During the past few years, spirituality and its affects on health have received a great deal of attention. The media often reports stories concerning prayer and meditation practices that appear to have positive results for many individuals with diseases and/or disabilities. Recent medical studies indicate that people who are spiritual tend to exhibit fewer self-destructive behaviors and stress, and seem to have a greater total life satisfaction (How pp). Although the majority of the research linking spiritual and physical health involves elderly patients, the data does indicate a possible connection between spirituality and over-all health for individuals of all ages (How pp). However, the fact that spirituality has been shown to reduce depression, improve blood pressure, and boost the immune system, it must be cautioned that religious beliefs should not interfere with necessary and prescribed medical care (How pp). Yet, spirituality together with proper medical care does often result in a positive combination (How pp).
Spiritualism generally means "any doctrine that asserts the separate existence of God," or some form of higher consciousness (Spiritualism pp). According to Dr. Sandra Hassink, "spirituality is an awareness of the divine or sacred core that underlies everyday life," and sees it as "an ongoing search for meaning, and this may involve an appreciation for creation and the natural world as well as traditional spiritual pathways" (How pp). An individual may conduct this search on his or her own or within a larger group, such as a religious community, friends, or family (How pp). Faith in these doctrines provide people with guidelines for living and give them a sense of purpose, which in turn becomes an important part of how they cope with life, the hardships and the joys (How pp). For many individuals and families, spirituality provides strength that helps promote a sense of restoration and control when faced with difficult situations and feelings of helplessness (How pp).
One recent study of hospitalized male patients, revealed that more than fifty percent considered religion as helpful in coping with their illness, while another study indicated that a correlation between spirituality and recovery rates, the more religious a patient, the quicker he or she recovered from the disorder (How pp). Another study revealed that people who strictly practiced their religion had higher levels of hope and optimism, which are key factors in fighting depression (How pp).
Due to the increasing evidence in the medical literature that suggests a strong relationship between spirituality and medicine, approximately fifty medical schools currently offer courses in spirituality and medicine (Hight pp). The relationship between religious commitment and health outcomes has been reviewed in detail, and although some disagree, the majority of authors report that a "positive relationship between religious commitment and mental and physical health was found in up to 84% of studies" (Hight pp). One recent study of elderly patients undergoing elective cardiac surgery showed that lack of strength and comfort from religion was "independently related to the risk of death during the six-month period following surgery" (Hight pp). Another study of elderly poor forced to move from their homes revealed that those who were religiously committed were twice as likely to survive the two-year study period than those without religious commitment (Hight pp).
Other studies have evaluated the effects of the relaxation response and meditation on health outcomes (Hight pp). When practiced regularly, the relaxation response, which may be initiated by repeating a word, phrase of muscular activity, and by passively disregarding any obtrusive thoughts, results in reproducible set of physiologic effects and is effective therapy for several medical conditions (Hight pp). One study reports that when given the choice between a religious or secular phrase, 80% of patients voluntarily chose a religious phrase to elicit the relaxation response, and 25% of the patients described a feeling of increased spirituality as a result of practicing the technique (Hight pp). Moreover, "these same patients were more likely to have better measurable outcomes than those who did not experience increased spirituality" (Hight pp).
Spirituality has cognitive, experiential and behavior aspects:
The cognitive or philosophic aspects include the search for meaning, purpose and truth in life and the beliefs and values by which an individual lives. The experiential and emotional aspects involve feelings of hope, love, connection, inner peace, comfort and support. These are reflected in the quality of an individual's inner resources, the ability to give and receive spiritual love, and the types of relationships and connections that exist with self, the community, the environment and nature, and the transcendent (e.g., power greater than self, a value system,
God, cosmic consciousness). The behavior aspects of spirituality involve the way a person externally manifests individual spiritual beliefs and inner spiritual state (Hight pp).
Complementary and alternative medicine, CAM, has gained increased acceptance as a viable option or conjunctive therapy to biomedicine, and is now the fastest-growing sector of health care in the United States (Maier-Lorentz pp). CAM is described as practices used for medical intervention, health promotion, and disease prevention that are generally no taught in American medical schools and typically not covered by healthcare plans (Maier-Lorentz pp).
In 1998, the dissatisfaction with current medical practices led the National Institutes of Health to establish the National Center of Complementary and Alternative Medicine, NCCAM, to substantiate the facts regarding the various complementary and alternative modalities and study the benefits of using CAM interventions (Maier-Lorentz pp). A 1967 study on mind/body effects found that rats and mice, when exposed to a stressor such as an electrical shock, often died from gastrointestinal ulcerations, hypertension, and heart disease (Maier-Lorentz pp). Studies in 1984 applied this information on individuals experiencing stressful situation, and found that human beings reacted to stress in the same manner, concluding that emotions, attitudes, and thoughts have a definite effect on the body (Maier-Lorentz pp). Research studies on suggestion, expectation, and positive thinking point out the placebo effect, which indicates "that the mind is very capable of having a most positive effect on the body" (Maier-Lorentz pp).
A new emerging concept, based on physics principles and includes the concept of non-locality of the mind, introduces the idea that prayer at a distance is capable of healing, and that it is possible and probable according to scientific principles of physics, thus, leading to the current idea that prayer can be a mind/body healing intervention (Maier-Lorentz pp). Because prayer is a non-local event, that is it is not confined to a specific place in space or moment in time, it can operate at a distance and outside the present moment (Maier-Lorentz pp). One form of prayer is intercessory, in which someone prays for another individual who may be close or far, and who is unaware of the prayers (Maier-Lorentz pp). Since prayer is initiated by mental action, there is presumable some aspect of the human psyche that is also non-local, therefore, intercessory prayers can transcend space and time and the effect of these prayers are not diminished by distance (Maier-Lorentz pp).
The mind and body are constantly sending messages to each other and these messages produce biological and physiological changes that determine health, and may result in either illness or wellness (Maier-Lorentz pp). The mind and body connection involves physiological pathways that include the nervous system, the endocrine system, and the immune system (Maier-Lorentz pp). The sympathetic-adrenal-medullary, SAM, pathway activates the autonomic nervous system, "whereby neurotransmitters and neuropeptides communicate directly with immune cells," and because neurotransmitters are released from the brain during times of stress, "it is likely that the emotions resulting from stressors may increase susceptibility to disease" (Maier-Lorentz pp). Neuropeptides, secreted by the brain and immune system, play a crucial role in the mind-body interactions since immune cells carry receptors for all the neuropeptides (Maier-Lorentz pp). The limbic system of the brain that regulates emotions is…