Health means more than just physical health, and healthy living means more than just caring for our bodies. Holistic health means taking care of ourselves not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. A panel of people living with HIV shared this message during a Healthy Choices = Healthy Lives program, Spirituality and Living With HIV, presented by AIDS Survival Project in December 2004.
Body, mind and spirit are interconnected and essentially determine who we are as human beings. Caring for our spiritual selves, therefore, is just as important as monitoring CD4+ counts and viral load. Customarily, spirituality affects our physical health as much as medications, proper nutrition and exercise.
Spirituality is that center around which we order our lives. For each person, that object or center may differ. For theists, or people who believe in a God, gods or an Ultimate Power, the object or center around which they order their lives will be defined or described in terms of the Holy.
For non-theists, spirituality is primarily defined by a concept or core value around which they order their lives. Such concepts or values may include love, justice, peace, mercy, compassion, kindness or knowledge.
I define spirituality as that inner calling which motivates and challenges people to live ethically. How we live our lives may be a better indicator of our spirituality than what we claim our spirituality to be. In other words, spirituality is more than prayer, meditation, contemplation or personal reflection. It is those things, plus our actions. Caring for ourselves, others and our community is how we best demonstrate our spirituality.
Similarly, our health -- not only our spiritual and emotional health, but also our physical health -- is an indicator of our spirituality. People who are spiritually grounded generally live longer and have improved quality of life.1 People who are spiritually centered have less stress in their daily lives (which benefits the immune system), are happier and less likely to be depressed, and tend to develop stronger social support networks; and studies have shown that people living with HIV who have strong support systems live longer, healthier lives. Ultimately, everyone benefits from spiritual involvement.
While spirituality has measurable outcomes -- such as our physical well-being -- it is not an isolated task; rather, it is a process. Spirituality is a personal journey, and the therapeutic value comes in the journey itself. Each journey begins with taking the next step from where you are now. As you contemplate your next step, complete the following sentence:
Given where I am on my spiritual journey, one thing I can do this week to take that next step toward my own spiritual health is __________.
As you take action to make that statement a reality, trust that your physical health may benefit from that spiritual involvement.
- Tuck, Inez, et. al. "Spirituality and Psychosocial Factors in Persons Living with HIV." Journal of Advanced Nursing, 0309-2402, March 15, 2001, Vol. 33, No. 6, 776-783.