“There is a growing body of evidence indicating that spiritual practices are associated with better health and wellbeing for many reasons, including: Contemplative practices (such as yoga, journaling, prayer, and meditation) are good for you. Meditation can induce feelings of calm and clear-headedness as well as improve concentration and attention. Brain researcher Richard Davidson’s research shows that meditation increases the brain’s gray matter density, which can reduce sensitivity to pain, enhance your immune system, help you regulate difficult emotions, and relieve stress. Mindfulness meditation in particular has been proven helpful for people with depression and anxiety, cancer, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. Prayer may elicit the relaxation response, along with feelings of hope, gratitude, and compassion—all of which have a positive effect on overall wellbeing. The systematic practice of yoga has been found to reduce inflammation and stress, decrease depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and increase feelings of wellbeing. Journaling is another, often overlooked, contemplative practice that can help you become more aware of your inner life and feel more connected to your experience and the world around you. Studies show that writing during difficult times may help you find meaning in life’s challenges and become more resilient in the face of obstacles. Many spiritual traditions encourage participation in a community. Spiritual fellowship, such as attending church or a meditation group, can be sources of social support which may provide a sense of belonging, security, and community. Strong relationships have been proven to increase wellbeing and bolster life expectancy, which is perhaps why one study found a strong association between church attendance and improved health, mood, and wellbeing. Spiritual strength can also help you overcome hardships, make healthier choices, help you live longer, and help you forgive. Modern science shows the health benefits of forgiveness are numerous: better immune function, longer lifespan, lowered blood pressure, improved cardiovascular health, and fewer feelings of anger or hurt.” Read article
Spiritual practices have been proposed to have many beneficial effects on one’s mental health. “The role of spirituality as a resource for finding meaning and hope in suffering has also been identified as a key component in the process of psychological recovery. Most studies have shown that religious involvement and spirituality are associated with better health outcomes, including greater longevity, coping skills and health-related quality of life (even during terminal illness) and less anxiety, depression and suicide. Several studies have shown that addressing the spiritual needs of the patient may enhance recovery from illness. Spirituality is defined as that relating to or consisting of or having the nature of spirit. The nature of spirit is intangible or immaterial. The English word ‘spirit’ comes from the Latin ‘spiritus’ meaning breath. The spiritual realm deals with the perceived eternal realities regarding man's ultimate nature, in contrast to what is temporal or worldly. Spirituality involves as its central tenet a connection to something greater than oneself, which includes an emotional experience of religious awe and reverence. Spirituality is therefore an individual's experience of and relationship with a fundamental, nonmaterial aspect of the universe that may be referred to in many ways – God, Higher Power, the Force, Mystery and the Transcendent and forms the way by which an individual finds meaning and relates to life, the universe and everything. Read article
“Religion could not have evolved and could not have affected the lives of the majority of the world's human inhabitants if it had not helped them to solve the problems of surviving adversity and of raising children successfully who could propagate their supernatural belief systems after they had died. So it makes sense that the brain might be specialized for religious experiences. Indeed, an evolutionary perspective on religion implies that humans are inherently susceptible to religious views. This view is bolstered by evidence that spiritual experiences (including religious experiences) have a neural basis. Although there is no single "God spot" in the brain, feelings of self-transcendence are associated with reduced electrical activity in the right parietal lobe, a structure located above the right ear.” Read article
Many studies have demonstrated the positive effects of meditation and mindfulness practices on the body and brain. Another study found “a direct correlation between the level of importance a person places on spirituality in their lives and the thickness of certain regions of their brains. The study found that that people who expressed that spirituality or religion was important to them had significantly thicker cerebral cortices—a part of the brain rich in highly active neural networks responsible for sensory perception, language and emotion processing—than those who did not.” Additionally, those with thinner regions were more prone to depression, hereditary or acquired. “The study’s findings are in line with other similar research aimed at demonstrating a correlation between a person’s predominant state of mind, brain functioning and other physical reactions in the body. For example, a recent study by Kaliman et al. (2014) found that intensive meditation positively affected gene expression. The expression of genes that are involved in inflammation, and more generally in the body’s stress response, were downregulated, meaning that these processes were reduced or muted, which positively affects a number of markers for overall health and wellbeing. Changes in gene expression are likely related to many of the actual physical changes the brain experiences as a result of meditation and mindfulness practices, as well as one’s overarching beliefs and thought patterns such as those found in the participants who placed a high degree of emphasis on spirituality.” The brain is also influenced by our moods. Read article
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