In our practice of integrative and lifestyle medicine, while we coach our patients on making changes in their nutrition, exercise, sleep and emotional health, we also offer guidance on nurturing their spirit. All of us have a spirit within us, and which is why humans are born spiritual beings. Many people ask me, “Luke, how can I be spiritual?”
Well, you don’t have to be spiritual, you already are. There is a spirit within you, but maybe the connection between you and the spirit is weakened or lost with time by constantly looking for answers, justifications and validations from outside, and trying to be who your true authentic self is not just to ‘fit in’.
Studies have shown that integrating spirituality into healthcare can have a positive impact on patient outcomes. Research has found that spiritual practices can help reduce anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, and even boost the immune system. Spirituality can also provide individuals with a greater sense of resilience in the face of adversity. When individuals have a strong spiritual foundation, they may be better equipped to cope with stressors and challenges in life. This can help them maintain their overall health and well-being even in the face of difficult circumstances.
Over the many years of coaching and consulting experience with my patients and clients across the world with various lifestyle diseases and spending hours together with end-of-life and terminally ill patients, I have gathered a lot of learning to see life, suffering, and death so closely. And I believe the journey of spirituality begins by looking inward, and not by going on spiritual retreats, chanting mantras and reading spiritual books.
Why is spirituality important for health?
The role of spirituality in building holistic health can be better known by understanding the fundamentals of spirituality. No matter which path of spirituality you follow, and whether you are religious or not, the fundamentals of spirituality never change.
The one fundamental that I believe spirituality starts with is respecting and honoring the gift of life, that is YOU. Spirituality begins with self. It begins with us valuing this gift. Yes, you are a gift. Your life is a gift, and we must respect and look after it. Unfortunately, many people abuse their health and bodies with over-drinking alcohol and other substances and call themselves spiritual. But my question is – how can you be spiritual when you are disrespecting your own life and health. You cannot honor anything if you’re not honoring the gift given to you. You can’t be kind to others if you aren’t kind to yourself. We are such an amazing creation that no one can replicate, and there is an immense intelligence and value in this gift of life. So, spirituality starts with self. One can immerse themselves in whichever spiritual path they want to, but they know they are living a lie when it’s not started with themselves.
The second is to practice compassion. It is the heart of spirituality. My take on compassion is to suffer together and take steps to help alleviate that suffering, which is the literal meaning. So even by offering the person a gift of listening and understanding, you are offering compassion in a huge way.
Another is to practice. While there is an abundance of knowledge around spirituality, why are people still seeking more and more? Because they lack practice. How many people practice compassion (which is very different from empathy and altruism), forgiveness, letting go, kindness, and so on? So, putting your learnings into practice is also fundamental to spirituality.
How to nurture the spirit?
Spirituality has so many meanings, connotations, and ways to practice it. And with all due respect to all forms of spirituality and spiritual leaders, what I share here is what I believe and practice with myself and my patients. At the same time, it is important to note that spirituality is a highly personal and individualised aspect of health. What works for one person may not work for another. Therefore, it is essential that individuals explore their own spirituality in a way that feels authentic and meaningful to them.
Spirituality doesn’t have to be a complicated path. Someone’s way of spirituality could just be adopting kindness or selfless service to people. So many people try so hard to find spirituality and reach out to gurus and leaders to ask for it, but we already have a spirit within us. It’s how you nurture the spirit. Being spiritual means being connected with our spirit, which most of us lose because of all the layers of self-doubt, bitterness, jealousy, external validation and bitterness. So while the spirit is there, it becomes clouded, which needs to be cleared up through tools like meditation, immersing in nature, silence, meaningful relationships, prayer, learning from spiritual scriptures, and paths of wisdom that are handed down to us in the form of stories that we learn from and practice.
Overall, integrating spirituality into our lives can have a powerful impact on our overall health and well-being. It can help cultivate a greater sense of peace, balance, and harmony, reducing stress and promoting greater physical, emotional, and mental health. By embracing our spiritual side, we can tap into a source of strength and support that can help us to navigate life’s challenges with greater ease and resilience, and lead happier, more fulfilling lives.