Modern notions of spirituality developed in the 19th and 20th century, mixing Christian ideas and elements of Asian religions, especially Indian. Spirituality became increasingly disconnected from traditional religious organizations and institutions. Gradually, spirituality and religion drifted apart and a wide gap was created, allowing people to be spiritual but not religious.
In Hindu philosophy, spirituality became an individual experience about awareness of self and truth. Swami Vivekanand stressed on personal experience rather than scriptures. Various studies have also indicated a positive relationship between mental well-being and spirituality. They confirm that spiritual persons are more optimistic, have greater social relations, and peace and they have less stress and more mental well-being and these factors improve health.
SEE ALSO: Buddha’s 6 Rules Of Love
Dr. Mitchell Krucoff, cardiologist in Durham, North Carolina conducted a study, MANTRA II with 748 patients undergoing coronary artery interventions. These patients were also supported with intercessory prayers, imagery in addition to standard medical treatment. Dr. Krucoff quoted in Washington Post that, “the combination of the bedside therapies and prayer intervention creates an environment to improve survival.” That is, he reported that the group of patients who received both prayer from intercessors and the various alternative treatments lived to do better than the patients receiving standard care alone.
On 27th December 2006, Gaurav Mohle (name changed), a 32-year-old successful businessman, collapsed after returning to his office from a meeting, which involved heated discussions and arguments. He was admitted to a nearby hospital. ‘Till then, he had enjoyed good health. He was a non-smoker, had only beer at parties, but consumed “gutka” (a mixture of tobacco, betel nut, and other chemicals) regularly. He occasionally popped a paracetamol tablet for headache after a whole day’s work.
His only problem was anger, which could turn him into a raging bull. He would occasionally feel palpitations after an episode of anger. At the time of admission, his BP was 180/130 mm Hg. with left ventricular hypertrophy (enlargement of the heart). He had never suffered from high BP, according to him, and on occasional check-up had revealed normal BP. He had never undergone a thorough health check. He could not believe his ears when he was told that he had such high BP. The cardiologist asked him why he was risking his health by burning the candle at both ends. His lipid profile showed high cholesterol, putting him at risk for heart attack.
He was prescribed anti-hypertension medicines; drugs for high cholesterol and, he was also given 75 mg of aspirin daily. He was asked to reduce his weight from 70 to 60 kg and was told to exercise daily. He was so shocked that he was willing to try anything to regain his health. I had a few sittings with him and he agreed to meditate along with the treatment advised by the cardiologist. I put him on a vegetarian low-fat diet and asked him to practice meditation twice a day. Initially, I had to sit with him to explain the technique and encourage him.
After a few weeks, he became addicted to it as he found himself becoming calmer, less angry and peaceful. His wife and two children were quite happy as his anger episodes reduced in frequency and intensity, improving his family atmosphere and life. Happiness arrived in the family. Now, after several years of practice, he has his life back in control. He exercises regularly and had given up gutka. Anti-hypertension medicines have been reduced to half the dosage by his cardiologist.
Using spirituality as a tool for healing
The heart is directly affected by our stress and emotions. Anger, anxiety, stress, and emotions can increase heart rate. Learning to modulate heart rate variability can effectively reduce negative responses to stressful situations and improve your health. The Institute of HeartMath has developed techniques, under the name HeartMath, that are clinically proven to turn off the stress response and lower cortisol release, improve cognitive performance and mood, and reduce hypertension and the risk of dying from heart disease. These techniques employ strategies similar to cognitive therapy, biofeedback, visualization, transcendental meditation, and other established mind/body protocols.
The drugs or angioplasty or CABG (Coronary Artery Bypass Graft) alone is not a sure way to treat atherosclerosis. They are not a cure. They only treat the symptoms and not the cause. 10 to 20 percent of the arteries will be blocked within the first post-operative year of CABG and 80 percent will be blocked within seven years. Arteries opened by balloon angioplasty will be blocked sooner, 10 to 20 percent within six months.
Andrew Weil, Director, Program in Integrative Medicine at University of Arizona, USA, writes in his bestseller book Spontaneous Healing, “When I was in medical school, I was taught that atherosclerosis was irreversible. Once coronary and other arteries were stiffened and narrowed by cholesterol deposits, inflammation and calcification, they could never improve, only worsen. We now have clear evidence that atherosclerosis is reversible.”
Participants in Dr. Dean Ornish’s lifestyle Heart trial were given the “Spiritual Orientation Inventory”. A significant difference was found in the spirituality scores between a control group and research group that practiced daily meditation. The spirituality scores were significantly correlated with the degree of progression or regression of coronary artery obstruction over a 4-year time period. The lowest scores of spiritual well-being had the most progression of coronary obstruction and the highest scores had the most regression. This study suggests that the degree of spiritual well-being may be an important factor in the development of coronary artery disease.
There is a study about spirituality and heart failure. The findings of this study showed that tranquility, increased tolerance, patience, and hope were benefits that the participants had gained through spirituality and faith. These outcomes are important for heart failure patients because these patients have to be in contact with the disease for a long time and experience physical and psychological symptoms. In support of the above point Marques et. al., state that there is a deep connection between spirituality, hope, and satisfaction. Hope, as goal-directed thinking, increases the capacity and motivation of a person to reach the target; it is considered to be a power that neutralizes the negative effects of life crises.
More recently, a cardiologist conducted an interesting research study giving more evidence of our interconnectedness and prayer’s influence on heart disease. Dr. Byrd conducted a double-blind randomized study of 393 patients at San Francisco General Hospital who were admitted to the coronary care unit during a ten month period. He arranged for people to pray for 192 patients but not for the 201 others. These two groups were comparable in terms of age and disease severity. Dr. Byrd recruited people from around the country to pray for each of the 192 patients. He asked each person to pray every day in whatever form he or she wished. Each patient in the experimental group received daily prayers from five to seven people, although these patients were unaware of this.
Dr. Byrd found that prayed-for patients suffered fewer complications in three areas: first, only three required antibiotics, compared to sixteen in the control group. Second, only six had pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs), compared to eighteen in the control group. Finally, none of the prayed-for patients required intubation (artificial respiration), while twelve of the others did. It suggests that we may be more connected than we often realized.
In summary, then, your mind, body, and spirit are all intimately interconnected. Because of this, coronary heart disease occurs on emotional and spiritual levels as well as physical ones. The Opening Your Heart program by Dr. Dean Ornish is designed to address all of these levels, not just the physical ones.
Religious people certainly get sick and die, and many nonreligious people live long and healthy lives. But on average, it does appear that religious and spiritual involvement are associated with lower rates of illness and higher levels of well-being. In the language of epidemiology, this means that an active religious or spiritual life is a protective factor – much as a healthy diet and regular exercise are known protective factors.