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For many the power of prayer can heal emotional, spiritual and physical pain and illness. Therapeutic applications like intersessory prayer, laying on of hands, meditation and mindfulness are just a few of the practices that constitute 'prayer'. What, exactly, is a prayer anyway? How do those who 'feel it's power' know it works?

Researchers in the field of 'Neuro theology' argue that evidence supports a direct 'health bonus' for religious and spiritual people. What does the medical literature say about the healing potential of prayer? There have been over 1,600 published articles looking into the topic of prayer and healing. Join us on the Heath and Wellness show as we discuss the power of prayer.

And stay tuned for Zoya's Pet Health Segment where the topic will be pet therapy.

Running Time: 01:07:49

Download: MP3

Here's the transcript of the show:

Erica: Hello and welcome to the Health and Wellness Show. Today is January 18th, 2019 and I am your host Erica. Joining me in our virtual studio from all across the world are my co-hosts Tiffany and Doug.

Tiffany: Good morning.

Doug: Hello.

Erica: So welcome all. Thank you for joining us today. Our topic is the power of prayer. It actually should be the healing power of prayer.

Tiffany: Should we put it in question marks "the power of prayer?" That would require some discussion.

Erica: And that's why we're here. We're going to discuss the healing power of prayer, so how it pertains to health and wellness. For many people the power of prayer can heal emotional, spiritual, physical pain, and illness. Therapeutic applications like intercessory prayer, laying on of hands, meditation and mindfulness are just a few of the practices that constitute prayer. So what exactly is prayer anyway, and how do those who feel its power know it works? Researchers in the field of neurotheology argue that evidence supports a direct relationship or health bonus for religious and spiritual people. What does the medical literature say about the healing potential of prayer? There have been over 1,600 published articles looking into this topic, so please join us today. If you have any experiences you'd like to share you're welcome to share them in the chat or hey, call on in.

Tiffany: But pray for us during this show. {laughter}

Erica: God grant me the ability to make it through this show.

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: So we decided that it would probably be best to start with a clip from Jordan Peterson. He talks a little bit about prayer and it's a good starting off point. So we're going to play this clip and then we're gonna come back and discuss.

Jordan Peterson: The cynical attitude towards prayer is something like asking God for favours, and then of course the cynical analysis of that is, if you ask God for favours, he won't help you find your lost wallet, generally speaking. But if you take a bit of a more sophisticated approach to it, what you're doing if you pray is that you formulate a question and you wait for an answer. A prayer might be "Okay, I would like to do the best thing I could with my life." Now you have to open yourself up to that. That's to knock so the door will open. "I would like to do the best thing with my life. What might that be?"

Now you could say that you're thinking when you say that, or you could say that you're leaving yourself open for a revelation or an intuition, but you're communing with whatever it is that enables you to receive wisdom. You can attribute all of that to you, or you can attribute it to your brain I suppose. But you're really communing with the structure of the cosmos when you're asking such a question, especially if you do it properly. It's really useful to do that, and it's really necessary because it orients you properly.

So when prayer is considered in a sophisticated manner, which is "do I commune with the better part of myself to determine how I should orient myself in the world?" it's a catastrophic loss not to do that.

Erica: Amen.

Doug: Sorry, I forgot there was a tune at the end there, some nice little piano music.

Tiffany: Well that was a pretty nice, succinct version of what prayer is, or could be, or should be.

Doug: Well it's interesting. I think he makes an important distinction there, because usually when you think about prayer it's usually "I'm going to ask God for stuff. I'm going to pray that I get the Christmas present" - I'm thinking of as a kid, pray that you get the Christmas present that you really, really want. Or pray for a raise or a promotion or something like that. "I'm just going to put an order in with God and hopefully he'll make that order come true." I think that Peterson is making a distinction there. He doesn't even necessarily say that it's talking with any kind of higher power. It's more like the highest part of yourself, and it's looking for insight as opposed to stuff.

Tiffany: Like you said, that's the typical view of what prayer is. Most of the time you can't really separate prayer from religion. That's automatically what I think of when I think of people praying and my own experience with religion and prayer; going to church as a kid, learning the Lord's Prayer, or saying "you have to say your prayers before you go to bed every night," and getting down on your knees and folding your hands in that prayer position and asking God for stuff. That's typically what I think maybe the average person thinks about when they think about prayer. "Please God, don't let me die from this sickness," or "please keep my husband from leaving me," or "I want to get this job or this promotion, please God, please, please, please." It's like begging. When I was a kid I would think "Does God get pissed off because the only time you talk to him is when you want something?" {laughter}

Doug: I always thought that too. Isn't it a little bit demanding?

Tiffany: And selfish.

Doug: And selfish, yeah. "Dear God, make my life super easy. Give me everything that I want. Amen."

Tiffany: I found a definition online. They define prayer as making a request in a humble manner to address God with adoration, confession, supplication, or thanksgiving.

Erica: I saw that too.

Tiffany: Yeah. A lot of church prayers are people gathering around to say prayers before a meal. There's a lot of "thank you"s and "God you're most holy and the father, the son and the holy spirit and we love you God" and all that stuff. But Jordan Peterson makes a very different definition of what prayer is, and I think that I may have experienced that as well. It's like asking a question and being open for whatever the answer is. I don't know if I can pinpoint it exactly, because I didn't consider it praying because I wasn't on my knees, my hands weren't folded. I wasn't necessarily talking to God or Jesus or anybody. I remember one time, I didn't even frame it as a question. I just said "I want to know how the world works and why the world is the way that it is". And then a little while after I stumbled upon...

Erica: He answered your prayers!

Tiffany: Yeah, my real education.

Doug: That's interesting. There's another quote from Jordan Peterson actually. I don't have a recording of this one, but I'll just read it because it's not too long. It says,

I don't ask God for favours or for wishes, but I do think that if you sit on the edge of your bed and things aren't going very well for you, and you ask what foolish thing you're doing to make it worse, that you'll get an answer right now and it won't be the one that you want, but it might be the one that, if you listen to it, would set things straight.

Tiffany: I think one of the distinctions is that one is begging or demanding but in a nice way, but attempting to control the outcome or the situation. And then Jordan Peterson's explanation is more like being open, asking what you can do or what can be done to make whatever situation better, versus saying, "I want things like this and please give it to me".

Doug: Yeah. I think that's a huge thing. A big, big difference. It may manifest as kind of subtle at this level but I think it's a big difference. It's like asking for insight or being open to what the response is going to be -- not trying to predetermine what would be best for you and asking for that. It's a very big difference.

Erica: I found it interesting in reading for this topic this week about the whole relationship with prayer and healing, and this idea that if you pray for somebody who's sick that they'll get better, and if anyone's ever gone through a tragic death of a family member or close friend (especially with terminal illness like cancer) you can pray and pray and pray and they're still going to die. That's just the reality of the situation. But I think there's a difference between prayer for healing and prayer to cure. Maybe people who are at the end of their life and embrace this idea of prayer, maybe some of the things that may have led to that illness can be healed before they die. So not a cure, but a releasing of whatever it is that has caused them so much pain and suffering, if that makes sense.

Doug: Well I think if you look at any kind of illness, disease, or condition as a lesson then you're not praying - I think if you're doing it right anyway - you're not praying to just give up that lesson, "I don't want to learn this lesson so make me better". It's more like praying for guidance or help in learning the lesson, or something along those lines. I think that it can come in ways that we're not expecting. The idea that you can just sit there and you pray and all of a sudden you wake up and you're healed is probably not going to happen. But you might pray for an answer and suddenly you find out about a new therapy, or something that might help in some way, or find a person who is capable of showing you the way, or something along those lines.

Tiffany: Pray for guidance or pray for a certain course of action to take in your particular situation. Do we want to talk about what actually is a prayer? What is it? I've thought before "what is a thought?" People say "I'm going to pray for you," or "I'll keep you and your family in my thoughts." What actually is that, either on a micro scale or a quantum level or on a macrocosmic level. What is a prayer? What does the act of sending healing or good thoughts or positive thoughts look like or what does it do? What does it mean? I don't know. {laughter}

Erica: I feel you Tiffany. I was just going to share for myself because I grew up in a "religious" family. We went to church, we sang in the choir, bible study, the Lord's Prayer as Tiffany had mentioned. And we spent a lot of time doing it and I remember being pretty young and thinking, "All these people are talking about really great things but their behaviour isn't showing that necessarily." And I never had an aha! moment as a kid, the "I feel the spirit of God". They kept saying "Jesus is with you" and all this stuff and you're like "I'm not feeling Jesus." I think probably the only time I really felt like a spirit or a connection with other people was singing in the choir so that was my go-to. Now in my later years I think it's probably stress reduction, breathing.

Tiffany: Stimulating the vagus nerve.

Erica: Yeah! Also this idea of community and people coming together and they all have the same thoughts in mind, whatever it is. You can have those experiences doing karaoke with your friends. It's the same kind of feeling. I'm going to quote Bob Marley here. He said, "Who feels it knows it" and that's kind of my feeling about it. When you're thinking of other people and you are having them in your prayers, you're not thinking about yourself necessarily, but you want what's best for somebody else.

Tiffany: There was a good article called The Dichotomy of Effective Prayer and the author said that the prayer is a way to focus energy in a person's direction on a quantum level. That was one of the questions they asked. I surmise maybe is it a way to get the universe to take notice of a person or a situation? But wouldn't the universe notice that person anyway because we're all part of the universe? In the article they went on to say that, if you imagine the universe is parallel lines and lanes of a highway, and if you go way out far to the left or the right there might be different things happening and there's a possibility that you can get your reality to match this other lane that might be a possible future perhaps. So is prayer a way to tip the scale in one direction versus another direction?

Then they go on to talk about how the heart releases electromagnetic energy, and it can create this harmonic resonance with the surrounding environment. So you have positive emotions like joy, gratitude, or acceptance that might move you into a different direction than if you're begging, pleading, and lamenting how sucky things are.

Doug: It's interesting because that's similar to what Joe Dispenza talks about with his different meditations and stuff like that: getting yourself into a state of where you would be were that prayer a reality. They mention the heart and the electromagnetic field of the heart and I think there definitely is a very strong emotional component to prayer. This is the problem, because it kind of gets into that flaky new age and The Secret kind of stuff where "you just have to get rid of all your negative emotions and just be this positive being in a complete state of denial about your life breaking down around you and then you'll get exactly what you want," which seems naïve and silly at the base of it.

But at the same time there definitely is this emotional component to prayer and I don't think that, if you're coming from this place of victimhood, lack and despair, it's almost like coming from a place where you pity yourself so much and you want the universe to pity you as well. You're asking for these things out of a sense of patheticness and "I'm a pathetic human being. Please take pity on me" which seems like an old testament perspective on things: begging for relief from whatever you're going through at that time. Whereas I think there is a difference when you are coming from a place of "yeah, things are bad but I know they can be better" - and not even "and this is how I think it would be better" because then you're demanding that things be your way. I don't know. It's a sticky thing.

Erica: Well in that article they had a good quote. It says "If prayer is nothing else, it is the ability to constructively focus the mind and the heart. Prayer does not happen in the mind but in the heart, and prayer is not a thought but a feeling. Prayer is always at work. When we learn to work with our emotions we wield effective prayer."

Tiffany: I don't know if it was the same article or a different article, there was a woman whose father was very sick and in the hospital and she decided that she was going to have a prayer circle or something and she got some people together and they were praying, but it wasn't begging or pleading. They were celebrating her dad's life and how he was a great person and how he lived a good life and how they loved him so much, and he got better after the prayer session. I guess you could say that they approached the situation with love and joy and good feelings and they weren't sighing and crying about "please don't let him die." It's a fine line to walk, and you can't really name what you should do because in a way, that's like demanding, "I want things to be this certain way so give it to me."

Doug: What's the word I'm looking for? It's like there's an arrogance to it, thinking that I know the way things should be and am making a demand that it be that way.

Tiffany: So when you pray is it whatever energy particles are directed at a person?

Doug: That's a good question.

Tiffany: I guess the question is, does that really have an effect, or is it placebo, or is it coincidence?

Doug: Well it's kind of similar to the whole distance Reiki thing. When people are doing Reiki on people at a distance, in a sense that's kind of a prayer. Or it's like sending energy...

Tiffany: Directed healing energy.

Erica: Again, thinking of somebody else and you have people all over the world that are all thinking about the same person.

Tiffany: The cumulative effects; when multiple people get together you can say that it will probably be more powerful than just one person thinking good thoughts about somebody else.

Doug: Also with the thinking good thoughts thing, I know that in a lot of cases that's become the non-denominational thing of "I'll pray for you," or "I'll keep you in my thoughts." But there was actually a study where they were studying the power of prayer, and I think this is one where they were looking at whether it could change a person's emotional state. And they had some people think about a person. There were a couple of different studies that changed the variables a little bit so I might be mixing this up a little bit. I believe what it was, was that they had an anonymous person give a negative critique of something they had written. So they had negative feelings about this person because they said, "This is the worst essay I've ever read". So the person would inevitably have a negative feeling towards this person.

Then they asked some of the participants to pray for them and some of the participants to just think about them, unspecified. Just think about them. The people who just thought about them didn't report any change in their own emotional state, whereas the people who prayed for them found that their anger had dissipated to varying degrees, depending on the participant. That's just looking at one aspect of prayer, but at the same time I wonder if just keeping you in my thoughts really is the same thing. Maybe there actually is something to praying for a person (in whatever for that that might actually take) because I don't think it necessarily means you need to be quoting bible verses, but just thinking about something I don't think is the same thing as prayer. Maybe it's because there's more intent behind a prayer.

Tiffany: Or maybe it's just a matter of using a particular word. Some people say that having someone in their thoughts is pretty much the same as a prayer. But if you consider that feelings prompt thoughts, then it's the feeling behind the thought that can make the difference. But in the study that you were talking about, I think they said that nearly all the participants in that study said that they were Christian or had Christian beliefs, and there was one person who refused to pray so they dumped that person from the study. So again, it's hard to tease out the reason why these people felt less angry after they were praying for the person; even just a random person. They talked about some woman who had cancer and they told the participants in the study to imagine how this woman felt, or to think about her for five minutes and pray for her. And I think in another aspect of the study they wanted the person to pray for the person who criticized them.

Doug: Right.

Tiffany: So in both cases the people said they felt less angry, but did they feel less angry because they associate prayer with religion? And if you're religious you're supposed to be good and you're not supposed to feel angry and all that?

Doug: Maybe. Or it even could be as simple as taking your mind off of the anger, because a lot of times anger is perpetuated by your going over and over it in your mind and stewing on it. A good control for that would be give them a math problem or something like that, something relatively neutral but that requires a lot of attention and if that would have the same kind of effect.

Tiffany: There was another experiment where they had a group of Catholics and some atheists, and it was some kind of experiment to see if they could tolerate pain from electric shocks. So they had a couple of pictures people could look at. There was a picture of the Virgin Mary and a picture from Da Vinci. I forget which one it was, Starry Night? Did he do Starry Night?

Doug: No, Van Gogh painted Starry Night.

Tiffany: Okay. Well some Da Vinci picture {laughter}.

Doug: It was a non-religious one though, right?

Tiffany: Yeah, it was a religious picture and a non-religious picture. So they said that the Catholics at the end of the study felt less pain while looking at the religious picture versus the non-religious picture, and the atheists felt no difference in their pain. So they wondered if it was because they were looking at a picture of a beloved figure, and they wondered if maybe a parent or family member or somebody that you loved could cause the same effect.

Doug: It's a good question. Then I guess that would be a way to control for whether it's actually just having some kind of religious association or if it is more about comfort and warm fuzzy thoughts.

Tiffany: But there was also a small study that took place in Mozambique. They tested people's hearing and their vision before they participate in this prayer session, and then they tested them afterwards. And they said that some of the hard-of-hearing people were able to hear sounds at 50 decibels lower after the prayer session, and some of the visually impaired people saw their vision improve from 2400 or worse to 20/80 or better.

Erica: So they saw the light? {laughter}

Tiffany: So what was going on there?

Doug: It's a good question. It gets into the whole placebo effect as well. You can't help but have that little cynical part of yourself thinking, "It's just a placebo effect". But there is no "just" the placebo effect because the placebo effect in and of itself is pretty damn impressive and amazing. I think they tie together because it is something happening on a non-material level, where the power of thought or prayer or emotion or whatever it is, is actually having the power to affect the body, affecting the material world. There's definitely something to it, because with the placebo effect you give the person a dummy pill, something that doesn't have anything to it, they take it and they have, in some cases, rather miraculous recoveries of their condition.

Then you have prayer where people say, "We're going to pray for you," or the person themselves pray and similarly you hear these stories of these miraculous recoveries. So I think the two are probably tied together in some way and it probably has something to do with accessing the information field in some fashion. Maybe that's getting a little bit too woo-woo.

Tiffany: I don't think it's just because people have positive thoughts about prayer and what prayer can do. If you get together and you pray for somebody and they're going to get better just because they think that prayer makes people better, I think it's more than that.

Erica: I'll put the link up on the chat here in a minute, but there was a Harvard University study called God and Health, and it's 20 pages long. They went through this whole "does prayer heal?" and they were talking about the field of psychoneuroimmunology, and how up until about the 1980s there was this whole separation of mind and body, and that psychoneuroimmunology decided to research the effects of negative and positive attitudes and emotions on the immune system. One man who's kind of famous for it is Norman Cousins. I won't go through his whole story, but he was diagnosed with a very degenerative collagen disease and he was going to die a painful death. And he decided to start watching Groucho Marx videos or reruns of comedy and laughing and he healed himself.

So he spearheaded a task force at UCLA that's actually still there today called the Norman Cousins Centre for Psychoneuroimmunology. But just like we were talking about Doug, they talked about the placebo-inducing effects of belief in God, and how it might explain, from an evolutionary perspective, that the human species is so incongruently religious in the first place and people's faith in the possibility of supernatural healing was all they had to keep them healthy. So this idea of your thoughts producing either an unhealthy state or a healthy state. We've actually talked about a lot of things like that on this show over the last couple of years, such as in the book by Gabor Mate, When the Body Says No, and how when people start dealing with these repressed emotions or feelings they start to feel better. Again, they're not cured, but they have a release or a healing experience go on, and they can cry and let go or whatever it is. I don't know what my point is in all that. {laughter} Just speculating that there is something to be said about your mind and your emotions and the effect it has on your physical body.

Tiffany: Yeah, I think that sums it up pretty well. It goes back to feeling gratitude and feeling joy and whether or not you're praying at that time, it still affects you on a molecular level and can contribute to your healing.

Doug: Well one of our chatters posted a bit from that article that we were talking about, The Dichotomy of Effective Prayer. I'll just read it because it's actually a really good part.

Indians dance for rain. They do not complain. They do not beg. They do not control. They dance in celebration for the rain they feel on their faces and in their hearts that it rains. When one forces control over the universe, one find a universe demanding forced control. Prayer is not something we do before we face God in a foxhole. Prayer is something we are doing right now. Effective prayer is a state of mind, vulnerability. It takes strength to be vulnerable.

Destructive prayer is a state of mind, control. The weakness of fear demands control. When misery finds you and you follow it, you are miserable. Prayer is a conscious act. Prayer is the effort it takes to change the way you feel and subsequently what you observe.

I thought that was pretty interesting.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Doug: Effective prayer is a state of mind, and it's vulnerability. I think that's a good point because it's getting back to what we were talking about - the demanding versus asking for an insight or guidance in some way. It's being vulnerable and saying, "Yes, I'm in a bad state. I don't know what to do. I could use some help" versus "I want things to be like this."

Tiffany: That's the difference between the whole prosperity doctrine that a lot of religions have and it springs up every now and again throughout history: praying for riches or wealth.

Doug: Think and Grow Rich.

Tiffany: Or The Power of Positive Thinking. It's certainly not that, but how - I have a question. Can you pray for somebody without their permission?

Erica: That's a hard one. {laughter}

Tiffany: Say someone has a combative relationship with somebody in their life and they say, "I'm just going to pray for him". That's really just an effort to control as well. You're just going to wish really hard that this person stops acting like a jerk.

Doug: Exactly. You're not actually praying for them. You're praying for yourself and directing it at them. "Why can't they be different?"

Tiffany: Yeah. And that to me sounds like sending love and light to somebody when you really shouldn't be. {laughter} Sometimes that stuff can blow up in your face.

Doug: That's what it comes down to I guess. If you're going to send love and light to somebody who doesn't actually want love and light, then it's an interference with free will and all this kind of stuff. But praying for somebody, actually somebody who knows how to pray and prays for somebody and is just wishing for their highest good, whatever that may be, their purpose - maybe that's a loaded term - but you know what I mean? You're not necessarily praying for a particular outcome or praying for them to be in this way or praying for them to realize what a jerk they've been. It's, "I want the best for this person." Maybe that would be a way of praying for somebody in a positive way?

Tiffany: Maybe.

Doug: Without their permission?

Tiffany: Yeah. I don't know. Maybe it depends on the nature of your relationship. If that's one of the things that you and your family or your group of friends do, you pray for each other, you don't need explicit permission from that person to have positive feelings directed towards them. Then maybe there are some people who, if you say to them "I'm going to pray for you", they're like "Don't pray for me! I don't believe in that stuff!" {laughter} "I don't want that woo-woo stuff!"

Doug: It's a tough one.

Tiffany: Most people don't really say that even if they might feel that way. They just want to be polite and say, "Yeah, yeah, okay."

Doug: Because they're probably thinking they're not really going to do it. It's just something you say these days. It's a tough one though, it really is because I know in Reiki they say don't send Reiki to somebody without permission.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Doug: They have to have given their consent to take on that healing energy and just doing it because you feel it is an abridgement of their free will. Maybe deep down they don't want to heal. Maybe there's something going on that they have to figure out and you're trying to by-pass that by just sending them healing or something along those lines.

Erica: And maybe it even has an opposite effect.

Tiffany: Yeah, that's what I was going to say. If you can send positive healing energies to someone and it works even though there's no absolute concrete proof that it does, but there's lots of testimonials that people have gotten better after prayers. Could the opposite be true? Can you send a curse to somebody? There are all these pagan witches or whatever said they're going to get together and curse Donald Trump.

Doug: Yeah. I don't think it worked. {laughter}

Erica: Or people that pray for world peace. What does that even really mean?

Doug: Yeah. That's definitely coming from a naïve place, not really understanding...

Tiffany: Or they get together and they pray for the planet.

Doug: If you start reading about stuff like voodoo, black magic and all those sorts of things, does that stuff work? I think on some level it probably does.

Tiffany: People report it.

Doug: All that spirit cooking and all that kind of crap. Who knows? They're doing it for a reason. They clearly seem to think it does something.

Tiffany: And there are people who believe that they have been cursed and they suffer after being cursed.

Doug: But would they still suffer if they didn't know they had been cursed?

Tiffany: Maybe.

Doug: No answer to that I guess. {laughter}

Tiffany: I think there have been studies. They had groups of people in a hospital where they said, "You're going to be in this experiment and you may or may not get prayer." And then they either really didn't pray for that person or they said, "You may or may not get prayer," And they actually went ahead and prayed for that person. There was another group where they said "You are going to get prayed for," and they actually they actually prayed for them. The people didn't know whether they were going to get prayed for or not and when they went back and saw the people who actually did get prayed for, they rated their well-being higher afterwards. They didn't necessarily know that they were being prayed for and they still got better. So maybe conversely, if you don't believe that a curse might work, you might fall victim to a curse? I don't know. {laughter}

Erica: Now you're just muddying the waters even more Tiff.

Doug: But the people who didn't know whether or not they were going to get prayed for and didn't get prayed for, did they have any improvement?

Tiffany: I don't quite remember. But there was another study they did, where they had some people in the hospital and they said, "We're going to pray for you," and the people actually got worse!

Doug: Oh really?

Tiffany: They wondered if it was because the person thought, "Am I so sick that I really need people praying for me?!" {laughter} I don't know, maybe it comes down to the person that you're praying for being open to it and at least believing that maybe if it doesn't heal them that it will at least relieve their stress or it's just nice to have somebody thinking about you and wishing the best for you.

Doug: Maybe to your initial question, maybe it's not okay to pray for people if they don't know you're doing it. What about the probably millions of people, mostly in the southern states, who are praying for Donald Trump? He's not asking them to.

Tiffany: No.

Doug: But I don't know. Is that going to have a negative effect or a positive effect? We can't know obviously. It's just interesting. When you have somebody who's famous, maybe some superstar who falls down with an illness and his fans who are more religious may pray for them, even though they haven't spoken to them or gotten permission or the person hasn't said, "I will accept any prayers from anybody out there." What kind of effect does that have?

Erica: I think it goes back to what we were talking about earlier. Is it selfish? I'm praying for this superstar because I want to be able to see him continue to make movies. {laughter} You know what I'm saying?

Doug: Yeah.

Erica: Or is it a genuine caring for the other person's wellbeing? We're in the south, so the prayer thing is very real and when people say "I'm going to pray for you", for me, I feel like "Oh, okay," and I don't know what to say. But also, what are the intentions behind it? So why are you going to pray for me? Is something wrong with me? {laughter}

Tiffany: Yeah, and another question that arises from that is, if just some random person says, "I'm going to pray for you." It's like "But you don't even know me!" It's not like you shouldn't be praying for me but - this is just a question - wouldn't the prayer be more effective if this person knew you and loved you and could picture you in their minds and what you're like? Just things along that line, versus just some person you don't really know that well?

Erica: I'm going to throw a little monkey wrench in the discussion here. So do you both feel that things like meditation and mindfulness would constitute as prayer? Should we save that for another show? {laughter}

Tiffany: I think it's fitting because a lot of people merge those two together, prayer and meditation. I don't necessarily think that they're the same thing. I consider meditation to be more like something that you do to relax, focus your mind. Some people use a mantra when they're meditating. They might concentrate on their breathing or something, but is that necessarily like a prayer, asking something of the universe? Maybe it could be, but it's not the ultimate.

Doug: It's a blurry line I think. Some people with mantras and stuff like that, some people are actually using prayers as the mantra, as the seed for the meditation. So in that sense I'd say it is prayer. But if somebody is just sitting there and trying to observe their thoughts and focus on the breath and body, is that prayer? I don't know, because prayer implies that there's some kind of intention there; whereas meditation is usually done for its own sake. There is an intention in a sense, to exercise that attention muscle in a way, to be more present, that sort of thing. But I don't know if I would put it in the same category as prayer.

Tiffany: Maybe it comes down to the person and what their intention is because some people meditate because they want to become "one with the universe" or something like that, or bump up their levels of consciousness.

Erica: Yeah, they have an intended goal.

Tiffany: Yeah.

Erica: They want to reach nirvana, become a Buddha or be enlightened.

Tiffany: Or attain psychic powers or something. {laughter}

Erica: One thing I was reading that was kind of interesting is that this whole idea of meditation and mindfulness, and John Kabat-Zinn who wrote Full Catastrophe Living and he worked with patients who were in pain or had terminal illnesses, and was trying to teach them these practices of meditation and mindfulness. He was teaching yoga too but he followed this group for eight week. None of them had ever done it before and one thing he kept saying was that, instead of the idea of blocking out the negative, to push into the pain and the negative thoughts and accept them for what they are. Because a lot of times - back to that woo-woo idea - people think meditation is only positive. I just thought it was important that he was telling people, "This is not going to take away your pain but if you can embrace your pain and move into your pain you can accept it and move on." It's that idea of instead of incessantly ruminating on the negativity of the pain, why is it there.

I think 75% of these people had positive results after the eight weeks and then they went back four years later and 90% of them were still doing it. So it was doing something for them, whether that was - again - prayer or maybe even facing the facts. With pain, you can't just think it away but if you come close to it and see it for what it is and maybe accept it, then you can survive. One thing I wrote down that he said, which was really interesting is that he would ask his patients, "Do you want to go from just existing to living?" Again, I don't know what I'm trying to say.

Tiffany: That brings me to another question. People say that everything can be a meditation, like when you're washing dishes or cleaning the house, that can be a meditation. I think that could be true in a way. If you're mindful of what you do, you pay more attention to your actions and your effect on your environment and on other people is being more mindful; is it possible to live a more prayerful life? If you accept your life for what it is, you're not always whining and being a victim; you're always open to new knowledge and new courses of action, new directions to go into. Is that leading a prayerful life? If you're always asking, "How can I make things better?" Or, "Is there something out there that can guide me in a particular direction or any direction that might improve my life or the lives of people around me?" Is that living a prayerful life?

Erica: So basically we're posing more questions than answers. {laughter}

Doug: It's true.

Tiffany: That's praying.

Doug: That's just praying.

Tiffany: Praying is asking questions.

Doug: I don't know. Maybe someone who does pray on a regular basis in the right way, for lack of a better term, is leading a prayerful life. Maybe it is an attitude that you can adopt, where "I always want to know what I could be doing differently to make things better" I guess.

Erica: Well that's kind of what the clip shared in the beginning of our show. Again, the whole idea of mindfulness, like Tiffany was saying, if you're constantly ruminating about all the negative things in your life it's going to blur your vision to see everything in a negative light; whereas if you're open and you even ask, sometimes at the end of a long week and you hate your job and you're saying, "Why am I doing this?! What's the point?!" If you could switch that to, "This is what I need to do now to be here in this life and take care of myself and my family and my community. What do I want to do? What is my higher calling or my aim even?"And try and be open and maybe you get fired and all of a sudden, "Okay. There's your choice. Find another job." For some people it turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to them. So is that prayer? {laughter}

Doug: Yes. One of the tricky things about this I think is that it isn't very well defined. You think of prayer and you think about being in church reciting verses and that's just mindless repetition more than anything else. I think most people aren't even thinking of the meaning of the words they're reciting. I think we're talking about something different here and it's not really defined very well although you did read a definition at one point. But nonetheless I feel like it's not particularly well defined.

Tiffany: I think that the application of it - even though we have a definition - the application is the sticky part of it. How do you apply this to your life in a way that you're not really demanding or wanting to control for a certain outcome? That's the fine line that we have to walk , because there's lots of people who pray all the time and things don't get better for them. I think there was one article we read where this couple's teenage son's appendix burst and they didn't take him to the hospital. They just prayed for him.

Erica: And there are religions that really believe in that. I know that Jehovah's Witness are one of them and Seventh Day Adventists. What do they call it, faith healing?

Doug: Wasn't it Pat Robertson...

Erica: Yeah. {laughter}

Doug: He would always be telling people "Don't go to doctors. You don't need to go to a doctor. Just pray. God is a more powerful healer than doctors are." Then he had to have some kind of procedure done and he went and did it and one of his parishioners said, "So how come you went to a doctor but you tell everybody else to just pray?" And he just started rambling and didn't have a very good answer. I can see where it's coming from because certain religious practices, I can see why a certain religion would say "We don't believe in vaccines. We think this is all bunk and we don't want them." From the medical side of things they're endangering their own lives and the lives of their children. I can see where there's a battle there because of the attitude that prayer is just a bunch of bunk. So refusing medical treatment is that, it's just refusing medical treatment and you're putting yourself and your children in danger.

But I can see why they would have that kind of perspective about certain things. Obviously you can't be black and white about it. The power of prayer is not strong enough to heal a burst appendix or appendix that's about to burst. No, you need medical attention. You've got to go and get that looked after. So I think the black and white thinking on that is what's really detrimental. To reject all medical science is essentially just rejecting help. Even from their perspective God could be working through the doctor, so to just reject doctors outright because it's not miracle healing is ridiculous.

Tiffany: Yeah. But people still do it. And people will continue to do it. People will do what they will do.

Erica: One interesting thing - and I'm going to go there with the Alcoholics Anonymous approach - for those who may not know they have the serenity prayer and that's a big part of their practice. I won't read the whole thing but it starts, "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference." For a lot of people, this really helps. They surrender to God. Now again, whether you believe that's a blue-eyed Jesus or whatever, It's almost like that supplicating or giving over something that you don't have control of.

Tiffany: Maybe in a way it's accepting the reality of their powerlessness over alcohol.

Erica: yeah.

Tiffany: And I think there's a lot to be said for accepting things as the way they are, not necessarily that you can't do anything to change it, but you have to know what the problem is in order to be able to fix it.

Erica: The whole 12 step program is going through and righting these wrongs, making amends, and basically dealing with your behaviour, accepting your behaviour and getting honest feedback from others about your behaviour.

Doug: Yeah.

Tiffany: So is there much more to say about prayer? I guess people can try it out, experiment for themselves. Maybe we should play the Jordan Peterson clip again, just to close it off with what his definition is, if people want to experiment with trying it.

Doug: Okay.

Jordan Peterson: The cynical attitude towards prayer is something like asking God for favours, and then of course the cynical analysis of that is, if you ask God for favours, he won't help you find your lost wallet, generally speaking. But if you take a bit of a more sophisticated approach to it, what you're doing if you pray is that you formulate a question and you wait for an answer. A prayer might be "Okay, I would like to do the best thing I could with my life." Now you have to open yourself up to that. That's to knock so the door will open. "I would like to do the best thing with my life. What might that be?"

Now you could say that you're thinking when you say that, or you could say that you're leaving yourself open for a revelation or an intuition, but you're communing with whatever it is that enables you to receive wisdom. You can attribute all of that to you, or you can attribute it to your brain I suppose. But you're really communing with the structure of the cosmos when you're asking such a question, especially if you do it properly. It's really useful to do that, and it's really necessary because it orients you properly.

So when prayer is considered in a sophisticated manner, which is "do I commune with the better part of myself to determine how I should orient myself in the world?" it's a catastrophic loss not to do that.

Erica: So commune with the better part of yourself.

Tiffany: Ask a question, be open. That's our homework.

Doug: According to Peterson you're not going to like the answer very much. {laughter}

Erica: Why don't we go to the pet health segment. What's the topic today? Cats praying? {laughter} No.

Tiffany: Pet therapy.

Zoya: Hello and welcome to the pet health segment of the Health and Wellness Show. This week we are going to talk about pet therapy or how our fluffy or not-so-fluffy companions can heal us or help us deal with stress. Listen up and have a great weekend.

Maybe you've been here. It's final season and you're walking across campus when suddenly a big, beautiful sign catches your attention: "Exam Week Therapy Dogs." And when you show up it's a giant room full of well-trained adorable puppers and college students leaving with looks of stress-free bliss.

Pet therapy has been around in some form or another for over 100 years, and today it's part of programs everywhere, from hospitals to college campuses. Many studies have shown that it works too and that pets can relieve anxiety, stress, and provide comfort. But these effects don't just happen because animals are cute. Instead they actually say a lot more about what it means to be human.

Although it likely existed in some form before then, pet therapy was first popularized in 1860 thanks to the famous nurse Florence Nightingale. She noticed that patients with chronic illness felt better when they had an animal partner by their side. Now these programs can be found basically everywhere there are people. The technical term for this treatment is animal-assisted therapy or AAT. There are all kinds of variations but two are especially common.

In one type of program a handler will bring an animal to an outside location, like a college campus or a nursing home, for people to interact with. The other kind is more structured and often involves a counsellor or social worker. This type of therapy can include everything from playing with a dog to caring for a horse and is often combined with other forms of treatment, depending on the patient.

Regardless of the program though, multiple studies have shown that AAT has a positive, measurable effect, both in those with and without clinical conditions. For example, several have shown that petting and playing with a dog can improve patients' moods by decreasing their distress and pain. Specifically, a visiting dog can boost your body's productions of endorphins which ultimately trigger the release of chemicals that acts like painkillers and produce euphoria. Dog visits have also been shown to decrease levels of cortisol, norepinephrine, and epinephrine in patients, which are all stress hormones.

Like most things in science, there are some papers that haven't found such significant results, but for the most part researchers are pretty confident that AAT works. It just might not be because of the reasons you think.

For one, these effects don't just apply to animal lovers. They appear in people who feel neutral about animal companions too and it's not just because the animals are super outgoing and always excited to see you either, like dogs typically are. Pretty much all animal companions do the trick for these kinds of therapies - rabbits, horses, cats, you name it. Even animals farms full of goats and cows are helpful. The effects aren't even because these animals are soft or fluffy. Several studies have also shown that fish, bearded dragons and crickets can help increase focus and positive emotions.

Instead, the secret to AAT seems to be about the bond between humans and animals in general. After all, whether you're sick, stressed or just trying to process life, animal companions won't judge you but they will be there for you. Most studies have focused on AAT's effects and not the underlying mechanism, so it's hard to say for sure that this is the case, and it probably varies depending on the person and the animals too. But in general, an unconditional, non-judgmental relationship with animals could give patients a safe place to process emotions or try new tasks.

One study also suggested they could be a helpful distraction from other problems or symptoms or a place to practice social interactions. And there's some evidence for the importance of the human/animal relationship in studies that have been done so far. In a study published in the Journal of Anxiety Stress and Coping in 2003, 58 people without clinical diagnoses were presented with a stressful situation. They were told that they might be asked to hold a tarantula sitting elsewhere in the room. Those who considered this while petting an animal, whether it was a soft, fluffy rabbit or a hard-shelled turtle, experienced a reduction in stress and anxiety but those who were petting a plush toy version of those animals didn't display the same effects, which makes sense if the relationship and interactions with the animal are key.

On the flip side though, other studies with dementia patients have shown that robot dogs are effective at reducing stress and anxiety. These robots looked, sounded and behaved a lot like the real thing and the patients responded to them a lot like they did with real animals. So the benefits of the relationship were probably replicated unlike with the plush toys in the other study.

It would help to have some solid research to pin down this mechanism, but it seems like a promising one. Of course there are other positive side effects of being around animals too, like playing with a dog or helping out on an animal farm will increase your amount of physical activity, and exercise is a well known way to boost your endorphin levels. But at the end of the day when it comes to animal assisted therapy, it seems to be mostly about the bond.

Thanks for watching this episode of PSI Show Psych.

Erica: That is an interesting therapy. I think it's just calming. You've got to like dogs for dog therapy.

Doug: Yeah, totally.

Tiffany: It wouldn't be very therapeutic if you're afraid of dogs. {laughter}

Erica: Well they love you no matter what, that's what's so interesting about having dogs. They're really happy when you come home. You feel very loved and appreciated and really they just want food. {laughter} Ulterior motive. Cats too probably.

Doug: Oh my God, yeah. I think that cats are pretty single-minded. Sometimes they want attention but most of the time they just want food.

Erica: One of our chatters mentioned just being in the moment. Maybe that's why animal therapy is so helpful, because if people are just in that moment with that animal they're not focusing on their illness or the stresses in their life. They're just present at that time. Well if you all don't have much more to share I think that's our show for today. We probably asked more questions than we answered but we did include some links in there if you're interested in looking into it some more. It is a fascinating topic.

Doug: We can pray for more answers.

Tiffany: Yeah. Try it out in your own life. Don't attempt to control. Just be open, ask the question and be open to what the answers might be.

Erica: Thank you all for joining us. Thank you for our chatters. Be sure to tune in to this weekend's show on Saturday.

Tiffany: The Truth Perspective.

Erica: And NewsReal on Sunday. We look forward to being here next week, with a new, interesting topic.

Tiffany: Bye everyone.

Doug: Bye everybody.