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What Is the Difference between Prayer and Meditation?

By Kelly Stoll
Updated May 17, 2024
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Although some people define the difference between prayer and meditation as a religious interpretation, others believe that the difference lies in the physical act of each practice itself. The real difference in both cases is not in the words that are said or in the method that is used. Instead, the difference between prayer and meditation is defined by the personal beliefs of the individuals exercising each practice.

A prayer is a request or wish that is addressed to a divine being. It often asks for information or seeks granting, although it might also give thanks for something that has been received. This act might involve both the mental psyche and the physical body, much like meditation does. Praying might be practiced while kneeling, sitting or standing during worship. The main goal during prayer is to clear the mind of all outside thoughts and to focus on the prayer itself as well as the request being made.

By contrast, meditation is used to focus the mind in an attempt to contemplate the inner-self and to center a person’s own awareness. Meditation might be performed, much like prayer, in a group environment or individually by oneself. Many forms of physical meditation exist. Some meditation methods utilize sitting, standing or walking. The primary focus of meditation is not to obtain anything from a divine source but to reach a state of relaxation.

Both prayer and meditation are believed to have mental and physical health benefits. Meditation has been proved to assist with stress relief, pain reduction and breath control. It also has been linked to changes in metabolism, blood pressure and brain activity. Prayer likewise has been credited with assisting practitioners with stress relief, depression and maintaining general good health.

Some religions utilize both prayer and meditation together in a practice known as prayer meditation. This form of prayer requires the practitioner to sit quietly and relax while praying. The incorporated aspect of meditation assists in focusing the mind prior to beginning a prayer.

Prayer beads might be used during prayer meditation. Similar to the Catholic rosary, prayer beads are a series of beads strung together by thread. To use prayer beads, a practitioner holds the beaded string between his or her hands while praying a formulated delivery of words. These words, when said in a repetitive process, assist in focusing the mind and relaxing the body.

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Discussion Comments

By literally45 — On Apr 11, 2014

I don't think that prayer and meditation are the same. To me, prayer is about glorifying the divine, and sometimes also requesting something. Meditation is more of a practice to detach from the physical world and to connect with the soul. Does anyone agree?

By burcinc — On Apr 11, 2014

@serenesurface-- Islam is very interesting because there is also a more "spiritual" practice of Islam called Sufism. I think that the prayers and practices of Sufism definitely qualify as meditation.

For example, I had the opportunity to watch he whirling dervishes in Washington D.C. once. I realized at that time that the whirling is very much meditation, the dervishes clearly connect with God and also increase their awareness through the practice.

So it would be wrong to separate prayer and meditation from one another. In many belief systems, the two are intertwined.

By serenesurface — On Apr 10, 2014

I think that meditation is a part of prayer. It really depends on the how prayer is done and the intention of the devotee.

I'm a Muslim and I feel that the five daily prayers that I perform are also a type of meditation. They help me clear my mind and focus. Of course, there is prayer as well.

The prayer routine is composed of prayers and verses from the Qur'an. Certain verses are repeated again and again, and so are the physical motions. I think it's this repetition that makes Islamic prayers also meditative in nature.

All I know is that I feel comforted, calm and balanced after my prayers. I think these are the same feelings that emerge after meditation.

By Phaedrus — On Apr 02, 2014

I honestly have more difficulty with meditation than prayer. I grew up in a very religious household, so we would attend church several times a week and say a blessing at every meal and end our evenings with prayers. I understood the relationship between myself and God whenever I was praying.

Several years ago, a friend invited me to a beginning yoga class and the instructor asked us to meditate for a few minutes before the lesson. I was completely lost. My friend said I should close my eyes and allow all negative thoughts to leave my body. I did manage to relax during that meditation session, but I can't say I got anything out of it spiritually. I still set aside time for meditation during the day, but I find it's easier for me to consider it prayer time.

By Reminiscence — On Apr 02, 2014

One thing I've noticed about prayer is that a person can be a more passive participant. A pastor might ask the congregation to bow their heads in prayer, but he or she will be the one speaking aloud to God. Individual members aren't obligated to do much more than maintain a respectful silence with their heads bowed and eyes closed. Some may take the opportunity to commune with God during this time, but it's not a universal response. I've seen congregants recite familiar prayers by memory, too.

Meditation, on the other hand, is an internal process. I've practiced meditation for years, and sometimes it's more of a reflective stillness than a connection to a higher power. When I meditate, I'm trying to get my spirit and body back in balance. I'm not seeking forgiveness or help with external situations, as with intercessory prayer.

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