According to a newly released study people who learned about relaxed breathing and received soothing touch and music before heart surgery were more likely to be alive 6 months after the procedure.
This discovery suggests that these additional steps help speed recovery, however people who were prayed for off-site, fared no better after their heart procedures.
Study author Dr. Mitchell W. Krucoff says that this study is an "early step," and researchers still have a lot to learn about how to integrate high-tech approaches to medicine with "the rest of the human being."
Krucoff, from Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, says it is not a case of God failed or passed the test.
For the study, Krucoff and his colleagues organized for 748 patients undergoing heart surgery to receive either off-site prayer from congregations of various religions, or music, imagery and touch therapy, also called MIT, or no intervention at all. Patients were unaware they were being prayed for.
Before surgery took place, as part of MIT, people trained in "healing touch" put their hands in specific places on patients' bodies, designed to shift energy around the body and promote healing.
Patients also listened to their choice of soothing music, which included approximately 10 minutes of guided imagery, and learned about deep breathing, which they were told to continue during the procedure, for which they were awake.
People who were prayed for appeared to fare no better after the heart procedure, and neither prayer nor MIT therapy had any effect on patients' risk of in-hospital heart events or readmission to the hospital within 6 months.
However, those who received MIT were 65 percent less likely to die within the following 6 months than people who did not receive the intervention.
According to Krucoff MIT-users also experienced a "profound" decrease in emotional distress before the procedure, compared to non-MIT-users.
Krucoff says that previous research shows that stress can increase inflammation throughout the body, which can interfere with healing after heart surgery; he thinks it is possible that, by reducing patients' anxieties about surgery, MIT assists in their recovery.
Also patients given MIT may feel more cared for when they receive extra attention from the music, touching and imagery, and that may help in their recovery, says Krucoff.
The study is published in the current edition of the Lancet.