or in religion as God, the divine, or the universal energy field. The nursing profession challenges us to become nurse-healers by working with positive intention and universal energy. We need to allow nature and the divine to assist us in working with the physical, emotional, and psychological as well as the spiritual realm of the client (Dunphy et al., 2007).

There are many promising benefits to adding meditation to traditional therapies to assist patients with daily stress and physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and illness. The common theme in the seed and plant studies mentioned previously is that when we concentrate on the negative or are consumed with negative thinking, it stunts the plant or seed’s response. If we direct that negative thought process toward ourselves, the result may be that we become fearful and anxious, which in turn affects our immune response, our body’s physical ability to heal, and our psychological, spiritual, and emotional response (Dunphy et al., 2007).

The multiple studies on positive energy mentioned previously show a consistent response when positive intention, meditation, or some sort of daily spiritual practice is intentionally used. This creates a beneficial shift into a higher form of consciousness. There seem to be many ways to connect with this universal consciousness, from music to chanting to prayer and meditation. An aspect of healing that is easy to forget is how much our thoughts, emotions, and attitudes affect our daily health and well-being. Remembering Nightingale’s teachings, healing is putting the client into the best possible position so that nature can then best assist him or her (Dunphy et al. 2007). Our nursing duty then becomes to give our clients the support and tools to allow them to achieve that position of health and wholeness that completes them physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Meditation appears to be a simple and highly effective tool to teach and encourage patients as well as practice ourselves. There are benefits on multiple levels both proven, and extraordinary that an intentional positive and transcendent connection is both a gift and tool we can use daily to help with illness, and to achieve a higher level of health and wholeness.        .


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