Spirituality means different things to different people. A 2007 article defines spirituality as “an individual’s attempt to find meaning in life, which can include a sense of involvement with the transcendent outside institutional boundaries.” (1)
While some people associate spirituality with religion, spirituality can also refer to someone’s attempt to find meaning in life, or to find their own personal beliefs. The difference between the two can be seen simply in that religion is practiced by a group or community, while spirituality is more of an individualised practice that has to do with searching for a sense of peace and purpose.
There are many different definitions of spiritual health, but it essentially relates to a person’s sense of purpose, life meaning, relationships with others, and the awareness of these things. (2)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as ‘as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity’ (3), or put more simply, the presence or absence of disease. More recently, a person’s health has been linked to their spiritual health.
The link between spirituality and health and healing has been well researched and reported on. There is a positive link between spirituality and good health. A review of over 1200 research papers concluded that spirituality is an important aspect of life that may have significant health consequences. (1)
- Reducing Stress – practicing meditation and mindfulness can have a positive effect on reducing stress.
- Reducing depression – some studies suggest that spirituality, namely mindfulness meditation, prayer and yoga, can improve the effects of depression.
- Enhances ability to think clearly – when you believe in a higher power, you tend to be more relaxed and are not distracted by negative thoughts; your blood pressure levels go down and blood flow to the brain increases, so your memory can improve and your thinking may become clearer. (4)
- Improving immunity – a 2012 study reported less inflammation in immune cells after an 8-week meditation program. (5)
Ways to Practice Spirituality
There are many different ways to practice spirituality: (6)
- Yoga – yoga can help to reduce emotional and physical stress in your body, and thus assist with spiritual health. It helps to lower stress, boost the immune system, and lower blood pressure as well as reduce anxiety, depression, fatigue, and insomnia.
- Meditation – it can be hard to find the time to meditate (and to concentrate on the meditation itself!), but taking 5 to 10 minutes when you wake up, during your lunch break or before bed can help free your mind and contribute to spiritual wellness.
- Get it out – expressing what is on your mind can help to maintain focus. Try writing things down at the end of the day, keeping a journal, or creating an artwork to help clear your mind.
- Travel – taking time out and removing yourself from distraction can help you to rest and reflect, and have a better connection with yourself
- Volunteering – being part of a community can help to reduce feelings of isolation and give a sense of purpose
- Explore your spiritual self – thinking more about yourself can allow you to notice things about yourself that will help you become spiritually healthy. Questions you might ask yourself include:
- Who am I?
- What is my purpose?
- What do I value most?
Spirituality is a broad concept; a belief in something beyond the self. It may involve religious traditions with the belief in a higher power, but it can also involve a holistic belief in an individual connection to others and to the world as a whole, or a search for meaning or purpose in life. It can be practised in a number of different ways – prayer, meditation, journaling, volunteering.
Practising spirituality on a regular basis can have positive effects on your health. It can reduce stress, improve mental health and clarity of thought, as well as having a positive effect on immune health.
If you have been thinking of starting a new spiritual journey, there’s no better reason to do it than to improve your health!
- Williams D & Sternthal M, 2007, ‘Spirituality, religion and health: evidence and research directions’, The Medical Journal of Australia, 186(10), viewed on 2 November 2020 < https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2007/186/10/spirituality-religion-and-health-evidence-and-research-directions>
- AAEP, 2020, ‘Spiritual Wellness’, viewed 2 November 2020, <https://aaep.org/wellness/spiritual-wellness>
- WHO (World Health Organization) 1946. Preamble to the Constitution of the World Health Organization as adopted by the International Health Conference, New York, 19–22 June, 1946. New York: WHO.
- Mann D, 2017, ‘6 Ways Spirituality Can Help Make You Healthier’, Emotional Health, viewed on 3 November 2020 https://www.everydayhealth.com/pictures/ways-spirituality-can-make-you-healthier/
- Creswell J D et al, 2012, ‘Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction training reduces loneliness and pro-inflammatory gene expression in older adults: A small randomized controlled trial’, Science Direct, 26(7): 1095-1101, viewed on 3 November, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0889159112001894
- Geary A, 2014, ‘Seven ways to Improve your Spiritual Wellness’, Illinois State University, viewed on 2 November 2020 < https://news.illinoisstate.edu/2014/02/7-ways-improve-spiritual-wellness/>
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