There are four important areas to discuss in understanding the link between spirituality and better health or wellness:
- Medicine’s interest in spirituality
- What is spirituality and spiritual health
- Spiritual dimension of health
- Health benefits of spirituality
Medicine’s interest in spirituality
If ‘health’ is understood as healing, then spirituality has traditionally always been part of being healthy and well. Traditional healers, medicine people, or shamans were a community’s health experts, and their practices were based on the spiritual dimension of life. Healing and spirit were inseparable then, and this truth holds today.
Even in the early stages of allopathic, Western medicine body and spirit were linked for several generations. With the advent of the ‘enlightenment’ and scientific eras, and later the dominance of medical technology, this link was removed from medicine.
In recent times, however, medicine has once again started considering that spirituality may play a bigger role in the healing process.
Over the past two decades a transition has been occurring in the healthcare industry; people are starting to express an interest in healing again. Of course, when we are discuss healing we are referring to it with its old English derivative, “the make whole,” acknowledging that healing cannot occur without recognizing it as a spiritual process.
— Eileen E. Morrison
According to recent surveys, 59% of British medical schools and 90% of US medical schools have courses or content on spirituality and health.
Only one medical school had a formal course in spirituality and medicine in 1992. Today, more than one hundred medical schools are teachings such courses.
— Christine M. Puchalski, MD
What is spirituality and spiritual health?
Spirituality is essentially indefinable, but there are some common elements that are helpful in understanding it:
- Having a relationship with a universal power greater than oneself
- An orientation of how one fits into the grand scheme of life
- A way of having meaning and purpose in life
- Having a set of values to live by
- A sense of interconnectedness with all forms of life
- Learning how to embody love, peace, and joy
- Sharing care and compassion with one’s planetary family
If one sincerely includes the above points, it can be safely said that one’s spirituality is healthy. Of course spirituality isn’t static. It’s ongoing and ever-developing. There’s no end point to it; one doesn’t arrive at some ideal spiritual state and remain there perpetually. Spirituality is to be engaged every day, every moment. There are valleys and heights, fertile as well as dry times. Spirituality is a matter of first recognizing it as foundational to life and one’s being, cultivating it so it becomes solidly established, and deepening it so that one’s life sources from a spiritual ground no matter what’s happening in the moment.
Spiritual dimension of health
Spirituality acts as a unifier of the other dimensions of health, integrating them and bringing them to a whole. These other aspects of health are: physical, psychological, and social. Spirituality empowers all dimensions of health, and provides continuity between each aspect.
Spirituality fuels the will to live by helping one find, implement and deepen a purpose and meaning in life. Sometimes this is centered around family, or humanitarian work or professional work.
Since spirituality by its very nature transcends the individual, it naturally establishes a common bond with other people, all forms of life, nature and the cosmos. This in a nutshell is altruism, which in turn enables one to follow a set of ethical values, and these values improve a person’s life.
Health benefits of spirituality
Having a sound spirituality through regular spiritual practice tends to improve coping skills; fosters optimism and hope; promotes healthy behavior; reduces worry and anxiety; keeps depression at bay; and encourages relaxation and stress relief.
People with a deep sense of spirituality have reported:
- Less use of medical services
- Less minor illness
- Complete recovery from minor illness
- Emotional resiliency even in terminal illnesses
- Lower fear of death
- Positive death expectations
- Low discomfort
- Decreased loneliness
- Better attitudinal adjustment
Spirituality helps a person reframe illness or crisis in a positive way, leading to personal growth and spiritual development.
The technological advances of the past century tended to change the focus of medicine from a caring, service oriented model to a technological, cure-oriented model. Technology has led to phenomenal advances in medicine and has given us the ability to prolong life. However, in the past few decades physicians have attempted to balance their care by reclaiming medicine’s more spiritual roots, recognizing that until modern times spirituality was often linked with health care. Spiritual or compassionate care involves serving the whole person—the physical, emotional, social, and spiritual. Such service is inherently a spiritual activity.
— Christina M. Puchalski, MD
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