What's free, could improve health care for all Americans, but is not part of congressional debate? Prayer. That's the conclusion of religious leaders, theologians, spiritual leaders and even world-class physicians who gathered at a Boston conference this week to compare notes on the effectiveness of prayer and meditation for treating physical ailments. The consensus: it can lower breathing rates and heart rates, and even prevent the need for surgery. Harvard Medical School professor Herbert Benson, founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Boston's Deaconess Hospital, tells TIME's Christine Gorman that prayer has been particularly noteworthy in cardiology. "Benson, who has been establishing a scientific grounding for the power of prayer, found the technique alone can lower a person's blood pressure ten points," Gorman notes. "Prayer will never be a panacea or a replacement for modern medicine, but it's becoming increasing clear that meditation can have a profound impact on the body."