Embracing a Holistic Approach to Spiritual Wellness

Good health in a holistic sense denotes an overall sense of wellbeing, free from diseases or disorders. Good health covers our state of being on multiple planes, not only physical and mental but also spiritual. Spiritual health is an important part of our lives, which helps create a balance between the physical, psychological and social aspects of a human being. The importance of one’s spiritual state for one’s overall health is something which has not received due attention and emphasis so far.

Spirituality is not religion and does not refer to any particular one. On the other hand, in my view, it refers to the adoption of behavior and habits which align one’s life to the Divine and the benign attributes of divinity. These include practicing forgiveness, inculcating honesty and sincerity, having a helpful and understanding attitude towards fellow beings, the willingness to put the welfare of others before one’s own, showing compassion towards those who are less fortunate, and a sense of detachment from the fruits of one’s actions while being engaged in the performance of one’s duties and responsibilities. A spiritually evolved person naturally comes to possess moral virtues, and is able to act as a responsible member of society.

A spiritual outlook makes a person mentally strong, and capable of facing the ups and downs of life, with a balanced mind and positive attitude. In adversity, one requires courage and fortitude. One is then able, in the immortal words of Kipling, to keep one’s head “when all about you are losing theirs”; and to meet both triumph and disaster “and treat those two imposters just the same”.

Building a strong spiritual foundation is vitally important in the present times, when stress and anxiety have assumed epidemic proportions. These are important risk factors for many diseases, including heart ailments, particularly among the younger sections of the population. They may also result in mental depression with potentially serious consequences, including suicidal tendencies. These pathological conditions can be kept at bay, to a large extent, by the inculcation of a spiritual outlook. The inculcation of positive values can bring peace of mind and provide positive energy for leading a happy, productive and fruitful life.

There exists scientific data showing that persons with a strong spiritual foundation release healthy hormones and balance the autonomic system and enhance parasympathetic activity, which helps to lower stress, improve digestion and the quality of sleep. Mental health, in particular, is greatly benefitted. On the other hand, cunning or petty or crooked behavior, selfishness or an egotistical attitude or the like would only increase mental stress, which negatively affects the autonomic system and hormonal secretion. This is unhealthy for the heart, the brain and the body as a whole.

It is important to inculcate spiritual virtues from a young age. Today’s youngsters bear greater strain than before owing to the ever-increasing competition. Children often succumb to pressure and stray into unhealthy habits. We must prepare our young generations to boldly face life by inculcating appropriate spiritual attitudes and behavior. This requires families, schools and our communities to act collectively. In Indian culture, spiritual advancement and behavior were ingrained. The spread of materialism presents new challenges, since our priorities have changed and we are becoming more self-centered. Individualism is the new mantra, leading to the weakening of familial and social ties. The result is unhealthy and unsustainable habits and lifestyles. Adults must also work towards achieving spiritual wellbeing. For this, age-old practices such as yoga, meditation, prayer and even moderate fasting are helpful.

Healthcare professionals must, in particular, be educated about the importance of spiritual wellbeing. The medical profession stands to gain immensely from spiritual enquiry. This is so not only from the standpoint of the patient’s health, but also the health and wellbeing of the healthcare professional himself/herself. I would urge my fellow physicians to read the vast material available on this subject online, including an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, titled “Does More Achievement Make us Better Physicians?: The Academic Arms Race”. It emphasizes the importance’s of the spiritual plane in the practice of medicine, including the embodiment of moral qualities and the desire to have a serene inner character; to not only do good but to be good and to sacrifice for the service of others.

It is, perhaps, high time that our medical curriculum included an appropriate section on the importance of spirituality for mental health and wellbeing. Research activities, including conferences and seminars, should engage in this field as well, so that the link between spiritual wellbeing and our state of health can be more deeply explored. These steps will check the tendency to engage in unethical professional practices and safeguard the aura of nobility that the medical profession has deservedly acquired.

I recently got the privilege to attend a scientific session on ‘Holistic Health’ organized by AIIMS, Rishikesh. Professionals and thinkers from different fields, including medicine, deliberated on the importance of inculcating strong spiritual habits for achieving good health and wellness. Living life with spiritual behavior, by having positive thoughts and attitude combined with honesty and hard work, will lead to good health and wellness. One can say with confidence that achieving holistic health and resolving conflicts and confusions can be facilitated by cultivating sound spiritual health.

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