Spirituality and Health
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Throughout this website, you will find numerous references to the importance of honouring the
fact that if we are to heal as holistically as possible then we need to accept that we are more than
just a body - we have body, mind, emotion, and spirit and are Soul. Whether or not you choose
to believe in yourself as a spiritual being does not matter. You are. Despite any of your protests.
Just because you don’t believe in spirituality, or claim that you are suspicious of the law of gravity
or don’t believe there is air all around you does not stop their existence. So why ignore your
spiritual side? Why block out or deny a major part of who you are? How can you heal wholly
or holistically if you are unwilling to look at the spiritual side of life, from whence comes the
spiritual causes of your physical, mental, or emotional ailments? Because your condition shows
up in the physical does not necessarily mean its root cause lies in the physical. Wellness is much
more than merely physical health, exercise or nutrition. It is the full integration of states of
physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Our spiritual energy ignites and enlivens our physical, mental, and emotional parts and all inter-connect.
Spirituality is not the same as religion if that’s what bothers and which idea is why some people are turned away from acknowledging the spiritual dimension to life and living. Many people are seeking, many ask, “Is there more to life than this?” People are looking for meaning and purpose in life. And once they ask such questions, they begin their own aware spiritual journey. We have wandered so far from our connection with nature, we have separated from the connection between nature and spirit.
In recent years, science and medicine have more and more recognised the role that spirituality plays in health. Both the General Medical Council and the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Psychiatry clearly assert the real need for spirituality to be integrated into medicine and care – a need that the World Health Organization has highlighted since 1984. Is it any wonder that our NHS trusts each have chaplaincy services, often used in times of endings by those least likely to claim any religious affiliation yet intuitively just know there is a higher Power somewhere?
From my own experience, and drawing on research into various aspects of spirituality and its benefits in our health and well-being, I’d like to walk you through some of those benefits.
As I began to explore spirituality, become ever curious, I noticed an increasing sense of self, an increased inner confidence that came from deep within and not just because my head told me so.. The various lifestyle and self-development practices of spirituality eg meditation, visualisation, non-religious prayer, etc, gave me a more secure sense of being at peace, of being in control of my life of knowing when it was time to surrender to let go, let God (and not necessarily of any specific religion.)
Brings relief to depression
Spirituality began to have me be less self-focussed and more considerate of and compassionate towards other. At the time, I had been suffering my first bouts of depression but the more I found out about spirituality and brought it into my daily routines, the more my depression was relieved through meditation and being of service to others.
The most important elements of spirituality — beliefs, community, lifestyle, caring — all reduce existential anxiety. This then works through neural networks in the brain and the endocrine system to calm people physically and psychologically. Being at ease with life strengthens physical, mental health, emotional and spiritual health. Your immune system and gut microbiome should be healthier and so will you be too.
Enables Healthy Gut and Stomach
Spiritual practices and the desire to be more aware, better informed, drew me to the importance of nutrition and I became much more aware not only of what I fed myself physically, but with what I fed myself spiritually. Spiritual practices calmed the intestinal nervous system, sometimes called the gut brain axis. I now know that this balances acidity and supports healthy gut bacteria. A heathy gut, that is not triggering inflammation, helps create good health.
Heals Nervous Exhaustion
When I first stepped into spiritual awareness, I was working crazy hours, in a stress-filled job, with responsibility for others. I became more aware of the importance of sleep and relaxation, of how the body regenerates when we rest. I then realised how meditation and guided visualisations also help our brains, nervous and endocrine systems into the same regenerating state thus calming and strengthening us. Being calmer, I was more productive and my energy was better around the people I served.
Lessens Heart Attacks and Strokes
Qi Gong, Yoga breathing, practising Heartmath exercises are all ways which are of the heart, of the spirit, and enable our heart rate variability (HRV) to become integrated and harmonious, aiding our physical heart health, and reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Strengthens the Immune System
There is evidence that practising Mindfulness or engaging the practice of ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation (directed to self and others) benefits us and others in our lives; in particular, it reduces the hormones of anxiety eg cortisol, which triggers stress and increases wellbeing hormones. There is less wear and tear on the immune system, provides a boost to it, and makes you more resilient against viruses and other health threats.
Spiritual people take time to savour life experiences. Individuals who value spirituality and, without guilt, take the time to reflect on their daily activities, ultimately build lasting memories of their experiences. When spiritual people are more conscious of small, daily activities, they experience positive emotions associated with the smaller pleasures in life. Feeling good does not put stress on the body’s systems.
Reduces Risk of Mental Illness
Belief in a spiritual aspect to life brings many qualities such as comfort, calm, peace, reassurance and a sense of meaning. This not only minimises stress in life, it also reduces the risk of mental illness and, if we do hit a patch of mental ill-health, it supports our recovery.
Helps People Live Longer
Research now indicates that a spiritual way of life supports people to live longer, healthier lives. Spirituality is not separate to our lives but permeates all aspects of human functioning--spiritual people have positive, more supportive relationships, attain higher self-esteem, are usually more optimistic, and have to some extent found meaning and purpose in their lives. Spiritual individuals will strive toward a better life and consider personal growth and fulfillment, leading a meaningful successful life, as a central goal. Spirituality is often a path toward self-actualisation, achieving one’s potential, and because it requires people to focus on their internal values and work on becoming a better individual, they pay more attention to factors such as creating a life of health and well-being which then allows their body, to carry them further into life and living. It does not automatically mean an easy life; you still get challenges which help you grow.
Having friends and a community are good for people’s general health but only so if that community is made of kindred spirits. There are many issues raised when we move into spiritual elderhood.
In brief, spirituality has been linked to:
Better health and well-being
Less stress, even during difficult times
Better ability to handle stress
More positive feelings, attitude, outlook
Greater psychological well-being
Sometimes spiritual practice leads us toward an interest in specific religious paths, one or several and not necessarily that of our upbringing. Sometimes it doesn’t. What we do know is that a daily period of meditation, a weekly practice of lighting Sabbath candles, or regularly attending worship services, or making an annual retreat in an isolated, quiet place of solitude – all of these are examples of setting time apart from the rush of our everyday lives. Such periods of rest and respite from stress-filled work and the demands of daily life serve to reduce stress, a fundamental cause of most chronic diseases that is still the primary causes of death in Western society. Transcendent spiritual and religious experiences have a positive, healing, restorative effect, especially if they are naturally integrated into one’s daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual cycles of living.
Spiritual living is not about showing up in Church Mosque or temple every week and claiming to be a good Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist, nor is it turning up every week to your spiritual development class if all you do is gossip and judge people you don’t like.
Being a spiritual person is about being a person whose highest priority is to be loving to yourself and others, a person who genuinely cares about people, animals and the planet, and aims in every moment to be a kind and compassionate person. A spiritual person knows that we are all One, and consciously attempts to honour this Oneness ie they differentiate between just knowing, and the practice of being One.
You can go to church every Sunday and say your prayers every day, without caring about being kind and loving to yourself, others and to the planet. You can practise yoga and meditate every day without being aware of how loving you are or are not, of what is loving and what is not loving in your thoughts and actions. You can belong to a spiritual group and devotedly follow the teachings, yet still be judgmental toward yourself and others in your daily life.
If the first step you ever took was to decide to be a more aware, honest, caring person then you have begun your spiritual journey; you may choose not to call it so.
If you then add in some form of meditation practice every day, and allow your life to unfold, it will.
If you can begin each day with the following questions, taken from A Course in Miracles, a complete self-study spiritual thought system, then notice how your life changes :-
What would You have me do today?
Where would You have me go today?
What would You have me say today, and to whom?
Belonging to a tribe, caste, or clan
Following a way/organisation designed by humankind, mostly men, for years run by patriarchy
Understanding - life is lived in the head, often through the EGO, following rules, not necessarily with discernment
Knowing about God , about religion, about the system
Essence of religion, some find their spiritual life intricately linked to their religion, a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue. For many it has no specific religious connection.
A search for meaning, personal growth and transformation
Breaking away from the tribe, finding one's own path ...and in the process...
Aiming to live from the heart
Personal experience of God, however one defines God
Essence of spirituality - an altered state of consciousness / awareness which is given a religious or spiritual meaning
Enlightenment and wisdom through
insight into ultimate or hidden truths / and Divine laws
A belief in unity, connection to All, living as we are all One, each a spark of the Divine Source
Soul Living, Impersonal transformation and transcendence, committing fully to the God of your understanding
Becoming one with God or the Absolute, the All, Source, Spirit