How spirituality supports better health

Ruth Griffiths

The goal of our healthcare system is to support wellness in body, mind and spirit. We talk a lot about physical health and our struggle to provide treatment for those who are sick. During the pandemic, we realized a wave of mental health issues which continue to emerge. Rarely, however, have we focused on the spirituality that provides resilience and wholeness.
Let me share two examples from my life where spirituality helped me cope with physical illness.
When I was four years old I was isolated for a month in a dark hospital room because I had polio. It was difficult for my mother to visit me and when she did, she could only talk to me from the hallway, far away from my crib. The staff at St. Therese Hospital in Tisdale were compassionate and tried to comfort me with a jam sandwich at bedtime. But I was also helped to relax and sleep when I heard a prayer and the song Ave Maria broadcast over the hospital sound system. I was not raised Catholic, but as a Christian I responded well to the nightly meditation. It was a ray of peace for a frightened child.
Fast forward two decades and I am cold and shivering on a stretcher outside the operating room as I wait for a breast biopsy. It was a simple procedure, but I was scared and alone. A doctor whom I had known as a fellow student at university, chanced by and, after a brief conversation, asked if I would like him to pray with me. He offered a brief prayer and continued on to his other work. For him it was just a moment of kindness, but for me it was the best medicine I received that day. It allowed me to relax and focus on the positive outcome that was later realized. No cancer.
Patients and their families experience a lot stress and suffering when facing illness. Professional caregivers also face similar stress and sadness. Spirituality offers people a way to understand and cope with suffering and illness.
Spirituality encompasses more than religion. Spirituality is a feeling or belief that there is something greater than myself, something more to being human than what I can see, taste and touch. Spirituality is the feeling that we are part of a greater whole that is cosmic or divine in nature.
Some research shows a connection between your beliefs and your sense of well being. Positive beliefs, comfort, and strength gained from religion, meditation or prayer can contribute to well being. It may promote healing. Improving your spiritual health may not cure an illness, but it may help you feel better.
Having a spiritual dimension in life helps us to heal from the sufferings of a mental or a physical condition. Spiritual wellness provides a direction to life and positivity in the form of commitment and hope.
Spiritual wellness helps us to overcome adversity and to heal. Spiritual health better equips us to deal with emotional struggles, physical pain or addictions. It reinforces our commitment to recovery.
More than once during hospitalizations I asked for a visit from the chaplain. None came. But I was supported spiritually by the care and compassion of other patients and staff. Health care is about more than pills and surgeries. Health in body, mind and spirit is supported by a caring community that goes well beyond the walls of healthcare facilities. For example, I like to think that the yoga classes I lead support the health of those who participate. I know that they help me a lot.