Spirituality is intimately related to health, wholeness, and well-being-Frederic C. Craigie, Jr., PhD
The spirituality-wellness connection is fascinating. There is a clear connection between one’s spiritual well-being and their physical and mental well-being. Duh, right? Because we are not just one part, we are all three. But, it’s not that simple to comprehend in our Western world. So, let’s break it down a bit.
What is Spirituality?
Well, it’s incredibly subjective and very personal to begin with. Most of us think of religion or some kind of shared belief among a group as spirituality. And, while there is overlap there, Spirituality is not religion, religion can involve spirituality though. In traditional definitions of spirituality, a higher power is involved as well as a soul connection to all things. People practice spirituality in many ways; praying, going to church, meditation, going out in nature, ceremonies, etc. So, what does this have to do with one’s health?
Spirituality & Health.
When considering religious spirituality, in religions who focus on diet and caring for the body (Mormons, strict Jews, and Seventh Day Adventist), there is typically a healthier population among them. The Seventh Day Adventist, for example, have some of the longest living, healthy years among them. Loma Linda, CA, home to a large group of Seventh Day Adventist, is what is called a Blue Zone. A Blue Zone is an area in the world where a population lives the longest healthiest years.
And, it’s not just the religious teachings of eating well and taking care of one’s body that creates such good health. The literature has explored what happens when you have a focus on eating well AND a spiritual practice. Dr. Dean Ornish’s study on coronary artery occlusion with a program of vegetarian diet, regular aerobics exercise and daily meditation, showed that those participants with a spiritual practice had significantly decreased their stenosis (Craig, F., 2010).
High spirituality scores were associated with the least progression of coronary artery obstruction, and lower spirituality scores were associated with most progression in obstruction. This suggests that something about spiritual well-being, apart from the diet and lifestyle changes, had a beneficial influence on the progression of coronary artery disease (Craig, F., 2010). This is just one example of many where spirituality or spiritual practice, improved health.
Why Don’t We Address This More in Our HealthCare?
Good question, and the short answer is, we are starting to…slowly. If you haven’t guessed by now, everything in our medical system is done slowly. It typically takes 17 years for something to be implemented into practice. Why? Because we need to be able to define things, to measure things, to put things in a statistical analysis. We do this to a fault by using terms such as evidence-based practice and relying solely on what the literature shows. In theory, this a great way to do things when you want to be sure something is safe, especially something as critical as caring for one’s health. However, by doing this, we have removed any form of spirituality or traditions from our medical system. And, in order to get them back (yes, they were once there) we have to look toward ancient medicines, cultures, and belief systems (in my humble opinion). With spirituality, you can’t really rely on science in the way the Western world defines science. We have no current or practical way to apply our scientific theory to things such as yin and yang, doshas, prana, etc. And, just because we can’t define them does not mean they aren’t valid to our health. Make sense?
What Does All of this Mean for You?
Recognizing that the health of your spirit plays a major role in your overall well-being is key. I would even argue that without the health of your spirit, you have no real health at all-it affects everything.
If you already have a spiritual practice or belief system, dig deeper. Continue to explore your connection to that belief/practice and spend time there, make it a priority, as you would your diet or exercise. If you do not have a spiritual belief, consider exploring an idea that resonates with you. Again, spirituality is subjective and personal, this does not mean you need to believe in GOD or the Universe, it just means to find the sweet spot-maybe it’s the good in people or the beauty of nature. All of this is important to your spirit as well.
Once providers and caregivers can grasp on to the idea that spiritual health is just as much of a responsibility to care for as everything else, we may start to see a shift in our overall, collective health. To me, exploring a spiritual practice raises one’s vibration. If we all started raising our vibration, then as a collective we could all be well and live healthy, fulfilling, joyful lives-that’s the kind of world I could go for right now.
In good health,
Craige, Frederic C. Positive Spirituality in Health Care. Mill City Press, 2010.
I support my spiritual practice with essential oils. Many essential oils are used and have been used for thousands of years in spiritual practices and rituals. Frankincense, Myrrh, Sandalwood, and Blue Lotus have been talks about since the beginning of the written word. There’s no coincidence here. Essential oils have been known to cross the blood brain barrier and work on areas of the brain that are associated with enlightenment and spirituality. If you would like to incorporate them into your practice too, you can find some of my faves here.