When it comes to the mind-body connection, there has been much research to suggest that our thoughts and beliefs can actually have tangible effects on the physical body. This can have a very powerful, positive impact on our lives, but it also has the potential to cause unwelcomed health issues if we allow negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions to fester or turn into self-limiting beliefs. One way that we can actively take control of the narrative and thus ensure that the mind is having a positive influence on the body is through cultivating spiritual awareness. What exactly is spiritual awareness? Well, the concept of spirituality is subjective for the individual, and the meaning that it holds varies from person to person. The way I personally define spirituality is: an authentic connection with one’s truest self, with others, with a higher power, and with the world at large. In the context of the relationship between spiritual awareness and physical health, we will consider it through the lens of developing a connection with one’s authentic, deepest self.
Because an aspect of spiritual awareness is being in touch with your authentic self, once this connection is developed it can oftentimes provide insight into your deepest desires and emotions. In a busy day, we tend to push down ‘inconvenient’ negative emotions to deal with “later,” but we don’t realize is that there can be health consequences to ignoring these signals and allowing negative feelings to pile up. This can result in feeling stressed or having headaches and muscle tension that seemingly come out of nowhere--but when we stop to become aware of our spiritual state, we will understand that these physical symptoms are not random at all and can be mitigated through strengthening the mind-body connection.
One way to enhance this connection is through mindfulness practice. While mindfulness and spiritual awareness are not necessarily synonyms, mindfulness is a means through which we can cultivate and strengthen spiritual awareness. The most widely used definition for mindfulness, put forth by Jon Kabat Zinn, is: paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, moment by moment. When we take a moment to dissect this, we find that it offers an opportunity to really tune into our bodies and listen to what it needs in each moment.
When we take the time to actually pay attention to our bodies’ signals, we can actively help ourselves to move, eat, and engage in certain practices that promote optimal health. Instead of operating on autopilot, we can use the power of the mind to really pause and pay attention to what the body needs and become aware of any pain or discomfort we may not have noticed before. When we start listening to these signals, we can use that as a barometer around which to base our actions instead of feeling like we should do something because it seems like the ‘right’ choice. For example, we can honor aches and kinks in the body or feelings of tiredness and decide to forego the gym for the day, rather than forcing ourselves to work out and potentially causing more harm than good.
Another way to cultivate spiritual awareness to promote physical health is through the power of prayer or meditation. It is important to emphasize that, as mentioned earlier, spirituality is subjective, and therefore for some people spirituality and religion are one in the same, while for others they are totally separate. Furthermore, some people consider themselves spiritual but not religious-- there are many different ways to find a meaningful connection. Regardless of religious orientation, prayer or meditation can have a powerful impact over physical health because they both are a form of directing a specific intention. Many studies have proven the healing qualities of prayer, and while we won’t discuss how exactly this happens in this blog post, the takeaway is that the will of the mind and spirit can manifest physical changes in the body.
When we recognize that we are whole beings, comprised of an interconnected mind, body, and spirit, we begin to see that we can play a more active role in our physical health. By tuning into our deepest thoughts, feelings, and emotions and listening to our bodies’ signals, we can live in sync and properly tend to our psychological, spiritual, and emotional needs-- all of which will decrease tension in the body and help promote physical health. While you don’t need to dive into a rigorous spiritual or meditation practice, you can start small by simply pausing for a few moments in the day to listen to what your body and spirit are telling you. Once you start our small, this awareness will grow with time and you will become much more in tune with yourself as a whole being.