Types of prayer, heart rate variability, and innate healing

Zygon 44 (4):825-846 (2009)
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Spiritual practices such as prayer have been shown to improve health and quality of life for those facing chronic or terminal illness. The early Christian healing tradition distinguished between types of prayer and their role in healing, placing great emphasis on the healing power of more integrated relational forms of prayer such as prayers of gratitude and contemplative prayer. Because autonomic tone is impaired in most disease states, autonomic homeostasis may provide insight into the healing effects of prayer. I report on observations in five volunteers engaging in five types of prayer. Using heart rate variability as a measure of autonomic tone and adaptability, I review the potential correlation of type of prayer with autonomic rebalance as measured specifically by psychophysiological coherence ratios. The five types—supplication, devotion, intercession, gratefulness, and contemplative prayer—elicited varying degrees of improvements in heart rate variability and corresponding psychophysiological coherence. These observations suggest a correlation of innate healing to prayer type that is consistent with teachings from the Christian healing tradition and with modern research. Further research is warranted to verify these hypotheses.



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