Before we start, please don’t recoil at the word spiritual in the title. This is not an article about any particular religion and there is no mention of crosses, prayer beads, or strange clothing. This article will answer the question of why is spiritual health important and what you can do to get started.
No matter which country you were born in and whatever background you may have had, most of us experience highs and lows. For many of us, these low points can bring on bouts of anxiety, stress, and more worryingly, periods of depression.
According to the World Health Organisation, depression now affects more than 300 million people globally and it is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Depression is one of the largest contributors to the global burden of disease. Increased exposure to spirituality could potentially go a long way to solving this problem.
Today, depression has become the most common mental illness in the USA. 10% of all men and a staggering 25% of all women in America suffer from some form of depression at some point in their lives. Interestingly, studies conducted by Loma Linda University have found that spiritual practices can lead to a reduction in the risk of clinical depression.
Why is it important to be spiritually healthy?
The importance of spiritual care should not be underestimated. Spiritual care is a form of healthcare that deals with spiritual (or religious) needs usually prompted by some kind of sickness or injury.
When we suffer from serious illnesses (such as depression), many of us ask deep and probing questions about our place in the universe and look for answers to such questions as:
- “What is the meaning of life?”
- “Is there a God?”
- “Why do bad things always happen to me?”
Further investigation into the link between spirituality and happiness uncovers lots of studies done over the last 50 years. In most cases, it has been found that physical and mental health are both improved when our spiritual needs are met.
A lesser-known fact is that The association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) co-sponsors curriculum development of spirituality. As a result, there are now more than 70 medical schools that offer courses on spirituality and medicine.
What can spirituality do for me?
- Less time in hospital
- Elevated mood and improved feelings of well-being
- Better pain management
- Improvements in cardiovascular functioning such as lower blood pressure and a lower heart rate
- More motivation to carry out and stick to the tasks required for the healing process
One very important study done in 2016 by Li and Shun found that spiritual/religious support positively affected heart failure patients in both their physical and psychological recovery.
What are the benefits of spirituality?
Research has shown a link between your beliefs and your feelings of well-being. Religion, meditation, and prayer have been found to promote positive beliefs, increase comfort levels, and have a positive influence on health.
Folks that indulge in regular meditation or prayer have found the following benefits:
- An overall improvement in health reduced blood pressure, and reduced levels of stress (even in difficult situations)
- An increase in positive feelings
- Reduced levels of depression
- Improved relationships and social connections
- A longer life! Yes, one study of 74,534 participants found that people that participated in a spiritual activity regularly had a lower mortality rate than those that don’t.
- Clarity of mind on stressful days. Meditation is like a “cleansing of the mind” and with a little practice, it will help you to become more alert and present in your day-to-day activities.
- Spiritual activities focus the mind and create a feeling of emotional stability. With regular meditation, it matters not what life throws at you and can go a long way towards cessation of disturbing thought patterns.
- It makes you happy, so what better reason is there? Peace, joy, and love all flourish with regular spiritual practice.
- Meditation brings you into the beauty of the current moment. You will think less about the past and the future and learn to “live in the now”. By quietening the mind, you can get back to the present moment and become better equipped to deal with life.
How to improve your spiritual health
The “practice” part of “spiritual practice” simply means that you do it regularly. The idea is to maintain your spiritual activities for the rest of your life.
So how the heck do we become more spiritual? The first step is to accept that you need some support and the next step is to keep an open mind. My personal choice of spiritual activity is to meditate. I have dabbled in meditation for a year or two but only really started “getting it” recently. Since then, my life feels much easier, and many things that previously troubled me have seemed to reduce in number and in also in their impact on my mood.
I can honestly say that I am more at ease than at any other time in my life. I attribute this in part (if not totally) to my regular meditation sessions and an increased level of mindfulness in my daily activities.
Is a spiritual guru necessary?
For some of us (and in my case) “Yes” and for others “No”. In my humble opinion, you would be well advised to check out a few spiritual gurus. You could start with the famous Eckhart Tolle and then move on to the charismatic Sadhguru. Also, check out the intellectual Rupert Spira, and then get ready for my favorite guru – the Buddha-like Mooji. All of these spiritual guides talk about spiritual awakening and universal consciousness. All these incredible individuals are a great place to start your spiritual journey.
The gurus mentioned have all devoted their lives to helping those that feel “suffering”. Their main goals are to limit the harmful chatter of the mind and to show us how we can find our “true selves”. This leads to peace and joy through the transcendence of the mind. While you might be thinking this sounds like a load of “mumbo-jumbo”, you should keep an open mind. If you are depressed and hating life, what have you got to lose by looking into spiritual practice?
The teachings (or rather pointings) of these particular spiritual gurus are given in easy-to-understand meetings/get-togethers called “Satsangs”. These meetings are usually held in retreats and often follow a question-and-answer format. Attendees can ask any question they need to be answered to help them alleviate suffering and to transcend the negative aspects of life. The meetings also feature guided meditations that aim to quieten the mind and get in touch with the “true self”.
Increasing your emotional wellness with meditation
It sounds so cliche, but meditation has changed the way I live or more accurately, the way I look at life. For me, daily meditation pulled me out of a scary downward spiral after a few unhappy years. Today I am much better equipped to deal with the trials and tribulations of life. Meditation has become an essential part of my daily routine and I will be forever grateful for finding this liberating experience.
A good way to look at meditation is to think of it as a “space” where you can escape that constant cycle of thoughts that many of us experience. Yes, with a little dedication, you can gradually become less attached to your thoughts. And with a little patience and time, the world can feel like a very beautiful place once again.
The following videos are great for newbies to spirituality. These talks are a very good way to get an introduction to the subject of spirituality.
Some videos to get you started
Thanks to the Isha Foundation for their wonderful photograph of Sadhguru [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Also for the beautiful pic of Eckhart Tolle and the Dalai Lama by kris krüg [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons and Meditation Flickr photo by Wiertz Sébastien shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license.