Tuesday, January 31, 2012

How God Can Change Your Brain and Your Body

People often ask me how to become more spiritual.  This is a very tricky question and if it is something you seek, then I suggest you get to the heart of what it is you are trying to fulfill in your life - what is it you think a spiritual practice will bring?

There was a study done that found, no matter the faith of choice, those that attended religious services were less likely to be depressed and had more positive outlooks on life.  This is not just a mental health issue - when you are depressed your physical health is depressed as well - the immune system doesn't work as well, stress hormones are released creating a myriad of negative health effects, and you sink into a spiral of negative consequences such as poor food choices, substance use, etc.  In the study, there was also a reduction in death rates in those attending services which makes sense!

Let's put this in perspective.  The benefits of attending services may be the amount of human contact and interaction that is part of being in a religious community.  There are endless amounts of information and science out there that specifically address the health benefits of having a support system, friends and family, and fun social interactions in your life.  The RealAge folks put having a support system in the top of their recommendations for a healthier life. It may be that you are involved in a social group that provides exactly what you need in this regard or you may need to get involved in one of many groups that can provide both social interaction and spiritual guidance.  Some examples beyond seeking a traditional religious organization:  there are Buddhist study groups, drumming circles, meet up groups that enjoy nature or saving the planet, and multiple creative groups. 

If the health benefits are simply a connection to something greater than ourselves, then you know what this feels like - so seek more of it!  We are flooded with oxytocin which causes a feeling of deep love and acceptance.  We create a feel-good cocktail of chemicals in the body that allows us to feel hope, inspiration, and joy.  These can be found in activities such as connecting to nature, getting creative, interacting with children, playing, meditating, prayer, singing, playing music, yoga and much more.  There are studies that show that all of the above have positive health benefits similar to the religious services study.  I can't begin to share all of the studies here.  However, when we allow ourselves the positive feelings of hope and joy, the results are not just mentally healthy, but physically healthy.  

If you are seeking the health benefits, then it is obvious that a spiritual practice will provide exactly this.  Let me define spiritual practice, because we often believe it must have religious connotations and it does not.  Spirit is a deep belief in something that goes beyond mind and body.  It might be God, it might be Creation as in the energy that creates the creatures and beauty around us, it might be Inspiration - the energy that fills us and empowers us toward creative pursuits, and it is anything that connects you to a deep sense of knowing within that all will be well.

How will you find spirit this week?

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