Are meditation and prayer the same?

I have come to rely on meditation. When my anxiety feels out of control it is one surefire way to calm myself down. I am on several psych meds but sometimes it’s important to find other ways to help yourself — especially in a moment of distress. However, meditation has become a daily practice for me.

Busy day? Meditate.

Distracted mind? Meditate.

Big event coming up? Meditate.

Can’t sleep? Meditate.

You get the picture.

I have quite a collection of mala beads and I like to use them for chanting and breathing exercises. 

I often wear mala beads around my wrist and one day a relative said it looked like I’m carrying around a rosary. For something that’s so meaningful to me, I couldn’t help but be a little offended.

I’ve heard people compare meditation to prayer. Do you think they are the same?

Maybe they have the same effect but I can tell you my intent is different.

When I meditate, I’m not expecting some genie in the sky to grant me wishes. Nope. It’s all on me. It’s work that I do. It’s an exercise. It’s a way to keep me mentally resilient. It’s a part of staying well.

But do people feel the same way about prayer?

The one major parallel I can draw is that meditation and prayer are both for yourself. You may think your prayer is helping someone else but it’s really just a way to make yourself feel better. Meditation is something I do for myself. I never expect it to affect others except for maybe I’m more pleasant to be around (or at least more tolerable). 

I know there have been studies done on the effects of prayer and meditation but I’m really curious to get your opinion – do you think they’re the same?


  1. Bruce says

    To people who aren’t involved, thinking and wishing look the same to outsiders. But I say they’re very different.
    So I think meditation and praying are very different when done by a thinking person, but they are the same when done by anyone who doesn’t get the difference.
    Also, some say that rosary beads are a Christian copy of one form of Buddhist meditation beads. Again meditation can be the same as or different from prayer, but wasn’t invented by Christians.

  2. John Morales says

    I’ve heard people compare meditation to prayer. Do you think they are the same?

    Depends on the definitions.

    If one considers prayer to be:
    — petitionary; then no
    — worshipful; then maybe
    — imprecatory; then no
    — thanksgiving; then no
    — spellcasting (you know, like a sacrament); then no


    But yes, there are meditative traditions in all major religions; e.g. sufis in Islam.

    • says

      I would agree with that. Some styles of prayer have definite meditative qualities and others do not. It’s usually the mystic/esoteric traditions that do meditative prayer. The mainstream usually defaults to “just say these words in this order and then get back to work.”

  3. JM says

    Complex question because there are a bunch of different type of prayer, different religious people have different religious idea of what is going on and they are often different then atheists ideas.

    There are Christians who pray and consider it a form of meditation. That the mental focus of their prayer helps their mind. God may or may not be listening but the act of praying itself is mentally helpful.

    There are also ones that consider prayer a way of talking to God but may be getting some benefits of meditation on the side.

    There are also people who use prayers as a form of spell casting no different then what some Wiccans do. That is really entirely different from meditation.

  4. M. Currie says

    I have never prayed, because I never could imagine a recipient. On the other hand, I meditate a fair amount, and have, at times, been accused of doing it way too much instead of doing other useful things. I think it’s entirely different, even if for some it overlaps, and however it might look to some, because when I meditate I’m thinking and working on my own mind. There is no pretense at all of reaching some other being.

  5. says

    No, they’re not the same at all; and doctrinaire Christians, at least, get VERY offended at any implication that they are. Prayer is talking to God, meditation is one form of mental self-discipline, and the two do not serve the same purpose. And these days at least, many Christians (and possibly other religious authoritarians) are literally demonizing things like yoga, meditation, and other non-Christian practices from heathen cultures.

  6. robert79 says

    Disclaimer: I’ve never prayed and I’ve never meditated, so I’m probably talking out of my ass here…

    People generally don’t pray for a peanut butter sandwich, nor do they meditate over one. Both activities are reserved to focus on the bigger/more important things in life. I suspect that, although the goals and activities differ a lot, both serve to focus the mind on the “big picture” (whatever that may be…) and letting the annoying trivialities of day to day life slide away.

  7. Katydid says

    Oh, wow. Whole big can of worms here.

    I’ve had a meditation practice for maybe 30-ish years now. I use it to quiet the chattering monkeys in my head and to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) rather than the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”). I suspect that’s what you’re doing, as well. You do that with breath–in particular, breathing out more than you breathe in (breathe out for eight, hold for eight, breathe in for four, hold for eight). Obviously this has nothing to do with the Christian prayer tradition (“dear lord, I want a pony”).

    What also works to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system is singing, and this is why there’s a tradition of chanting and singing in pretty much every world religion. To sing well, you have to breathe, and breathing deeply also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. Doesn’t have to be religious to work–I have a CD from decades ago that has chants in a number of religions and languages, some of which I don’t even understand, but if I go through it, I feel calmer because of the breathing.

    Mala beads and rosary beads are used to keep count of (breath, mantra, prayer, etc.) so I’m not sure why the reaction to it. The Christian church took (yeah, we’ll go with that verb instead of anything more controversial) aspects of various religions that went before and were successful.

    I say to do what works for you. If meditation and mala beads are helpful, keep using them. There are no side effects except for the reaction of narrow-minded people around you. Ignore them, they don’t live in your head.

  8. Katydid says

    Test: am getting the “you’re posting too fast” message.

    If this message goes through: I spoke with a Catholic friend who uses a rosary and says that it’s used to keep track of prayers and can be very meditative to use.

    • John Morales says

      When I was a little kiddie in a Jesuit boarding school, we had to do rosary.
      Seemed endless. And it was bloody repetitive.

      (Meditative maybe, boring, most certainly — at least for me)

      For anyone unfamiliar, here is are its joys:

      9. The Full Rosary

      In common terminology, when Catholics refer to praying a “Rosary,” they usually mean they are praying just five decades of one set of Mysteries. This is a single Rosary.

      A “full Rosary,” however, consists of offering all fifteen decades (Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious mysteries) in one day. One can also offer all twenty decades in one day by including the newly promulgated Luminous mysteries.

      (To avoid confusion, we will consider only the traditional three sets of fifteen Mysteries as a “full Rosary” from this point forward.)

      You can pray a full Rosary in one day in two ways. The most common method is offering three separate “single” five-mystery Rosaries in the morning, midday, and evening. The second method consists of praying all fifteen Mysteries consecutively at one time.

      With either approach, when you pray a full Rosary it is not necessary to repeat the opening prayers or concluding between the second and third sets of Mysteries. In other words, begin with the opening prayers (Apostles Creed, Our Father, three Hail Marys, Glory Be) before the first Joyful Mystery, as you would with a “single” Rosary. After the final Glorious mystery, conclude with Hail Holy Queen and prayer for the pope.

      • John Morales says

        I suppose some may find writing some sentence a hundred times to be meditative; I know I had to do that, too.
        Supposed to be a punishment, and I guess it was, but about the same as rosary, which was not supposed to be one, though it was.

  9. Katydid says

    Okay, the practicing Catholic in the USA that I spoke to said they use it to say Hail Mary and/or Our Father and that’s it. Each time you say a prayer, you slide your fingers over a bead, and when you get to the cross, you know you’re done.

    When you do something like that for meditation, the whole point is the repetition. Whether you’re saying Sanskrit mantras or Japanese mantras or the Christian Our Father or singing Om Nama Shivaya, the point is to get into a rhythm where the breath is regular and the words become so familiar they can be said without thinking about them.

    When everything clicks into place, the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in and you feel a sense of calm and general well-being. Your brain stops racing off in different directions, your heart rate slows, and other good things for people who are perpetually in fight-or-flight, type-A, reactive, panic-attack types. As our host says, she’s finding this state to calm her mental health issues. Meditation joke: don’t have five minutes to sit for meditation? Sit for ten.

    Bottom line; there isn’t anything woo in meditation unless you want it to be, and if you do, then assign it whatever woo you want. There are several ways to get the parasympathetic system to kick in–meditation (which our host does), restorative yoga, chanting, prayer, fasting…even long-distance running. For most people, taking a moment to focus on breathing is the easiest to do, and if using mala beads helps focus the breathing, then it’s cheap and easy to wear on a wrist or put in a pocket.

  10. Katydid says

    Sadly, a lot of religions have claimed meditation as their own, but it’s a nervous system process, like breathing into a paper bag to calm a panic attack. Or, a better example, blinking your eyes–your body does it naturally without you paying attention, but you can also control it if you want.

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