Though spiritual health may seem like an unfamiliar concept to some, self-care, kindness and spirituality all go hand in hand. Focusing on our spiritual health can in turn help to boost emotional wellbeing, improve our physical and mental health and allows us to reconnect with the good things in life.
Dr William Bloom, a wellbeing educator and author of 20 books, including The Endorphin Effect and The Power of Modern Spirituality, has developed a new approach to spiritual health which makes it easier for everyone to engage with the practice.
He says, “Recognising the jewels at the heart of all the world’s faiths and welcoming diversity, this is the first accessible programme to make explicit how spiritual health works and how to achieve it.”
Dr Bloom founded the UK’s pioneering spiritual talks programme, Alternatives, thirty years ago, which continues to host many of the world’s leading mindfulness and meditation experts from Deepak Chopra and Thich Nhat Hanh to Russell Brand and Elizabeth Gilbert.
His new booklet, entitled Your Spiritual Health Programme, explains how spirituality can be good for our health, happiness and wellbeing and more importantly tells us how to cultivate more self-awareness in our own lives. But it is not all about the self. As Dr Bloom explains, “we also place a strong emphasis on care and service to others.”
Using mindfulness and meditation as a way to connect, Dr Bloom’s programme encourages us to engage with nature and our surroundings in order to form deeper connections, which will nurture the mind, body and spirit, and build this into our own mindfulness routine.
Dr Bloom, who is also founder of the Spiritual Companions Trust, says that spiritual practice brings considerable health benefits, citing a large body of scientific evidence to support his own findings. “There is much evidence to clearly indicate that a belief in spirituality can help people sustain their wellbeing and recover more easily from illness,” he says. “This is because spirituality helps to dismantle ‘existential angst’. It can reduce stress and anxiety, and help bring your body and mind into a state of healthy balance.”
The science of spiritual health
Within the new Your Spiritual Health Programme, you’ll find a ‘Science & Evidence’ section which highlights just how this practice can affect us, with findings from a base of over 3,000 peer-reviewed scholarly research papers from across the globe. Many of these can be found under the research umbrella of the Duke University Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health in the United States.
Good for the endocrine system, the gut and the heart, these studies found that spiritual practice can also calm the brain, soothe the nervous system, boost the immune system and reduce the risk of illness. The programme even suggests that focusing on spiritual health can result in increased confidence and happiness, improved communication skills and a greater sense of connection to others and your wider community. Essentially, it can make you feel good.
Professor David Peters MD, Clinical Director at the Centre for Resilience, Westminster University, agrees that there is much to be gained by connecting with our spiritual side. “Grounded in reliable physiology and psychology, the programme is relevant to all those involved in health care,” he says. “It reflects the Royal College of Psychiatrist’s view of spirituality as a universal human quality independent of religion.” Spiritual connection is something we can all experience, ultimately helping us to reconnect with the good things in life.
The health benefits of spirituality
By following a programme to increase your own self-awareness, practise gratitude and nurture your spiritual health, you may experience a whole host of positive effects on both the mind and body. This new spiritual health programme may help to…
Soothe the nervous system
Meditation takes our brains, nervous and endocrine systems into the same regenerating state as when we are sleeping and relaxing. This calms and strengthens us.
Make us live longer
Research at Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health in the USA, which has reviewed over 3,000 scholarly papers on the health benefits of spirituality, indicates that it supports people to live longer, healthier lives.
Reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes
Yoga breathing exercises enable our heart rate variability (HRV) to become integrated and harmonious, reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Build a strong immune system
The practice of ‘Loving Kindness’ meditation (directed to the self and others) – as well as actively being kind to others in our lives – reduces the hormones of anxiety and increases the cocktail of wellbeing hormones. This boosts the immune system, making you more resilient against viruses and other health threats.
Cultivate a healthy gut
Spiritual practices for grounding put the enteric nervous system, sometimes called the gut brain, at ease. This balances acidity and supports healthy gut bacteria. Recent research also shows that a healthy gut may reduce our risk of developing conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
The most important elements of spirituality – belief, community, lifestyle, caring – can all reduce existential anxiety. This then works through neural networks and the endocrine system to calm us physically and psychologically. Being at ease with life strengthens our physical and mental health.
The lifestyle and self-management practices of spirituality can give us a more secure sense of being in control of our lives. This in turn can boost our self-confidence.
Dr Bloom is launching Your Spiritual Health Programme at St James’s Church, Piccadilly, London as part of the Alternatives programme on 25 March (7pm-8.30pm). At this experiential talk event, participants will be given a free booklet copy of the programme and guided to discover their best way to “connect to the wonder and energy of life”.
The London launch will be followed by over 60 Spiritual Health Taster events around the UK – visit yourspiritualhealth.org to find one near you.