Is My Spirituality Making Me Healthier?
It’s no surprise to the spiritual community that science is finally recognising the role spiritual practise plays in promoting good health. We have all felt the boost of being part of a group and community, or the sense of purpose that we can find within meditation, yoga and spiritual discovery. But how can we expect nourishing our spiritual selves to affect us biologically, mentally and physiologically?
The General Medical Council and the Royal Colleges of Nursing and Psychiatry all clearly assert the real need for spirituality to be integrated into medicine and care – a need that the World Health Organisation has highlighted since 1984.
Here Dr William Bloom, author of The Power of Modern Spirituality, has outlined the key benefits spiritual practice can bring to both physical and mental health for us.
Live Longer: Research at Duke University’s Centre for Spirituality, Theology and Health in the USA, which has reviewed over 3000 scholarly papers on the health benefits of spirituality, clearly indicates that it supports people to live longer, healthier lives.
Strong Immune System: The practice of ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation (directed to self and others) – as well as actively being kind to others in our lives – reduces the hormones of anxiety and increases the cocktail of wellbeing hormones. This boosts the immune system making you more resilient against viruses and other health threats.
Healthy Gut and Stomach: Spiritual practices for grounding put the enteric nervous system, sometimes called the gut brain, at ease. This balances acidity and supports healthy gut bacteria. Recent research also shows that a healthy gut benefits mental health and conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
Less Heart Attacks and Strokes: Yoga breathing exercises enable our heart rate variability (HRV) to become integrated and harmonious, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Heals Nervous Exhaustion: Meditation takes our brains, nervous and endocrine systems into the same regenerating state as when we are sleeping and relaxing. This calms and strengthens us.
Boosts Confidence: The lifestyle and self-management practices of spirituality give people a more secure sense of being in control of their lives. This boosts self-confidence.
Reduces Risk of Mental Illness: Belief in a spiritual aspect to life brings comfort, reassurance and a sense of meaning. This reduces the risk of mental illness and supports recovery.
Lightens Depression: Believing that the purpose of human life is to develop compassion and wise consciousness brings hope and relief.
Combats Loneliness: Having friends and a community are good for people’s general health. A spiritual lifestyle also encompasses finding a sense of community and connection with the natural world.This is sometimes called biophylia or nature-based spirituality.
Reduces Stress: The most important elements of spirituality — belief, community, lifestyle, caring — all reduce existential anxiety. This then works through neural networks and the endocrine system to calm people physically and psychologically. Being at ease with life strengthens physical and mental health.
By Dr William Bloom,
William is an author, educator and activist. He is the founder/director of the Spiritual Companions Trust an educational charity focusing on a holistic and person-centred approach to spirituality and health. www.williambloom.com