Meditation vs. Prayer, these are terms that are often confused with one another or used interchangeably. But they are not the same. While both practices do hold some similarities, they also have significant differences.
So, how do meditation and prayer compare to each other? The following chart outlines the differences between meditation and prayer:
|Definition||A mental exercise involving a focus on a particular thought, activity, or object to reach a calm and clear state of mind.||Addressing a deity to supplicate, confess, offer thanksgiving, or perform other acts of worship.|
|Religion||You don’t need to believe in anything to practice meditation.||You have to believe in a higher power to pray to Him/Her/It.|
|State of Mind||You have to declutter your mind to meditate correctly.||You can talk to a deity even if you have scattered thoughts|
|Dependent Upon||Mindset, posture, concentration, and other self-controlled activities.||An act of submission, where you declare your reliance on external help.|
|Scientific Proof of Efficacy||Meditation is scientifically proven to be effective.||Science can’t measure the efficacy of prayer because it is cemented in faith.|
From definition to state of mind to proven effectiveness, meditation and prayer hold varying characteristics. This article will discuss the similarities and differences between the two practices, explain why they matter, and more.
Does Prayer Have the Same Benefits as Meditation?
According to a recent Pew Research Center study, 55% of Americans claim to pray every day. Another 40% of US adults declare that they meditate at least once a week. Clearly, these two practices have benefits in people’s lives. But are the benefits similar?
Although meditation and prayer are very different, people practice them very similar reasons, resulting in similar benefits, such as:
- Reduced stress
- Managed anxiety
- Enhanced self-awareness
- Improved attention span
- Promotion of positive thinking
Many people meditate and pray to relieve emotional pressures weighing on them. Studies reveal that meditation can reduce stress. According to the Mayo Clinic, prayer also relieves stress in many individuals.
Both meditation and prayer help you reflect on any issues that are causing you stress.
- With meditation, you observe the issues from an open-minded viewpoint, helping you see them for what they are. This relieves the burden exerted by intense emotions.
- With prayer, you reflect on your worries and give them to the higher power you’re praying to. Since one of the best ways of relieving stress is talking it out, you’ll likely feel less stressed after praying.
When you’re feeling stressed, you experience fight or flight responses that prepare your body for an emergency by releasing cortisol and adrenaline. However, prayer and meditation help you relax and see your problems for what they are: challenges you can solve. (Source: HelpGuide)
Anxiety can plague anyone. It may be mild in the course of our day to day operations or extreme to the point it can be referred to as a disorder. Learning the main aspects of anxiety disorders can help you to understand better how meditation and prayer help offset anxiety.
The five main types of anxiety disorders include:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder: This disorder is classified by excessive worrying and stress caused by overthinking.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): OCD is classified by recurrent, unwanted thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
- Panic Disorder: This disorder involves episodes of intense fear accompanied by physical discomforts like chest pains, abdominal pangs, and shortness of breath, among others.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This type of anxiety disorder erupts after you experience a traumatic event.
- Social Anxiety Disorder: This disorder involves fear and enhanced self-consciousness that comes when subjected to social situations like public speaking or simply mingling with other people.
If you look at all the above types of anxiety disorders, you’ll realize that they all stem from overwhelming worry. Therefore, meditation and prayer can help reduce anxiety in the following ways:
- Meditation reduces anxiety by helping you observe your thoughts and determine useless worries so that you can stop them in their tracks. You can also reflect on previous thoughts and remember where those thoughts led you, hence helping you dismantle destructive worries. Source: (Harvard Health Publishing)
- Prayer can also help you deal with anxiety by giving you an outlet to pour your thoughts to your deity. Furthermore, having the belief that a higher existence will help you gives you hope and, subsequently, reduces your worries.
When you question yourself without filtering any feelings, you’re likely to get answers about yourself that you’d otherwise be oblivious to while under the usual rush in life. These revelations are how meditation and prayer can increase your self-awareness. They take the ego out of the equation and help you know your true self and your inclinations.
- Prayer is mostly private, so you can pour every thought without filtering content. This chance to be your authentic self can help you think out loud about your issues and intentions and, subsequently, reveal who you are at your core.
- Scientific research confirms the ability of meditation to promote self-awareness. For instance, if you choose to practice meditation, which focuses on decluttering the mind, you can observe pure thoughts that are empty of the destructive thought patterns that keep plaguing your life.
Improved Attention Span
Science Daily reports that the deteriorating attention span of this generation is caused by the increased access to abundant information around the globe. However, prayer and meditation are some of the best attention span boosters since you must focus for the practice to be effective.
- In prayer, you need to focus on the higher being you’re praying to with adoration and respect.
- In meditation, you must train your mind to redirect your thoughts where you want them to go. Meditation tolerates no distraction, and with consistent practice, many people master concentration.
A study was performed to determine the effect of meditation on multitasking performance. The findings revealed that those who regularly practice meditation could remember their tasks, plus they were attentive on one task longer than those who didn’t meditate. (Source: ACM Digital Library)
Promotion of Positive Thinking
One striking similarity that those who pray and meditate usually have is a positive view of life. This has less to do with what they’ve gone through and more to do with what they do.
- When you pray, you hope that the higher being will hear your prayers and help with whatever situation you’re going through. This creates positive thoughts in your mind as you look forward to the light at the end of the tunnel.
- Meditation boosts your positive thinking by exposing problems and viewing them as challenges. It also polishes your emotion-filled thoughts, creating clearer and more positive ideas to propel life forward.
Meditation or prayer doesn’t make problems magically go away. These practices reinforce the constructive thought patterns that enable one’s motivation to improve their lives through the power of positive thinking. They make you happier and more positive. (Source: NBC News)
Meditation vs. Prayer: What’s the Difference?
The many similarities within the benefits of prayer and meditation tend to confuse people into thinking that meditation is the same as prayer. However, the following sections explain the significant differences that set the two practices apart.
According to many religious sources, prayer is defined as communication to a being or object of worship. It may be directed to thank, supplicate, surrender, or praise, but a prayer is an act of communication.
Meditation is defined as the practice of focusing on a thought or object to achieve a relaxed and clear state of mind. When meditating, you lose focus of the external world and follow a state of consciousness within you.
For a prayer to be carried out, a higher existence must be involved. It isn’t about only you; it includes another being or object. Meditation can happen with or without a higher power. It’s mostly used to clarify thoughts for a particular purpose.
While anyone who meditates is typically viewed as a spiritual person, it can be impossible to pinpoint the particular religion they belong to. Some religious people may mediate, but even atheists meditate. Meditation is more of reaching a clear state of mind than it is about worshiping something. Anyone can do it, and they don’t have to believe in a higher power.
However, with prayer, you’re trying to connect with God or whoever you view as a higher power. For this to happen, you have to believe in something to humble yourself before it.
State of Mind
Meditation is reaching a clear state of mind. You have to declutter your thoughts to master the art of meditation. However, for prayer, it’s different.
You can accomplish prayer with a clear or cluttered mind. If you communicate your desires from your heart, it doesn’t matter whether you’re confused. You don’t have to declutter your thoughts; you’re surrendering your thoughts to your higher power.
Meditating can be done by clearing your mind with the help of self-attainable postures and other objects or mindful practices to make it work. This means that you don’t have to depend on any external help, and you can do it alone.
When it comes to prayer, you’re reaching out to another source for help. You depend on an external force to help you, so the practice isn’t independent.
Scientific Proof of Efficacy
While the meditation process is reasonable, according to science, prayer cannot be fully understood. This is primarily because meditation is secular, but prayer depends on faith. Things that cannot be seen are hard to measure or break down scientifically.
You’ll find various scientific studies on meditation, but you’ll find few on prayer. Even researchers who try to carry out prayer studies admit that it’s somewhat blind because of the many factors in play.
Deepak Chopra briefly explains the difference between meditation and prayer with Oprah Winfrey in the following video:
Why the Differences Matter
Some might tell you that prayer and meditation are almost the same things, and the subtle differences don’t matter, but you deserve to know why the difference matters. Religious people who believe in a divine being whom they credit for everything good in their lives might not appreciate taking the divine out of the equation during meditation. Although they don’t have to, they might have been taught differently.
Moreover, whether you pray, meditate, or do both, you need to know what you’re doing and why. You shouldn’t be confused about when you’re praying, meditating, or blending both practices.
Here are the reasons why the differences between prayer and meditation matter:
- To be aware of what each practice entails.
- To know the belief systems behind each practice so you can know where you stand.
- To assess the characteristics of each practice and choose what suits you.
6 Myths About Meditation You Need to Understand
One myth that’s been debunked in this article already is that meditation is the same as prayer. This isn’t the only meditation myth you have heard or will ever hear. To better understand the differences between prayer and meditation, you need to explore these myths.
1. Meditation is About Stopping Your Thoughts.
Don’t take the statement “clearing your mind” literally. This statement doesn’t mean you need to stop thinking about everything. This kind of belief ruins many people’s chances of learning meditation at all.
Clearing your mind merely means decluttering your mind of its many unnecessary secondary thoughts. It means that you focus on things that you wish to ponder on and observe all your thoughts, redirecting them to where you need them to be.
Meditating is about controlling your thoughts and not letting them control you. It’s about observing the thoughts so profoundly that you can understand patterns developed by your subconscious.
2. You Have to Assume a Cross-Legged Sitting Posture to Meditate.
You probably know the famous lotus position many meditators use. To many, this posture screams uncomfortable, yet it’s a requisite to meditation. But who said you have to assume a lotus position for you to meditate?
Although it helps to keep calm and focused when your spine is neutrally positioned, you don’t need to sit like Buddha to master meditation. You don’t even need to sit. You can meditate standing, sitting, walking, kneeling, and even while lying down — provided you don’t just fall asleep. Assume whatever position makes you feel comfortable and calm.
You simply need to be in a state free from distractions. So, if you can tune out external noise while walking in a park to meditate, do it. The lotus position isn’t meditation magic.
3. It Takes Years to Learn How to Meditate and Achieve Results.
You can learn how to meditate in as little as a month, depending on how you do it. You can also achieve results in the same amount of time. According to Harvard research, meditation can show results within eight weeks. They noticed a change in the gray matter of the participants involved in the research after only two months.
So no, you don’t have to meditate for years before you see results. You can even start feeling less anxious after meditating for as little as a week. Results come faster than you think. It depends on you and the depth of your issue.
4. Meditation Must Be Relaxing and Peaceful.
Although meditation can help you relax, you don’t have to feel peaceful and relaxed in every session. You might have to face some feelings that make you uncomfortable, but meditation helps you to face those feelings and choose what to do with them.
Instead of blocking unpleasant feelings, meditation is about noticing them and zooming into them. It’s about getting to know why you feel the way you feel and how you can deal with the way you feel to move toward the outcome you desire.
You have to face meditation with an open mind so that the things you experience lead you to become a more resilient person. This way, you can learn how to deal with life’s struggles instead of falling victim to them.
5. Meditation is Only for People Who Are Struggling.
Those with a problem aren’t the only people who need meditation. If that’s the case, then this would only be a mental treatment that’s only needed by everyone once in a while.
There are a lot of successful celebrities that meditate daily. Oprah does it with her company twice a day, every day, no matter what’s happening in the world. This doesn’t mean her life is miserable. It only means she’s realized the power of meditation.
Just like prayer, meditation needs to be done regularly by anyone who wishes to better their life. It helps people discover themselves in a world that focuses on discovering external entities.
Although meditation and prayer are similar in various ways, including the results they churn out, the two practices are different in many aspects, as well. Both can help you reduce stress, manage anxiety, increase awareness of yourself, heighten your attention span, and even promote positive thoughts.
However, prayer and meditation hold differences in definition, fundamental purposes, and the overall nature of the practices. Now that you understand these two practices, you can choose the one that resonates with you most or use both and reap the benefits.