Spirituality and Healing

Chapter 48 Spirituality and Healing*

image Introduction

Faith and medical science are not mutually exclusive. In fact, faith’s efficacy as a powerful healing force has been scientifically validated by hundreds of studies, many of which exhibit all the criteria of the best science.1 A substantial and growing body of research on the healing power of participation in religious activities such as prayer has demonstrated that faith in a Spiritual Reality, an Almighty Spirit, a Beneficent Presence—whether the label given is God, Allah, Atman, Brahman, the Tao, Qi, the Christ, the Absolute, Universal Mind, or the Ground of Being or Life—produces significant, beneficial effects on health. Some of these effects include:

Well-designed studies provide documentation that:

In contrast, infrequent (never or less than weekly) religious involvement is associated with significantly higher rates of death from circulatory (relative hazard [RH] = 1.21), digestive (RH =1.99) and respiratory (RH = 1.66) causes; associations that are weakened but not eliminated by adjusting for health behaviors and prior health status.5

In the current medical model, most physicians are led to believe that any consideration of a patient’s spiritual life is beyond the legitimate interest and scope of medical care. The dogma is that faith is not amenable to serious scientific scrutiny, but is merely a relic from earlier, less enlightened ages, a crutch for the scientifically disinclined. Medical students and residents all too often get the subliminal message that to personally pursue an active spiritual life is to court schizophrenia, traveling simultaneously down the right-brain path of faith, prayer and/or meditation, and religion (subtext: irrationality and superstition), and the left-brain road of logic, analytical dialectic, and rational thought (subtext: Science).

In modern medical education, devotions are to be paid only to “Science” with a capital “S,” which leaves the whole realm of the numinous outside the Venn diagram locus of serious medicine. So, members of the health care professions tend to disassociate their spirituality from their science, both in their training and later in their clinical practice and academic endeavors. Not only can such an approach desiccate human life, shutting us off from the deepest Source of our strength, insight, and joy, but also recent scientific research has, itself, made such an uncritical stance not only irrational, but medically irresponsible.

image The Conceptual Ground for the Efficacy of Spirit in Healing

Significant evidence exists that, to use descriptive terminology coined by Larry Dossey, MD, we live in a nonlocal universe and are, at our deepest level, nonlocal beings ourselves. In the rarefied air of quantum physics as well as in a raft of common experiences that will not neatly fit within the confines of reductionistic rationalism, such as déjà vu, synchronicities, premonitions, and near-death experiences, the evidence clearly suggests that a Creative Intelligent Force is manifest throughout the universe, including us, and that this Force, which I refer to as Mind or Spirit, is not wholly localized to points in space (such as brains or bodies) or even to single moments in time. Recent advances in genomics notwithstanding, we have barely begun to scratch the surface of Who and What We Really Are.

In his books, Healing Beyond the Body, and Reinventing Medicine, Dr. Dossey provides a conceptual framework that integrates modern medicine’s past while providing insight into its future. Dossey divides the history of scientific medicine into three epochs, which he calls Era I, Era II, and Era III.

Era I, the first scientific medical era, which began around 1860, is engendered by the classic laws of matter and energy, the mechanistic model of the universe laid out by Sir Isaac Newton that grounds Newtonian physics. According to this view, the entire universe is a vast clockwork that functions according to deterministic, causal principles. In Era I, reality is composed of energy and matter, and mind is considered an artifact, a delusion produced by chemical reactions occurring in the brain.

Era I—materialistic, mechanistic medicine—continues to function as the conceptual ground of virtually all forms of modern medicine today—drugs (allopathic or “green”), surgery, radiation, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, chiropractic, nutrition, vitamins, gene therapy, DNA manipulation, organ transplants, cloning, etc.—any form of therapy that focuses solely on the effects of things in the body. Obviously, Era I medicine is local in nature—restricted in time and space—and cannot account for a wide range of phenomena, such as the placebo effect, psychosomatic illness (e.g., post-traumatic stress disorder), or the influence of belief (materialism as well as spiritual beliefs) on the body.

Following World War II, Era II, what we now call mind–body medicine (although a more accurate term would be brain–body medicine since this view remains localized and materialistic) began to take shape. Jean-Martin Charcot, the great nineteenth century neurologist, studied hysterical reactions and the effect of suggestion on bodily function. Freud, a student of Charcot, extended these ideas and emphasized the influence of the unconscious on health and behavior.

Although by the mid-twentieth century, most authorities had decided that mind or consciousness was unnecessary, and the terms were simply redundant symbols for the brain, it became obvious via psychosomatic disease that the brain did affect the body. Hans Selye demonstrated that rats and mice confined in close quarters and subjected to environmental stressors they could neither predict nor control (e.g., intermittent loud noises or electrical shocks) developed gastrointestinal ulcerations, hypertension, and heart disease, and often died.6 It became clear that humans could react similarly when subjected to stress perceived as uncontrollable.

Then, research on the placebo effect demonstrated that through suggestion, expectation, and positive thinking, the mind could have beneficial as well as negative effects on the body. Although considered the bane of researchers who devised the double-blind study to try to eliminate its effects, the placebo not only will not go away, but some researchers estimate the placebo response is responsible for 30% to 50% of the effect of many drugs and up to 100% of certain surgical procedures.7 The widespread nature and effectiveness of the placebo response has been irrefutably demonstrated in several studies—one published in April 2002 that compared St. John’s wort against Zoloft and placebo, and another, a meta-analysis of antidepressant trials between 1979 and 1996, published in May 2002. In the first trial, St. John’s wort fully cured 24% of the depressed people who received it, Zoloft fully cured 25%, and the placebo fully cured 32%. The meta-analysis was conducted by Seattle psychiatrist Arif Khan, who studied the placebo effect in 96 trials submitted to the Food and Drug Administration and found that in 52% of them, the effect of the antidepressant, whether botanical or pharmaceutical, could not be distinguished from that of the placebo. Several other reviews recently published in JAMA noted that, in the treatment of depression, the placebo effect seems to be growing. Greater percentages of people tended to get better on placebos during trials of antidepressants in 2000 than in 1981.814

Imaging experiments, during which magnetic resonance imaging scans were performed to assess regional brain activity in response to painful stimuli after subjects were primed to have positive or negative expectations, revealed that different expectations cause different brain networks to be activated after the same stimulus. The analgesic effect accompanying positive expectation was associated with activity in the pregenual anterior cingulate cortex, a key region of the brain for autonomic control and the storage of emotional memories. The negative expectation, which completely reversed the analgesic effect of the pain-killing opioid drug remifentanil, was associated with increased activity in the hippocampus, an area of the brain that plays a central role in memory and anxiety related to pain.15

A large single-blind randomized controlled trial conducted with patients experiencing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) investigated whether placebo effects could be disaggregated into two main components—the placebo ritual alone (sham acupuncture in this trial) and the placebo ritual plus a supportive patient–clinician relationship. The key findings concluded that (1) genuine placebo effects could be statistically and clinically significant over time in a clinical population, and (2) the patient–physician relationship was the most robust component of the placebo effect.16

Most recently, a small pilot clinical trial in patients with IBS demonstrated that even placebo pills openly labeled as placebo led to robust clinical improvement. That placebo effects can be elicited without deception has enormous implications for clinical care. One implication of these studies is that the healing context provided by a caring doctor–patient relationship can marshal highly potent forces within the brain, forces at least as powerful as an intravenously delivered opiate drug.17

These studies strongly suggest that we have much to learn from mind–body medicine (or Era II medicine in Dossey’s heuristic framework). Yet, although Era II medicine has moved beyond the materialistic boundaries of Newtonian physics to include any therapy emphasizing the effects of the individual’s consciousness, this medicine, although recognizing the mind as an important factor in healing, restricts the activity of consciousness to within the individual’s body. Era II therapies include psychoneuroimmunology, counseling, hypnosis, biofeedback, relaxation therapies, support groups, etc.

Medicine today remains a combination of Eras I and II—for example, cancer patients get psychological counseling along with chemotherapy, surgery, vitamins, and nutritional counseling. In heart disease, stress management is used along with dietary manipulations, β-blockers or statin drugs, and coronary bypass surgery. The key takeaway here is that both Eras I and II are descriptive of a universe in which mind or consciousness is localized and equated with the individual brain. Consciousness is assumed to be a by-product of the brain’s chemistry and physiology—despite the fact that no one knows how the brain “makes” the mind, or even if it does. As a number of modern philosophers and physicists have observed, no one has the slightest idea how mind or consciousness can arise from anything material. No one even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. To quote physicist Niels Bohr, “We can admittedly find nothing in physics or chemistry that has even a remote bearing on consciousness.”18

When Descartes spoke his famous dictum “I think, therefore I am,” he saw the brain as a signal transducer, a piece of equipment through which the input of Mind was received, specifically in the pineal gland, and thence transmitted to the material plane. Although Descartesian dualism has been used to not only bifurcate reality, but also to dismiss anything not perceivable through the senses, this is the exact opposite of what Descartes actually claimed was the truth about Reality. For Descartes, the material world and our senses are unreliable, whereas Mind (not the brain) on the other hand, is the only bona fide assurance of the fact of our existence.

To sum up, Era I emphasized a completely physical, body-based approach to health and illness, which Era II expanded by recognizing the effects of mind—although the mind is typically (and without scientific foundation) equated with the brain, and mind–body effects remain restricted to within each individual—one’s own mind affecting only one’s own body. This restriction is the target of the opening and further expansion that is occurring in Era III, where Dossey thinks the evidence in current physics and our own experience is firmly pushing us, albeit kicking and screaming, to paradigm transformation.

Era III, nonlocal medicine, is based on current quantum physics, which describes a world in and through which One Energy, which I will refer to as Mind, God, or Spirit, moves unbounded by time or space. Within the last 50 years, physicists have firmly established that atoms and electrons behave nonlocally, and this suggests that nonlocality is the truth underlying the visible world we inhabit, and thus necessarily our truth as well.

The scientific début of the nonlocal universe occurred in 1935, when Albert Einstein, Boris Podolosky, and Nathen Rosen published the now-famous paper, “Can Quantum Mechanical Description Of Physical Reality Be Considered Complete?” They pointed out that under certain conditions, photons set off in opposite directions at the speed of light might still have a connection with each other, a connection Einstein described as a “ghostly action at a distance,” and which bothered him a great deal since it would allow the possibility of messages to be sent faster than the speed of light. Because, according to Relativity Theory, it is impossible for an informational connection to be maintained between two points that are receding from each other at the speed of light, Einstein—mistakenly as we now know—concluded something was fundamentally wrong with quantum theory.

In 1964, physicist John Bell at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) proved the far-reaching inequality theorem now known as Bell’s Theorem and rigorously described the consequences of Einstein’s action at a distance hypothesis. Bell’s Theorem implied that if an experiment involving protons going off in opposite directions were actually carried out, then, according to another Nobel Prize winning physicist, Brian Josephson, “there must be a mechanism whereby the setting on one measuring device can influence the reading of another instrument, however remote.”19

The appropriate physics experiments testing this conjecture have been carried out in several laboratories worldwide: by Freeman and Clauser in Berkeley in 1972, by Aspect and his colleagues in Paris in 1982, and by Gisin at the University of Geneva in 1997. What these experiments all showed is that when one measures the polarization of a pair of photons born in the same interaction, but traveling in different directions, the polarization of one photon appears to be altered by the mere act of observing the other, even when the photons are widely separated over distances of several kilometers. In summary, laboratory experiments have confirmed that a nonlocal correlation between photons does exist, a correlation that physicist David Bohm, in his physics textbook, The Undivided Universe, calls “quantum interconnectedness.”20

Although our naïve “realist” picture of our reality is one in which separate individuals occupy their own well-circumscribed points in space–time, modern physics, for the past 30 years, has been asserting that this concept is incorrect. The quantum physicist’s view is that we live in a nonlocal reality in which we can be affected by events distant in space and time from our ordinary awareness.

An avalanche of data supports this view. This research includes recently declassified Central Intelligence Agency experiments run during the Cold War involving remote viewing that were conducted at the Stanford Research Institute, as well as literally millions of experiments at the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research facility (PEAR) that demonstrate that individuals can mentally affect the function of sensitive electronic devices not only regardless of distance, but also in the future or even the past. When applied to the individual, these data clearly suggest that we are fundamentally nonlocal beings for whom the accepted boundaries imposed by space and time are not the ineluctable limitations we have defined them to be. As David Bohm put it, “Each person enfolds something of the spirit of the other in his consciousness. Deep down the consciousness of mankind is one. This is a virtual certainty . . . and if we don’t see this it’s because we are blinding ourselves to it.”21

Recent studies have demonstrated that intestinal epithelial cells can induce synchronous behavior in neighboring cells that have been mechanically separated and cannot communicate via chemical or electrical mechanisms. This nonchemical, nonelectrical (nonlocal) communication signaling system may not only play a role in synchronous, stimulus-appropriate cell responses to noxious stimuli, but may also make sense of a number of cellular behaviors impossible to explain based only on conventional cell signaling systems.22

The evidence in quantum physics points to One Creative Energy, Intelligence, or Mind as fundamental, as transcending the physical mind or ego, and as present everywhere in both space and time. In a very real sense, the universe physicists now describe is the map upon which a new worldview is emerging. They are the exploratory cartographers of a new view of consciousness, a view that is forcing a significant change in our assumptions about the nature of our mind and its relationship to our physical body.

The truth is that no localized, mechanistic description of what goes on in the brain can shed any light whatsoever on why consciousness exists. According to physicist and astronomer David Darling, there is a very simple reason for this: “The brain does not produce consciousness at all, any more than a television set creates the programs that appear on its screen. On the contrary, the brain filters and restricts consciousness, just as our senses limit the totality of experience to which we might otherwise have access.”18 This view is seconded by philosopher Michael Grosso who describes the relationship between consciousness or the mind and the brain as somewhat analogous to that between a radio and radio waves. The radio does not produce the radio waves, it simply detects, transmits, and filters them. If your radio breaks down, it does not follow that the sounds you were listening to have ceased to exist. They just cease to be detectable.23

In Era III, the mind is recognized to be more than the brain because an overwhelming amount of scientific data demonstrates that the mind can do things the brain cannot, such as acting remotely from the body and outside the present time. Era III medicine recognizes that an aspect of your mind is not restricted to your body, your brain, or this moment in time, but is linked with Mind with a capital “M,” the infinite, eternal aspect of Consciousness, which is a natural part of who we essentially are. In addition to the research carried out at Stanford and Princeton, this aspect of our being has been demonstrated in numerous studies that reveal healing can be achieved at a distance by direct, loving, compassionate thoughts, intentions, and prayers for others, even those who are unaware of these efforts for their well-being.

image The Healing Effects of Prayer—Evidence of the Nonlocal Activity of Consciousness

A large body of credible scientific evidence shows that mind directed in prayer can function at a distance to change physical processes in a variety of organisms. In addition to humans, study subjects have included water, enzymes, bacteria, fungi, yeast, red blood cells, cancer cells, pacemaker cells, seeds, plants, algae, moth larvae, mice, and chicks—a wide range of entities whose response is highly unlikely to be due to placebo effect.

Processes influenced include the activity of enzymes, the growth rates of leukemic white blood cells, mutation rates of bacteria, germination and growth rates of various seeds, the firing rate of pacemaker cells, healing rates of wounds, decreasing the size of goiters and tumors, decreasing the time required to awaken from anesthesia, autonomic effects such as electrodermal activity of the skin, rates of hemolysis of red blood cells, and hemoglobin levels.24

As noted by Dossey in an article published in Explore in 2008, entitled, “Healing Research: What We Know and Don’t Know,” approximately eight systematic or meta-analyses of studies involving healing intentions and prayer have been published in peer-reviewed journals; all but one arrived at positive conclusions. The most thorough analysis to date is a 2003 review by Jonas and Crawford in which they analyzed data from 2200 published reports, including 122 laboratory studies, 80 randomized controlled trials, 128 summaries or reviews, 95 reports of observational studies and nonrandomized trials, and 271 descriptive studies, case reports, and surveys.25 Their conservative conclusion: “There is evidence to suggest that mind and matter interact in a way that is consistent with the assumptions of distant healing. Mental intention has effects on nonliving random systems (such as random number generators) and may have effects on living systems.”26

Dossey zeroes in on the key significance of this conclusion: if mental intention can affect nonliving random systems, this suggests that consciousness is nonlocal in nature, a finding that has implications far beyond being simply “a new tool in the physician’s black bag.”25

As Dossey notes, “If we examine the array of categories analyzed by Jonas and Crawford, we find intentionality effects at the macroscopic level, as in healing studies involving whole persons; at the tissue level, as in studies involving populations of various types of cells; at the microbial level, as in studies involving growth rates of bacteria, yeasts, and fungi; at the molecular level, as in studies involving enzyme kinetics and biochemical reactions; and at the subatomic level, as in random event generators where people attempt to influence the distribution of ones and zeroes. The fact that intentionality effects are demonstrated across this enormous spectrum of nature, from the macroworld to the mesoworld to the microworld, suggests that we have discovered a general, pervasive principle in nature—the ability of intentionality to change the world.” Its application in health care is obvious.25

image Specific Areas in Which Prayer and Religious Activity have been Shown Effective in Humans

Cardiovascular Disease

Social epidemiologist, Jeff Levin, PhD, a Senior Research Fellow of the National Institutes of Health, is recognized as one of the leading researchers in the field of spirituality and health. In his book, God, Faith and Health, Levin provides an overview of the published studies that offer compelling evidence for the connection between health and a wide spectrum of spiritual beliefs and practices, including prayer, attending religious services, meditation, and faith in a Spiritual Reality (i.e., God by whatever name).4

As a first year graduate student in the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Levin became intrigued by two articles that found a surprisingly significant connection between spirituality and heart disease, a connection that remains one of the best researched areas of the positive effects of religious behavior on health.

In God, Faith and Health, Levin noted that in 2001, the medical literature contained more than 50 studies in which religious practices were found to be protective of a wide range of heart disease related conditions: death due to circulatory system diseases; atherosclerotic heart disease incidence and death; myocardial infarction incidence and death; coronary heart disease incidence, prevalence, and death; rheumatic, nonrheumatic, and hypertensive heart disease death; angina pectoris incidence; aortic calcification prevalence; death due to chronic endocarditis; and incidence of numerous risk factors, including cholesterol, lipids, caloric and fat intake, and triglycerides.

The protective effects offered by religious belief and/or practice Levin cites from a number of studies are far from insignificant:

In addition to these studies focusing on communities with well-known health promoting lifestyle practices, a study not limited to a specific religious group also found an inverse association between frequency of religious attendance and rates of atherosclerotic disease in both men and women.27 Even after allowing for the effects of smoking, socioeconomic status, and water hardness, the risk for atherosclerosis among men who were frequent church attendees was 40% less than that of men who attended church infrequently. The risk of dying from heart disease among women was approximately twice as high among infrequent church attendees compared with those who attended church weekly or more.

Coronary Heart Disease

Perhaps the research that most decisively forced the issue of acknowledging and incorporating our nonlocal nature into the practice of medicine occurred in 1988 in the Coronary Care Unit at San Francisco General Hospital, when cardiologist Randolph Byrd conducted a study on the effects of distant prayer on healing.28 Byrd and his research assistant, Janet Greene, asked each patient in the coronary care unit whose condition was stable if he or she would agree to help study the effect of prayer on treatment. Over a 10-month period, a computer assigned the 393 patients who agreed to participate to either a group that was prayed for by home prayer groups (192 patients) or a control group that did not receive this prayer support (201 patients).

The study was randomized and double-blind, so neither patients, nurses, nor doctors knew which patients were in which group. Byrd recruited members of several Protestant and Roman Catholic groups from around the country to pray. The persons praying were given their patients’ first names and a brief description of their diagnosis and condition and were asked to pray each day, but given no instructions as to how to do so. Each person prayed for many different patients, so each patient had between five and seven people praying for him or her.

Ten months later, when the results were evaluated, Byrd presented a significant challenge to the medical status quo. The patients receiving prayer support were five times less likely to require antibiotics (3 vs 16 patients); three times less likely to develop pulmonary edema (6 vs 18 patients); none of the prayed-for group required endotracheal intubation versus 12 in the group not prayed for; and fewer patients in the prayed for group died (13 vs 17 patients), a difference that was not considered statistically significant. Overall, the prayed-for patients achieved a 5% to 7% advantage over the controls, a very respectable level of improvement compared with other areas of medicine, as Dossey makes clear in his comparison in Reinventing Medicine of the Byrd study results with those found in a meta-analysis of whether aspirin helped prevent heart attacks published in Science in 1990. Although aspirin has long been touted as effective in the prevention of heart attack, this meta-analysis found that only 5 of 25 studies showed aspirin to be of any value, whereas 80% found it provided no clinical advantage whatsoever.

A 2001 study was designed to investigate whether the scores from a questionnaire measuring spiritual well-being correlated with progression or regression of coronary heart disease as measured with computerized cardiac catheterization data. Participants in Dr. Dean Ornish’s Lifestyle Heart Trial were given the “Spiritual Orientation Inventory.” A significant difference was found in the spirituality scores between a control group and a research group that practiced daily meditation. The spirituality scores highly correlated with the degree of an individual’s progression or regression of coronary artery obstruction over a 4-year period. Those with the lowest scores of spiritual well-being experienced the most progression of coronary obstruction, whereas those with the highest scores showed the most regression. The authors concluded that lack of spiritual well-being might be an important factor in the development of coronary artery disease.29

Other recent studies have had less positive results, notably the highly publicized Harvard Medical School Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Prayer (STEP) published in 2006.30 STEP involved 1802 patients who underwent coronary artery bypass surgery in six different U.S. hospitals. Subjects were assigned to three groups: 604 patients who were told they might—or might not—be prayed for, but were (Group 1); 597 patients also told they might—or might not—be prayed for, and were not (Group 2); and 601 patients were told they would definitely be prayed for, and were (Group 3).

Two Catholic groups and one Protestant group were chosen to pray. They were given the first name and the initial of the last name of those for whom they were praying, and were directed to pray for them using a prescribed prayer, after which they were allowed to pray as they wished. Prayers began on the evening or day of surgery and ran for 2 weeks.

Results were dismal. In Group 1 (those told they might be prayed for and were), 52% had postoperative complications. In Group 2 (those told they might be prayed for but were not), 51% had postoperative complications, and Group 3 (those told they would definitely be prayed for and were) had the worst outcome—59% had postoperative complications.

Dossey’s 2008 review of the state of healing research, “Healing Research: What We Know and Don’t Know,” provides a detailed exploration of the possible explanations for this outcome.25

Key issues Dossey raises are:

1. The effect of extraneous prayer both by the patient and his/her friends and family could have made it impossible to separate out the effects of study prayer.

2. Group 3, compared with Groups 1 and 2, was at higher risk of postoperative complications because this group had higher incidence of smoking history, higher incidence of emphysema and chronic bronchitis, a higher rate of three-vessel coronary bypass surgery, and a lower rate of β-blocker use (which some experts believe is protective during coronary bypass surgery) prior to surgery.

3. Telling Groups 1 and 2 they might not be prayed for could have caused these patients to have prayed more for themselves and to have more aggressively solicited prayer from friends and family, so they could have ended up receiving more, rather than less prayer, than Group 3.

4. Telling patients in Group 3 they would be prayed for could have caused “performance anxiety” in this group, mitigating prayer’s beneficial effects.

5. The beliefs and intentions of the experimenters, who are known to be proponents of intrapersonal mind–body effects but not of nonlocal interpersonal effects, could have negatively impacted outcomes.

6. STEP got a great deal of media attention for years before it was published, with several scholars predicting that it would decisively show whether prayer was effective, and critics smugly predicting it would fail. Given other evidence, such as studies in nonhumans in which experimenters’ negative thoughts and intentions correlated with negative biological effects in a variety of living systems,31 it is not unreasonable to raise the possibility that skeptics’ intentions impacted the outcome of STEP.

A further, and possibly the most important, critique is that the methodology used in the STEP (and to date all the clinical trials of distant healing intention) does not resemble “real life.” We pray for our loved ones, whom we know intimately, care for deeply, and for whom we feel unconditional empathy and compassion. We pray from the heart, not a scripted “standardized prayer” recited for persons we do not know. Plus, we do not limit our prayers for those we care for to a mere 2 weeks; in comparison, in the Byrd study, subjects were prayed for over a 10-month period. As Dossey so aptly put it, “‘Prayer in the wild’ in ‘free-range humans’ does not resemble STEP prayer.”25

Research looking at the results of “prayer in the wild,” such as the Achterberg study utilizing Native Hawaiian healers, produced strong positive results.32 After two years gaining the trust of this community of healers, Achterberg recruited 11, who on average had pursued their tradition of healing for 23 years. Each was asked to select a person with whom they felt a deep connection. Recipients were placed in a functional magnetic resonance imaging scanner and isolated from all forms of sensory contact with the healers, who then sent their distant healing intentions at 2-minute random intervals that could not be anticipated by the recipients.

Significant differences between the experimental (send) and control (no send) conditions were found (P = 0.000127); that is, there was less than approximately one chance in 10,000 that chance could explain the results. Areas of the brain activated during send intervals included the anterior and middle cingulate area, precuneus, and frontal area. This study not only demonstrates that remote, compassionate, healing intentions can exert measurable effects on the brain of a sensory isolated recipient, but suggests that an empathic connection between the healer and recipient is vital.


So many studies have been conducted in this area that Levin et al felt the need to summarize them and did so in a detailed review that was published in the British journal, Social Science and Medicine.33 Their review noted a significant inverse correlation between strong religious commitment and blood pressure that was evident no matter what religion an individual chose to practice, their geographical location, or ancestry.

Some of the studies discussed in this review included:

A California study of adults of Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese ancestry that found those with religious affiliation had a 15% rate of hypertension, approximately half that of a 29.3% rate in those with no religious affiliation.

A Harvard School of Public Health examination of the incidence of hypertension in South African Zulus, which found that among urban women, membership in a Christian church was associated with normal blood pressure, whereas nonmembership was linked to hypertension, particularly among women who reported being “bewitched,” who were twice as likely to have high blood pressure as their church-going peers.

A study of Jewish families in Jerusalem, which found that the advantage of religious affiliation extended even to the families of those involved, regardless of their own religious activity. Female children whose father had attended yeshiva for at least 5 years had a mean diastolic blood pressure of 65.2 mm Hg compared with 74.5 mm Hg for those whose fathers had less than 5 years religious training, and 71.5 mm Hg for those whose fathers had no formal Jewish education. Levin’s comment about these statistics was, “A little religion may be worse than none.” I suggest that the disparity between the daughters of those with no formal religious education and those with less than 5 years religious education may be explained by the fact that merely having no formal religious training does not mean one has no spiritual life, whereas choosing to discontinue religious education may indicate a disaffection with all things spiritual due to an unsatisfactory encounter with religion. How many of us have not only thrown away a form of organized religion we found intolerable, but mistakenly limited God to the concept of It taught in the religion we disavowed?

A Duke University matched study, which found that people who attended religious services at least weekly and prayed or studied the Bible at least daily had consistently lower blood pressure than those who did so less frequently or not at all.

A study conducted by the National Cancer Institute and Georgetown University that compared death rates in clergymen with those in the general Caucasian population and found American Baptist ministers were almost 40% less likely to die of hypertension complicated by heart disease, Presbyterian ministers 29% less likely, and Episcopalian and Lutheran ministers 41% less likely to die from hypertensive-related causes.

A Japanese study in which researchers found Zen Buddhist priests were half as likely to die from hypertension as other Japanese men.

Sep 12, 2016 | Posted by in MANUAL THERAPIST | Comments Off on Spirituality and Healing
Premium Wordpress Themes by UFO Themes