How Is Spirituality Defined?
Spirituality can be loosely defined as the “aspect of humanity that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience their connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, and to the significant or sacred.” The word spiritual comes from the Latin word “spiritus” which means “breath of life.”
Spiritual healing can happen within religious, faith and spiritual institutions but those are not prerequisites for it. With these definitions and parameters in mind, spiritual healing can be described as connecting to the breath of life in a deeply personal and meaningful way.
The connection to the divine – or breath of life – is something that’s not easily quantifiable or measurable. Due to this, skeptics have a hard time subscribing to the notion that spiritual healing is real and originating from outside of the self. The healing power of spirituality is often attributed to better mental health and nervous system regulation rather than an interpersonal connection with our universe. But, as you will come to see, spirituality opens both channels within the physical body for healing and with an energy that somehow transcends space and time in very real ways through prayer, meditation and distance healing.
The Link Between Spirituality and Physical Health
More than 1600 studies have been done evaluating the correlation between religious and spiritual practices and health. According to a comprehensive analysis of these studies published by the National Institutes of Health, “the evidence is overwhelming.” The correlation between spiritual and physical health is strong across lines of religion, disease, health status, age, sex, race, and ethnicity.
It turns out that healing is not as simple as previously assumed. A biomedical model of medicine isn’t comprehensive enough. In other words, underlying biological deviations or issues aren’t the sole determinants of an individual’s health, nor do they always arise from physical problems. A biopsychosocial-spiritual model is becoming increasingly accepted and recognizes the role that biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors play into the presentation, progression and prognosis of disease. This means that a person’s interpersonal relationships, environment, culture, emotions, behaviors, beliefs, and more can impact their health in both negative and positive ways.
In centuries past, the priest of local communities was also the physician. The role of spirituality and physical healing was viewed as intertwined. The scientific revolution pushed apart the spiritual and physical, with an emphasis on the latter, for too long. As mentioned, numerous studies have been done to try to better understand the elusive qualities of spiritual healing and have come to the conclusion that its importance can’t be denied, even in modern clinical settings. For this reason, over 100 medical schools are coaching students to address the importance of spirituality with their patients since it plays a critical role in healing and pain tolerance. Some doctors now encourage their patients to participate in prayer, worship and faith rituals if those offer hope and comfort.
It’s encouraging to see a more holistic return to healing within the context of modern medicine. As a wellness writer and advocate, I see great potential for healing for people of all faith backgrounds with the acceptance of modern science’s limitations and bringing the most powerful healer back into the conversation. “The Great Physician” (i.e. the divine) deserves a place in the doctor’s office, hospitals, and healthcare settings. Spiritual healing is real.
Healing and Improved Pain Tolerance through Prayer
According to a survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, 62 percent of people use prayer as an alternative medicine. Today we will explore three types of prayer and their potential for healing: contemplative prayer, intercessory prayer, and intercessory prayer for distance healing.
Contemplative prayer or meditation is when a person sits quietly and/or reflects silently on their thoughts. This type of prayer has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure, improve mood, and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol in a person’s body. Intercessory prayer is when people use prayer as a means of communicating with the universe or a divine power.
Both contemplative and intercessory prayer have been found to have benefits. For example, one study found that people suffering from chronic pain had better pain tolerance when engaging in daily prayer. When used in a positive way (ex: seeking strength, comfort or peace), prayer helped chronic pain sufferers with better health outcomes compared to those who used prayer to express anger, resentment and abandonment from their God.
The third type of prayer, intercessory prayer for distance healing, is especially intriguing. The first two types of prayer might easily be attributed to having only mind/body benefits derived from within the individual. Distance healing through prayer proves that self-healing isn’t the only mechanism or energy at play in prayer. There is in fact an intangible, “other” energy involved.
Distance healing through prayer involves one person praying for another person with the intention of positively influencing their physical condition. Six of nine studies focused on compassionate intention from a distance produced statistically significant positive results. The mechanism by which this happens isn’t understood. In other words, the intangible and interpersonal spiritual/energetic realm is involved. For example, a blind study with AIDS patients involved half of the patients receiving standard treatment and the other half receiving standard treatment plus intercessory prayer from a distance. The latter group had statistically significant improvements.
Practical Ways to Engage in Spiritual Healing
Whether you’re suffering from chronic pain or not, there are benefits to incorporating spiritual healing into your lifestyle and daily routine. A few examples of how this can be done include:
- Join spiritual support groups
- Try different types of prayer and ask for prayer when needed
- Spend time in nature
- Read sacred religious texts/scriptures & spiritual or faith-based non-fiction
- Perform meaningful spiritual/faith/religious rituals
- Consult or work with a person in clergy, chaplain services, healing therapies, reiki, etc.
- Participate in movement programs that emphasize mind/body/spirit connection (ex: yoga, Qi Gong, Tai Chi)
- Participate in a religious community that is supportive of your theology and values
- Experiment with healing touch therapy and/or acupuncture
- Journal and/or do reflective writing exercises
- Participate in the arts and/or try expressive art therapy
- Enjoy worship experiences and singing
- Focus on volunteerism and service for others
All of these activities can help restore balance and energy. Each creates a sacred space for connecting with a higher power and addressing one’s personal and interpersonal spiritual needs. As discussed, spiritual practices can lower pain, facilitate healing, and help a person become more integrated and whole. If you’ve tried pharmaceuticals, herbal remedies, nutritious eating, and exercise but come up short on what you need for health, then perhaps it’s time to pay a visit to The Great Physician? From my point of view, there’s nothing to lose here. Only bountiful potential.
Yours in health and wellness,