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Wellness Wisdom/Ayurveda/Article/Dr Sanjay Parva
This column is an eclectic mix of articles drawn from Ayurveda, mind-body medicine, yoga, spirituality, contemporary research, ancient Indian culture and timeless treasure of Vedic legacy.

The Spirituality of Health

Spirituality as a variable in the study of quality of life and health is not a new concept; however, it has returned to the scene during recent years, and has gone through an evolutionary process. Spirituality is examined through organizational religious activities, non-organizational activities and/or as an expression of faith.

The concept is so powerful that recently the most advanced hospital settings have begun to incorporate the same within their training modules of clinicians and nurses, and encourage patients in the faith factor while they get hospitalized.

Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Philadelphia, sought to examine attitudes about spirituality in medicine among medical students in psychiatric clerkships and determine whether instruction on concepts of spirituality in medicine had an effect on students' clinical performance in related tasks.

A total of 192 students entering psychiatric clerkships were randomly assigned to one of two groups; both groups received identical didactic instruction on spirituality in medicine. One group worked on a problem-based learning case that featured spirituality as a prominent theme, whereas the other group worked on problem-based learning cases that made no mention of it. Students completed pre- and post-test questionnaires, and their examination at the end of rotation included a standardized patient encounter requiring them to elicit a spiritual history.

The results showed that students who were exposed to material on spirituality in medicine reported greater understanding of the issue, even though no difference in clinical performance was observed. Greater understanding only is considered of paramount importance since what stems from the wholesome understanding of a problem is a trustworthy solution.

If we relate this to Ayurveda then the clinicians wholesome, focused and concerted effort at understanding a problem goes a long way in comforting a patient to better health. The strength to heal, says Ayurveda, should come from within; both in case of a patient and a caregiver.

The phenomenon of inner strength - again directly related to some or the other form of spirituality - has been studied in women with various illnesses. One such study was conducted by C Dingley, and G Roux on a group of Hispanic women who were 60 years of age or older.

Findings from the study suggested the experience of inner strength in older Hispanic women involved the following interrelated dimensions:

Drawing strength from the past Focusing on possibilities Being supported by others Knowing one's purpose, and Nurturing the spirit What is astonishing to note is that most of the above attributes are strongly present in people who have a spiritual bent of mind, or have hinged their lives on some or the other forms of faith throughout? The type or context of faith may vary from culture to culture, community to community and even person to person.

A team of five researchers at McGill Programs for Integrated Whole Person Care, Montreal did a critique of the 329 systematic analyses of peer-reviewed research papers on spirituality, religion, and health and stressed the need for more research on spirituality aspects of health focusing on age groups, cultures, religions, and clinical settings. They even proposed the need to establish a common vocabulary that bridges cultural and religious traditions, and facilitates clinical care, research, and teaching relating to spirituality, religion, and health.

"Spirituality promotes hope and optimism in the search for meaning through devastating illness," say T A Beery and his colleagues, who did a study on spirituality in persons with heart failure at the University of Cincinnati College of Nursing-Department of Adult Health, Institute for Nursing Research, USA.

"Whether expressed through structured religion or intensely private beliefs, spirituality taps the best of us -- our core being," Beery and team revealed, and added that spirituality was the basis of growth, stability, and feelings of wholeness. When you have these, you have good health; and all of them come from within.

Dennis Wholey sums it up in When the Worst that Can Happen Already Has: Conquering Life's Most Difficult Times, and says, "The real journey of life is not upward, but inward."

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