Health has become most sought after and precious asset these days. Even if one does not have any ailment or health problem today, he/she is not sure of remaining fit in the near future too. The fear and risk of physical and psychological diseases and disorders in the present times are unprecedented. The causes are numerous: air-water pollution, varieties of viruses, food adulteration, use of pesticides and other hazardous chemicals in day-to-day life in several forms, stresses of traffic, workload competition, financial insecurity, terror-attack, etc. What to control? What to change and how? Every one who thinks is confronted with these concerns in one way or the other. The rising cost of medication, hospitalization and health insurances adds to these concerns. Everyone who is health-conscious is in search of some guidance to minimize the risk to his/her health. Many doctors and medical scientists too have geared up with new interest in finding risk-free viable solutions.
The upcoming trends of healthcare underline the need for holistic or multidimensional approach. The World Health Organization ( WHO ) defines health as “a state of physical, mental and social well-being and not necessarily the absence of disease and infirmity”. In a popular article Dr. HS Wasir, Head of Cardiology Department of All India Institute of Medical Sciences has pointed out the need of a fourth dimension: spiritual well-being. He asserts that spirituality energizes the other components of health, namely, physical, mental and social. Similar views are also expressed by several other doctors of international repute. For example, in one of his review articles on research in spirituality and health, Dr. Joel Tsevat, Director of Outcomes Research in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Cincinnati, USA has said — “We tend to focus just on what medical professional can address – physical functioning and mental health. In the scheme of things, I think, spiritual well-being is also an important component of someone’s quality of life”.
Without spirituality no resource or support – be that physical vigor, mental sharpness or prosperous social status – can ensure positivity and righteousness in one’s inter-personal dealings and responses to life’s many pressures and challenges and consequent stresses. The conventional approach of ‘clinical health’ cannot take care of tensions and stresses.
“Tension” and “stress” are two universally recognized causes of a wide range of diseases gripping larger and larger section of the developed, urban and upper middle class of the world. The other sections of the human society too are not free from their clutches. Stress is no longer regarded as only a psychological problem. It has been affirmed as a principal cause of psychosomatic disorders such as heart attacks, angina, arrhythmias, hypertension, peptic ulcers, ulcerative colitis, some forms of cancers and certain skin diseases. The modern world has noticed it and efforts are also on to find feasible and effective modes of “stress management” via several kinds of seductive medicines, nerve-relaxing games, exercises, amusement tools and activities for mental diversion and rejuvenation. More and more people are also tending towards yoga – asana practices  . But “stress” is too complex and deep-rooted to tackle and cannot be removed by external means alone.
The term stress is defined precisely in Physics (Mechanics) as force divided by area of impact. But there is no such pinpointed definition at physiological, neurological or psychological levels. For practical purposes, physicians and psychologists broadly describe  it as — “a disturbed state of mind resulting from the imbalance between the demands of a person’s environment and that person’s capability to meet this demand”. A close cousin of “stress” is “depression” which also causes or aggravates a wide spectrum of psychosomatic disorders, including low blood pressure, anxiety, suicidal tendency, insomnia, some kinds of cancers, amentia, epilepsy, sciatica etc. It mainly arises due to one’s inability to get what one expects and aspires from the world and from one’s own self.
Neither modern medical science nor any alternative medication mode has been able to ‘cure’ stress and depression without incorporating some sort of psycho-spiritual healing. But then a natural question arises — how spirituality could help combating these problems? In what respect would it be different from and would complement use of Psychiatry and Clinical Psychology? Still broader question is what should be the mode of incorporating this new dimension into health care modules? Can health care system ensure health for all by focusing on this component?
Before attempting to answer these vital questions and addressing related issues of what one is supposed to do at personal level to benefit from it, we should first understand that Psychiatry and Psychology, as renowned experts of modern medicine also affirm  , deal mainly with mental well-being, that too in the sense of not having any abnormality or disorder. The diagnostic and therapeutic modules under these disciplines mainly focus at weakness or malfunctioning at the level of brain. The entity of mind itself is recognized and studied here with respect to behavioral aspects and manifestation of brain functions. But mind is a faculty of consciousness force. It exists at a much higher and sublime plane than the brain. It derives sustenance and evolutionary thrust from spirituality. Spirituality pertains to enlightenment and vigor at the levels of subconscious and unconscious mind and hence at the deeper roots of emotions [3 .
The role of spirituality in healthcare has several dimensions:
(i) spiritual healing;
(ii) preventive impact of spiritual practices;
(iii) overall well-being, and improvement and enhancement of vitality, immunity and physical and mental potentials by augmenting spiritual strength.
(i) Healing: Spiritual Healing (or faith healing, as it was popularly called in the western countries until modern scientists began to recognize the vast domain and sound foundation of spirituality) had been used by mankind in varieties of ways since prehistoric times. In fact, this perhaps was the earliest mode practiced in different forms in different parts of the world to cure the physical and mental suffering of the masses.
Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of life and healthcare known to be the earliest science of medicine is derived from the Vedic knowledge of spirituality. Mantra therapy, Yoga therapy, healing by the vital spiritual energy of the yogis, saints and spiritual masters, prayers have been integral part of treatments recommended and practiced in ancient India  . Ayurveda’s pharmacology too, in its original form, relied on awakening the vital power of herbal/plant medicines by spiritual practices. Ancient Chinese science of medicine also incorporates similar approaches. Prayers, touch-healing by the masters has also been common to the ancient healing practices in almost all parts of the world. Pranik Healing, Hypnosis, Reiki, etc are revived forms of these modes of treatment, which are being popular among the health conscious people these days. Also, across the globe, most people pray for fast recovery and vigor when they themselves or their near and dear ones fall sick.
Some modern medical centers and research groups have also taken up to thoroughly investigate the effects and scientific basis of spiritual healing practices. We shall report their findings in some future articles.
(ii) Preventive Care: We all must have experienced it in our day-to-day transactions that a relaxed and balanced mind is more productive than one that is agitated and tensed. Tension and stress may lead to wrong decisions and further aggravate the negativity and consequent risk of disturbing mental and physical health. So we must prevent the causes of stress. Conditioning and training  of body and mind is the foremost requirement to achieve this. Spiritual disciplines and practices are universal modes for preventive care and healthy development (growth) of mind-body system .
Spirituality is the essence of all religious teachings. It should not be confused with observance of rituals, communal customs, ceremonial sacraments and doctrines. Self-study and improvement of thinking and actions in the light of illumined teaching of elevated souls is an integral component of spiritual practices . Reading of religious scriptures and attending discourses/discussions on these are also often prescribed for self-study. But it should be remembered that what is referred in this context is only the text which deals with pure knowledge, which inspires human mind and heart towards divinity. Every religion has this light at its core. It is the soul of religion. Indeed the ultimate purpose of true religion is to motivate people to righteous actions. Unfortunately people only regard the ‘body’ – the external, sacramental, dogmatic form – of their religions as per the popular norms of majority belonging to their ‘commune’ and thus confine their faith and religiousness only to these superficial horizons.
The time-tested teachings, lives and works of saints, irrespective of when, where and in which society they were born, what was the so-called religion of their parents, show us the light of religion. Their words of wisdom, like the eternally consistent teachings of a true religion, though expressed in different languages and ways, give us instant support, strength, hope and positive directions in moments of adversity, hardship and tensions and thus annul all possibility of stress.
Reading and contemplating over such sagacious thoughts is therefore a simple but effective mode of remaining free from all stresses and depression. Chanting of devotional hymns and prayers with a feeling of surrendering our ego, our self identity at feet of God, also calms the mind, relieves its pains and sorrows and fills it with new energy and joy.
Self-restraint, which is an essential discipline and foundational component of spiritual practices, prevents downward flow of the currents of praña (life force) and gradually enhances vital energy, inner strength and willpower. A spiritually fit person is therefore not only free from stresses, depressions and all emotional and mental complications and protected from dissipation of his vital energy and hence from all infirmities, but he/she also becomes physically and mentally stronger, alert and dynamic.
Yoga exercises ( asanas and prañayamas ) are also parts of spiritual practices for sustenance of healthy and hearty life. Meditation is a higher-level yoga that not only calms and rejuvenates the mind, but also gradually awakens and prepares it for spiritual progress.
We must give ourselves a chance to experiment with the above stated spiritual practices. It will also help cultivating a positive temperament to see the good indwelling within and pervading around us.
(iii) Progress: Spirituality, because of its reach into the deeper depths of emotions, has intense impact on one’s aspirations and thought process. Spiritual attitude trains us to live harmoniously with our environment and to meet the challenges of life, at personal, familial, professional and social levels . It thus elevates clarity and focus of mind and sharpens its incisive intellectual potentials.
Yoga, in its totality, is a practical science of spiritual progress. It makes you realize yourself and know and use your total potentials and powers. Once your mind is trained to recognize all this with the help of meditation and other higher-level yogic endeavors, all your selfish desires, ambitions, attachments, greed, envy, anger, negative instincts, etc loosen their grip and are gradually uprooted completely. This unfolds the beginning of absolute well-being.
The Fourth Dimension . Article by Dr. HS Wasir in the health column of Indian Express, Bombay, December 25, 1993. pg 9
Pragya Yoga for Healthy & Happy Life . (English Translation of Hindi book “ Pragya Abhiyana – Yoga Vyayama ” by Brahmvachas). Publ. Wedmata Gayatri Trust Shantikunj, Hardwar, 2007. ISBN: 81-8255-025-4
What is Spirituality ? (English Translation of Hindi book “ Adhyatma Kya Tha, Kya Ho Gaya, Kya Hona Chahiye by Pt. Shriram Sharma Acharya). Publ. Wedmata Gayatri Trust Shantikunj, Hardwar, 2007. ISBN: 81-8255-025-4
Niroga Jivan Ke Mahatvapurña Sutra . Pt. Shriram Sharma Acharya Samagra Vangmaya Vol. 39. Publ. Akhand Jyoti Sansthan, Mathura; UP, India. 1995.
Health Tips from the Vedas . ( Compilation and Translation of Hindi articles published in “Akhand Jyoti”; Edited by Dr. P. Pandya and Shambhu Dass). Publ. Wedmata Gayatri Trust Shantikunj, Hardwar, 2007. ISBN: 81-8255-021-1.
Courtesy:- Akhand Jyoti, Nov-Dec 2008.