First things first: What is a prayer?
The definition of a prayer is a solemn request for help or expression of thanks addressed to God or another deity.
The power of prayer has always been said to be healing. When most people think of praying, they think of praying to one specific thing.. God.
Are you in need of guidance to help you through a particularly difficult situation? Pray to God and ask him for help. Not sure if you should take that new job offer or not? Allow Jesus Christ to guide you in the right direction. But what if Jesus Christ isn’t your go-to guy? What if you turn to Allah and ask for his wisdom instead? Or perhaps you pray to Krishna, Buddha, Vishnu, Yahweh, Gaia or the vast Universe!
Humans are very complicated beings. We ask a lot of questions like “why is this happening to me?”, “when am I going to finally find success?”, “who created the earth?”, or “what happens after we die?”. Different people have different answers to this, and sometimes, people don’t have answers to these loaded questions, so we turn to God (whatever or whoever our form of God is).
I would like to clarify that it doesn’t matter WHO you pray to, what your religion might be (or not having a religion at all), rather that it is the act of prayer itself that is very powerful and healing.
The reason I am writing this post is because I know exactly how awkward it can be to pray as a “non-believer”. I am not religious, and I do not feel a connection to Jesus Christ, nor was I raised in a traditional and religious family. I have gone to church a few times in my life and my mom used to read to me Alice In Bible-land books a child as a way to teach me the basics about God, Jesus Christ and his disciples. When I was young, I used to pray every night before I went to bed, praying to a God I was told to believe in. This was totally fine as I actually enjoyed saying my bedtime prayer as I felt it kept me safe. But as I got older I began to ask questions like “Who is it that pray to?” and “Why am I supposed to believe in this God?”.
I never felt any kind of connection towards the God I praying to. So why should I trust him to keep me and my loved ones safe? Why should I trust him with my worries? I stopped praying and I stopped believing in Jesus Christ, but I never felt comfortable saying the words “I don’t believe in God”. It made me feel uncertain and almost scared to say those words. It was like I felt that if I said those words out loud, God would hear me and smite me in some sort of way.
“Prayer purifies, elevates, and transforms us. It awakens our souls.” – Michael Berg
The first time I prayed as an adult was when I was 18 and my mom first got diagnosed with cancer. I was really afraid, so I decided to turn to God. I got down on my knees beside my bed, put my palms together and prayed for his help to cure her of cancer. It had been years since I had prayed, and truthfully I felt silly and uncomfortable. I came to the realization that if I didn’t fully believe in who I was praying to, then how and why would be prayer actually get answered? I decided that just because I didn’t believe in the God that society told me to believe in didn’t mean I couldn’t pray. And it also didn’t mean that I had to necessarily find something or someone else to pray to.
I am more of a spiritual person, I believe in Universal energies and manifestation. I believe in something bigger than us, and that the presence of “God” is actually just the presence of love which binds all things together in the Universal Oneness of peace and harmony.
Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter what I believe in. It doesn’t matter who or what anyone believes in. What matters is treating all beings with kindness and compassion.
Are there any benefits to praying?
Yes! Praying can have many mental and physical benefits on the body and better overall health. From reducing stress that contributes to depression or heart conditions to recovery from surgery and increasing life spans, there are many benefits of praying.
Praying is good for heart health: Similar to meditation, prayer helps to regulate heartbeat which makes it stronger and less stressed.
Praying can better your sense of self: Praying brings you closer and connected to your yourself as well as the higher power you are praying to. A study showed that prayer reduces ego and promotes humility.
Praying reduces stress, therefore can increase lifespan: Stress is inevitable and we live in a world that is constantly rushing us, demanding an increase of responsibility. We can’t eliminate stress, however we can choose how we cope with it. Stress causes illness and disease in the body. By minimizing life-threatening effects of stress, prayer can help us age more smoothly and live longer.
Praying improves attitude: Day to day issues affect our stress, hormone levels and mood. It’s very difficult to maintain a positive attitude!! Prayer helps us develop a stronger mindset that is filled with hope and forgiveness. During prayer, you may even gain some insight and sense of direction which improves our outlook on the world.
So now that we know the benefits of prayer, how does one pray if they are not religious?
Keep it simple and just say thanks: One of my favourite moments after my yoga practice is after shavasana when we put our hands in prayer position and say “namaste” or “thank you”. We often bow to honour the light in ourselves and in others, and this moment is a form of prayer to me. I seal my intention within me and thank my mind, body and spirit for allowing me to move my body and to practice yoga.
You can silently say thank you in your head before you eat a meal, as you awaken and begin a new day or before you go to sleep.
Try an affirmative prayer: Affirmative prayer reflects the certainty that we are each being led to our highest good. Instead of saying “God, please give me an answer to whether or not I should change my career”, you might say something along the lines of “I trust that I have all the answers already within me to make a confident decision regarding my career and life path”. Or instead of “Please God, provide peace on earth” something along the lines of “I wish love and peace unto all conscious beings living on mother earth and believe that everything happens for a reason”
By using an affirmative prayer approach, we can visualize a plan for our future and believe that we have unlimited blessings and possibilities. It is awakening the limitless potential we have within ourselves to manifest what we want.
Read your favourite prayer or affirmation everyday: I have my moms writing tattooed on my arm that says “I am grateful”. This is more of an affirmation, however it is something I see and read every single day and it is a great reminder to remember what I am grateful for each day. It also acts as a way for me to begin a prayer. I start by saying “I am grateful” (either out loud or in my head), and then I just speak from my heart.
“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, ‘thank you,’ that would suffice.”
Some of my favourite prayers are:
Loving kindness prayer:
May I be filled with loving kindness.
May I be free from suffering.
May I be well.
May I be at peace.
May I be joyful.
May you be filled with loving kindness.
May you be free from suffering.
May you be well.
May you be at peace.
May you be joyful.
May all beings be filled with loving kindness.
May all beings be free from suffering.
May all beings be well.
May all beings be at peace.
May all beings be joyful.
Blessed be the Earth for providing us this food
Blessed be the Sun for helping it to grow
Blessed be the Wind and Birds for carrying its seed
Blessed be the Rain for the water’s loving flow.
Blessed be the hands that helped prepare this meal,
May those hands and our hands, bodies too, be well and quick to heal.
Blessed be our friends, our families, and all of our loved ones.
Blessed be our mother earth, our father sky and sun.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
I don’t think that I should be restricted to traditional forms of prayer, and that I should be able to pray in whatever way I feel honours my hearts and also connects me to what I believe in. Whether that is while my palms are together, speaking silently or out loud, or if I am chanting or dancing, I recognize all of these as a form of prayer.
Don’t over think it. Just start praying.