Fifteen years ago, a handful of poorly constructed, clearly biased studies purported to show that prayer was a legitimate medical tool. Americans fell for it, and we still haven’t learned our lesson. It’s hard to resist something we want to believe, especially when it comes in a science-shaped box. Today, people want to believe that yoga will solve their problems. More than 200 studies were published about the health benefits of yoga last year. They appeared both in specialty journals likeAyu, a quarterly about Ayurvedic health research, and mainstream scientific publications, like the Journal of Clinical Oncology. Yoga is supposed to cure everything from low back pain to short attention span to several forms of mental illness. Yoga is the new prayer: the risk-free, cost-free solution to all of your medical problems. The evidence is shaky, and the methodology questionable, but we just can’t get enough.
We should, as a nation, revisit the “prayer as medicine” craze annually to remind us of the credulous depths we have plumbed. In 1988, the Southern Medical Journal published a study that asked “born again” Christians to pray for only half of participating patients in the coronary care unit. Those patients achieved better outcomes, aided by questionable statistical analysis, than the prayer-deprived. The author concluded that “prayer to the Judeo-Christian God has a beneficial therapeutic effect.” Similar studies followed. A 1999 paper in the highly regarded Archives of Internal Medicine claimed that prayer “may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care.” Continue reading >> Slate