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When renowned Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at the 2013 World Innovation Summit on Health, she asked healthcare professionals to rethink.

“The kind of innovative healthcare to which I look forward is the one rooted in human values and in spirituality, which will help us come together as we move forward into the 21st century,” she said in her keynote address. She continued, “Please do not look at healthcare innovation only in terms of technology, training and medical education, but in terms of poor society, nurturing to the basics towards creating a healthy society in the best sense of the word.”

Some of the pre-eminent healthcare leaders in the world gathered together at that conference to share and discover new ideas for healthcare through innovation – solutions coming not only from sophisticated clinical laboratories, but from spiritual thinkers and health leaders as well.

New research into the connection between spirituality and health is widening and growing. For example, how do religiosity and spirituality influence health in complementary but different ways? A recent study from the University of Connecticut shows that religious affiliation has definite effects on smoking cessation and drinking moderation, providing measurable health benefits. On the other hand, spirituality – meaning private prayer or meditation – helps regulate emotions, and affects health issues such as blood pressure and diseases that stem from stress. Then there are examples of how forgiveness and compassion – both core teachings to of most major spiritual practices – can also have definite effects on health. These few examples may be just the tip of the iceberg in defining the relation between spirituality and health.

A story of a young severely disabled veteran provides one concrete example. Classified as disabled and on a cocktail of medicines for the rest of his life, he discovered yoga as a spiritual practice, and became completely free of his disability. From the video, it is clear he changed how he thought about himself.

This shows the role that shifting our thinking and adopting a spiritual practice such as yoga can play in our health. Dr. Sue Lazar spoke on TedX about how meditation and yoga can reshape the brain.

Research into “neurotheology” has nearly doubled in the last ten years. The pioneering work of individuals such as Professor Andrew Newberg, Director of the Myrna Brind Center for Integrative Medicine, is confirming what many already know – that a spiritual practice benefits our health.

So how can prayer affect our health? It rather depends on how we pray. In my experience, I have found that the prayer that brings changes and heals comes out of a developed and practiced awareness of a loving relationship with the divine. The approach to prayer that Jesus practiced and taught is a great place to start. He did not require that those who came to him practice certain religious acts or do certain things. His emphasis was on showing them a new way to see themselves and others – i.e., as children of the Great Spirit who, as such, are not helpless or victimized. This new view of themselves and others empowered his students even to replicate his healing work.

There is not a country in the world that is not debating how we can go forwards with new ideas about health. Much of the current system is not working for many people, and is increasingly a financial burden on both individuals and governments. Technological advances in medicine generally get the most space in media columns. Yet, insights from these health and spirituality studies may provide the most significant changes to the health landscape of the future. They certainly can help us “re-think” along the lines urged by Aung San Suu Kyi.

You can also read this article in the Vancouver Sun HERE

 

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My interest in the relationship between health and spirituality propelled me to begin writing about this topic a couple of years ago.

I am a regular contributor to several news outlets, including The Times Colonist newspaper both in print and online with the blog, Spiritually Speaking which is hosted by the Times Colonist. I also write on an interfaith blog, A Spiritual View, hosted by the Vancouver Courier.

My long-time Christian healing practice and more recent writing journey has resulted in many interesting connections with health professionals with different perspectives lead sometimes to more questions, as well as discoveries about the healing needs of – and answers for – our world.