An exhaustive review that compared spirituality and religiousness to other health interventions found that people with a strong spiritual life had an 18% reduction in mortality. The research calculates that the life-lengthening benefits of spirituality can be compared to eating a high amount of fruits and vegetables or taking blood pressure medication. Although some researchers have suggested that the extent of spirituality’s benefit on health is exaggerated, most researchers agree there is a positive relationship between religious and spiritual practices and better health outcomes.
Contemplative practices are activities that guide you to direct your attention to a specific focus—often an inward-looking reflection or concentration on a specific sensation or concept. Many spiritual traditions have a long history of using contemplative practices to increase compassion, empathy, and attention, as well as quiet the mind.
- Meditation can induce feelings of calm and clear-headedness as well as improve concentration and attention. Research shows that meditation increases the brain’s gray matter density, which can reduce sensitivity to pain, enhance your immune system, help you regulate difficult emotions, and relieve stress. Mindfulness meditation in particular has been proven helpful for people with depression and anxiety, cancer, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, chronic fatigue syndrome, and cardiovascular disease.
- Prayer may elicit the relaxation response, along with feelings of hope, gratitude, and compassion—all of which have a positive effect on overall wellbeing. There are several types of prayer, many of which are rooted in the belief that there is a higher power that has some level of influence over your life. This belief can provide a sense of comfort and support in difficult times—a recent study found that clinically depressed adults who believed their prayers were heard by a concerned presence responded much better to treatment than those who did not believe.
- Yoga is a centuries-old spiritual practice that aims to create a sense of unity within the practitioner through physical postures, ethical behaviors, and breath expansion. The systematic practice of yoga has been found to reduce inflammation and stress, decrease depression and anxiety, lower blood pressure, and increase feelings of wellbeing.