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Life's a Beach - The power of prayer

This column is dedicated to making your life a beach. No matter how frustrating, sad or terrible you find your life right now, there are several simple things that you can start doing to improve your life. This stuff works, it is time tested.

This column is dedicated to making your life a beach. No matter how frustrating, sad or terrible you find your life right now, there are several simple things that you can start doing to improve your life. This stuff works, it is time tested. All you have to do is do it.

Let me introduce you to Dr. Larry Dossey.

He is a distinguished Texas physician, deeply rooted in the scientific world, has become an internationally influential advocate of the role of the mind in health and the role of spirituality in health care. Bringing the experience of a practicing internist and the soul of a poet to the discourse, Dr. Larry Dossey offers panoramic insight into the nature and the future of medicine.

Upon graduating with honors from the University of Texas at Austin, Dr. Dossey worked as a pharmacist while earning his M.D. degree from Southwestern Medical School in Dallas, 1967. Before completing his residency in internal medicine, he served as a battalion surgeon in Vietnam, where he was decorated for valor. Dr. Dossey helped establish the Dallas Diagnostic Association, the largest group of internal medicine practitioners in that city, and was Chief of Staff of Medical City Dallas Hospital in 1982.

An education steeped in traditional western medicine did not prepare Dr. Dossey for patients who were blessed with "miracle cures," remissions that clinical medicine could not explain. "Almost all physicians possess a lavish list of strange happenings unexplainable by normal science," says Dr. Dossey. "A tally of these events would demonstrate, I am convinced, that medical science not only has not had the last word, it has hardly had the first word on how the world works, especially when the mind is involved."

This is pretty open-minded stuff from a hardcore empirical physician. Let's take it one step further. Dr. Dossey got interested in the healing power of prayer and was looking for empirical evidence that might prove one way or the other that prayers could affect the healing process.

Most people in this culture define prayer as talking aloud to oneself or to some white, male parent figure, usually in the English language. But there are many cultures and religions with prayer practices. Unless you want to disenfranchise lots of people, we need a broader definition. And interestingly, the studies on prayer show no correlation between religious affiliation and the effects of prayer in the laboratory. The factors that seems to work are love, compassion, empathy and deep caring.

The most famous prayer study was conducted by Dr. Randolph Byrd, a cardiologist at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center. He took 393 people who had been admitted to the hospital with a heart attack. All of the subjects received the same high-tech, state-of-the-art coronary care, but half were also prayed for by name by prayer groups around the world. Buddhist prayers, Muslim prayers, Christian prayers were showered on the one group of patients. No one knew who was being prayed for--the patients, the doctors, the nurses. The prayed-for group had fewer deaths, faster recovery, less incubations, and used fewer potent medications.

If the subject of this study had been a new medication instead of prayer, this would have been considered a medical breath through. Up until then, most medical people had considered prayer a nice thing. It didn't hurt much, but they certainly didn't consider it a matter of life and death.

One of the complaints about Byrd's and others' studies is that they are not rigorously done. Dr. Dossey took it upon himself to look at all of the studies, some 160 of them. While it is true that some have problems, many are fanatically precise and admirably designed. Two-thirds show that the impact of distant prayer is statistically significant.

But for research purposes, skeptical scientists did studies of the growth of bacteria in test tubes. That way you guarantee the purity of the control group and eliminate all sorts of variables. And you know what? The prayed-for test tube also shows a reduction in the growth of bacteria. This kind of study might seem outrageous but this is where precise science can be done.

In conclusion, Dr. Dossey is satisfied that science has validated the usefulness of prayer in the recovery process. He states that every physician should include prayer as part of the treatment plan. WOW!

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