Many students and teachers of yoga ask about the place of prayer in yoga. Prayer is a means of connecting your heart with the Divine, thereby allowing grace to flow and touch your heart. The heart is the seat of absolute, transcendental Truth. A prayer that truly comes from the heart transcends all boundaries and has the power to destroy all bondage.
The power of prayer is so immense that it has an unfailing effect on the mind and heart. Prayer changes intellectual dialogue into spiritual contemplation, transforming our normal emotions into devotion. Because it quiets our mental chatter and calms emotional turmoil, prayer creates the environment for the inward journey. One of the biggest problems that meditators face is preparing the proper mood. It is true that meditation makes the mind one-pointed and tranquil, but when we are already in a bad mood it is difficult to sit down and meditate. That is where prayer comes in.
Prayers can be repeated aloud, which does not require a great deal of concentration. The meaning of the prayer helps us organize our emotions, calm them, and turn our attention toward the Divine, the object of our prayer. Thus prayer is a technique for making the transition from mundane to divine awareness. But this is true only when the prayer comes from the heart. Prayers should not be said in a perfunctory manner. Prayer can be a complete path in and of itself, leading to the highest level of realization, provided it is genuine and not a mechanical regurgitation of some lines we have committed to memory.
Yet even the act of memorizing prayers and repeating them mechanically has some value if the prayers are authentic—that is, if they are prayers which were revealed to the saints and sages. Revealed prayers came directly from the Source, and because of this, they retain the power to transform and heal. This power is further intensified when such a prayer has been used and passed down for a long period of time. For example, people have been using the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi for several centuries and so it has gathered immense energy. When you say this prayer from the heart, you are repeating words that have touched the lives of countless people and allowing yourself to become part of an ever-flowing stream that reaches its destination by its own virtue. A prayer composed by an ordinary mind may induce a pleasant feeling, but it will not have the same effect as the prayers of saints such as Francis, Narada, and Tulsidasa.
When we repeat an authentic prayer, our mind and heart are purified, and eventually the higher virtues of love, devotion, and faith begin to unfold within us. When these prayers fill the deepest recesses of our heart, the mind automatically travels inward to enjoy their subtle vibrations, and meditation begins spontaneously. The spiritual history of both the East and the West is replete with examples of saints who had never heard of meditation but who, due to their intense practice of prayer, were blessed with meditative minds.
Source: Inner Quest by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait