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Exploring the link between spirituality and health

Spirituality and Health: Exploring the link between medical science,  human motivation, and divine intervention.
Spirituality and Health: Exploring the link between medical science, human motivation, and divine intervention.
Joyce E.M. Wall

Spirituality (Latin breath) is that vital principle or animating force within living beings; it is not something tangible or material. It cannot be measured, does not require proof and is often associated with religion, deities, the supernatural, and an afterlife. People find spirituality through religion, music, art, a connection with nature, and their own value system. It is a way to find meaning, hope, comfort and inner peace in their lives.

Faith (dated from 1200–50, Latin fidem, or fides, meaning trust) is that concept of future events or outcomes and is the belief and the assent of the mind to the truthfulness of what is stated by another based on his or her authority; it does not rely on logical proof or material evidence. It is often used in a religious context where it refers to a trusting belief in a transcendent reality or a Supreme Being and its role in spirituality.

Science has an empirical basis and obtains information through observation, experience, or experiment. A central concept in science and the scientific method is that all evidence must be empirically based, that is, dependent on evidence or consequences that are observable by the senses. It has as its foundation, repeatable observations of the natural world.

Spirituality and Health [1][2][3]
Many people think that the mind, body and spirit are connected and that the health of one affects the health of the others. Research has shown that positive beliefs, meditation, prayer, and comfort and strength obtained through religion can contribute to a sense of well-being and healing. This spiritual bonding may be a link to preventing or relieving ailments, illnesses and stress.

Spirituality is unpredictable and, unlike science, is not anchored in reproducibility or the universal laws of nature. Not every spiritual person is healed of his or her problems or illness nor do they receive everything they wish or pray for. In scientific terms, if wishes or prayers heal one terminally ill patient it should heal them all. And to convince skeptics of its healing power, spirituality needs to demonstrate a successful reproducibility rate; otherwise, it is difficult to comprehend the possibility that it transcends scientific laws and yet has a factual basis for cure.

Spiritual healing is often associated with divine intervention but we also explain it from a human perspective. Bad things do happen to innocent people and it is a curious thing why a Supreme Being does not intervene to help each person in every situation. One might argue that we need to suffer in order to obtain a sense of morality. The suffering process allows us to grow and move closer to our spiritual belief, source, or higher power. Spiritual traditions used throughout the world involve various belief systems, images, and techniques and many of those are effective in helping a person to find comfort and peace of mind. Meditation and relaxation through breathing control and creative imagery are highly useful in relieving various physiological ailments such as headaches and other sources of pain. The results are not associated with a divine intervention yet these spirituality based methods produce the same effect that one might obtain through prayer.

Perhaps the link between spirituality and health does not depend on the existence or actions of divine intervention but rather involves positive thought that is directed by and for human beings. In other words, our own thoughts can determine and alter our bodily conditions. These conditions are initiated through mental processes and then manifest themselves physically. Simply praying or wishing for ease and comfort from a stressful situation may, in and of itself, bring about recovery and renewal by influencing us to think positively and maintain a good attitude toward life. This, in effect, influences the physiological events in our body, strengthens our immune system, and keeps us healthier.

Other people can also influence our well-being. When someone we know prays for us they express an intention toward us, which results in renewed health. Since we feel cared for, we feel better. But what about strangers who pray for us? Does the effect of their prayer intentions also lead us to better health even if we do not know they are praying for us? Science has tapped into this area with studies on intercessory prayer, which showed that cardiac patients who were prayed for (by strangers) had a higher rate of rehabilitation than those patients who were not prayed for. Although the studies were found to be scientifically flawed, the measurable or quantifiable effects are a step toward faith-based science, which is a whole new enterprise.

Spirituality and Health
What does the medical literature say?
A 60-minute webinar presented by Mike Rabow, M.D.,
Associate Professor of Clinical Medicine,
Division of General Internal Medicine, UCSF.
This is a substantial and powerful presentation of the
relationship between spirituality and health as observed in clinical settings.

Organized religion has declined in the West and the growth of secularism has brought about a wider understanding of spirituality. It extends beyond religion and includes meditation, artistic expression, nature, music, exercise, and value systems. Improving your spiritual life may not always cure every ailment, but studies have shown that it helps you feel better, prevents some health problems, and helps you cope with problematic situations such as mental or physical stress, illness, and death. Talk to your health care professional about your spirituality and how it affects the decisions you make about medical treatments. Not all health care professionals will engage themselves in a patient’s spiritual outlook in relation to their medical needs, however, some will. Incorporating spirituality and natural, holistic methods into one’s thinking can influence health and well-being and may very well be the link to a healthier, happier way of life.

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Copyright ©2012 Joyce E.M. Wall


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