Four Spiritual Practices That Give Your Health And Longevity
“O God, grant spiritual health to my soul that resides in the body. Free it from the ailment of anger and hatred. Release my soul from moral ill-health”. —— Atharva Veda
Aging is the accumulation of changes over time1 and it is the main risk factor for our illnesses. It was earlier thought that aging can not be disturbed or slowed down but now researchers have proved that if we desire and decide, we can at least slow the process of aging if cannot stop. In today’s world the main focus of human being is on how to prevent sickness and live long with good health. Biologically humans cannot become immortal as Hayflick limit of our cells is about 50 cell divisions. Leonard Hayflick demonstrated in 1961 that normal human cells can divide for 40-60 times and then cell division stops.2 Each time a cell divides the telomere, responsible for lifespan, in the chromosome shortens and gradually this process leads to aging of our bodies. This is the genetic background of our aging. Other than genetic factor environmental and lifestyle factors also affect our aging, they speed it up. The genetics of our body affects 25 percent of the process of aging and rest of 75 percent aging depends upon other factors. We can definitely take care of this 75 percent of other factors affecting our aging. We were told that we cannot do anything about genes, but some researchers are of the view now that genetics is also not the last word for your survival and lifespan. Dr. Dean Ornish writes in his best-seller book, “Spectrum” that, “for more than thirty years, I’ve directed a series of scientific research studies showing, for the first time, that the progression of even severe coronary heart disease can often be reversed by making comprehensive lifestyle changes. These include a very-low-fat diet including predominantly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and soy products in their natural, unrefined forms; moderate exercise such as walking; various stress management techniques, including yoga-based stretching, breathing, meditation, and imagery; and enhance love and social support, which may include support groups. These lifestyle changes can give us good health and long life”. He further says that, “Here is some good news: Your genes are not your fate….. It’s based on our latest research showing that you can actually change how your genes are expressed – Just by changing what you eat and how you live….. in general, turning on (upregulating) the good genes and turning off (down regulating) the harmful ones”.3 Researchers world wide are of the view that if we try we can live upto 115-120 years.
Various American studies have reported a positive correlation between spirituality and mental well-being in both healthy people and those encountering a range of physical illnesses or psychological disorders.4 Spirituality makes you calm, peaceful, less aggressive, optimistic, hopeful, contended, positive to life, social, unperturbed by ups and downs of life, and helpful to others. Blue zones are geographic areas where people live longest. These are Okinawa (Japan), Sardinia (Italy), Nicoya (Costa Rica), Karia (Greece) and Loma Linda, (California, USA). Dan Buettner explains in “The secretes of a long life” that, “the lifestyle characteristics and engagement in spirituality and religion is one of their lifestyle practices, others are moderate regular physical exercise, stress reduction, moderate calorie intake, plant-based diet, moderate alcohol intake especially wine and engagement in family life and social life”.5
I always say that “East has a lot to teach the West about spirituality just as West has a lot to teach East about material matters”. In other words while the West sees science in God the East sees God in Science.
Four spiritual practices can give you good health and long life. These are:
1) Prayer :
Prayer is the only way to be in touch with God and feel His presence. You could pray anytime, for instance, while working out. The process will purify both your soul and the body.6 It is the only way to talk to God and be with Him. But prayer should be intense, sincere and, more importantly, from the core of one’s heart. As a child pesters his parents to get candy or toys, you must do the same with God. Pester Him. Tell Him what you want and then unless you get it you are not going to let go of Him. I have felt calmness, peace and relaxation when I pray I have observed that when you concentrate on prayer without any disturbance you have a feeling of talking to God one to one. Prayers help you in difficult times and enhance your well being and happiness in good times. Be a good person and you won’t have to wait for the next life to reap your rewards. You’ll live a healthier life for longer in this dimension – on average, seven years longer. Study after study has shown that people who worship regularly live longer than those who don’t. They tend to have lower blood pressure, lower death rates from cardiovascular disease, less depression and less early death from various causes.7 Prayer definitely helps your body to survive longer as it enhances both the physical and spiritual health. It makes you less stressed, improves immune system’s health and functioning and thereby improves your lifespan.
According to Larry Dossey MD, “In 1993, only three US medical schools had courses devoted to exploring the role of religious practice and prayer in health; currently, nearly 80 medical schools have instituted such courses.8
2) Meditation :
Various researchers have studied the antiaging effects of practicing a religion, spirituality and faith. Faith and spirituality reduce anxiety, tension, stress, depression and feeling of isolation. Every body has some or the other form of spirituality. This spiritual nature with meditation relaxes body and mind which even goes to cellular level and rejuvenates the basic units of our body and provides a control over speed of cellular aging.
Meditation diverts your mind from irritable, harmful and negative thoughts to peaceful and positive attitude of mind. It relives tension and stress and thereby reduces blood pressure and improves mental health.
Meditation works on body and mind leading to antiaging effects which a regular practice can provide. Meditation makes you more concerned about truth of our life that is concern for human spirit and soul against material or physical things.
Mrs. Roshni, 38 years female came to my OPD on 30th April 2011 complaining of recurrent boils all over body for one and half years. She was always treated by antibiotics and pain killers with antibacterial creams. Gradually with each Corp of furuncles the antibiotics, cream and pain killers were of minimal help. Various blood tests were done several times but were normal each time except elevation of TLC (total leucocyte count or white cell count). She was suffering with pain and restriction of movements due to big boils on lower limbs. Few times she had to undergo operation for drainage of abscess when boils turned upto a full fledged abscess. She was now fed-up with this sickness as she had to take care of her family also, i.e. husband, two young children and father and mother-in-law. She came to me for permanent solution and cure. I examined her and studied her papers carefully and could not attribute to any cause for her sickness.
I felt that she was under severe stress. She was already under stress as she was the only member of family taking care of all family members and this, her sickness, was an added burden leading to sever stress. I know that stress if severe can lead to both physical and mental problems and can lead to boils. Severe stress and emotional crisis can suppress our immune system and can also cause some endocrinal or hormonal changes leading to increased sensitivity of skin causing boils due to even minor scratches or even without as skin becomes susceptible to the bacteria living in hair root follicles of skin. I explained her the probable cause of her sickness. I told her to first calm down and reduce stress by spiritual practices of relaxation i.e. yoga and meditation. I explained her few postures of yoga and meditation technique and requested her to do it regularly with trust that she will be alright. After 10 days she came to my OPD and reported that she was very happy as her problem is almost solved. Now she uses yoga and meditation with other lifestyle changes in diet and exercise and enjoys good health and boils have not returned back so far.
In 2013, researchers at John Hopkins identified 47 studies that qualify as well-designed and therefore reliable. Based on these studies, they concluded that there is moderate evidence that meditation reduces anxiety, depression and pain… Their findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in early 2014.9
Free radicals are produced in most cells of the body as the by-product of the metabolism. The most important free radicals found in humans are of the oxygen group. Once formed, they oxidize the molecules used inside cells, causing cell death and injury. The body has of course developed various mechanisms to protect itself from the damaging effects of free radicals but we can further help our bodies by lessening the amount of oxygen present to do the damage in the first place. And this, as we have just seen, is precisely what meditation accomplishes.10 When damaged cellular level is reduced, the cells and body survive longer and longevity is achieved.
3) Yoga :
Yoga is a group of physical, mental and spiritual practices. United Nation’s General Assembly approved a resolution establishing 21 June as “International Day of Yoga.11 The first International Day of Yoga was observed on 21 June 2015. Patanjali, the ancient Indian saint is considered as the one who originated Yoga. He is considered the “Father of Yoga” as he was the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, considered to serve as the basis of yogic techniques. Yoga Sutras have 195 sutras, which serve as a framework for integrating yoga into the daily routine and leading an ethical life. The aim of yoga was to maintain the health and not only to treat the diseases. Yoga is a philosophy embracing every aspect of life i.e. spiritual, mental, emotional and physical. It is a system of self-improvement or conscious evolution that has itself evolved and modified over thousands of years. Yoga teaches us to keep health and avoid falling sick and get cured if fallen sick. Yoga gives you youth and maintains it too if practiced regularly.
Yoga increases our muscle strength and body’s flexibility along with weight reduction. It improves our breathing and vitality. It also improves our heart’s health and performance. Regular practice of Yoga helps us to live longer by improving the health of our vital organs specially respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
Sridip Chatterjee and Samiran Mondal published their study, “Effect of Regular Yogic Training on Growth Hormone and Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate as Endocrine Marker of Aging in “Evidence-Based Complimentary and Alternative Medicine” stating that “Growth hormone (GH) and dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS) secretion decline with advancing age and are associated with the symptoms of aging. Yogic texts claimed that regular practice of yoga may restore and maintain general endocrinological properties in the human body. Research concluded that combined approach of graded yogic training may be beneficial for maintaining basal levels of GH and DHEAS in the human body, thus promoting healthy aging.12
4) Pranayam :
Pranayam is a Sanskrit word, meaning regulation of the breath through certain technique and exercise. Prana = breath or vital or pranic energy in the body responsible for life or life force, yama = restraint or control. Pranayam is control of breath.
How to do pranayam
When we are in stress we breathe from the chest and it is shallow breathing. When we breathe from the diaphragm (abdominal), it is deep breathing. Shallow or chest breathing doesn’t utilise 10-15 percent of lung capacity, so there is less oxygen in the blood, and also less vitality and freshness.
• Stand or sit or lie down.
• Inhale deeply from the diaphragm, pushing out the abdomen without moving your chest and count 1, 2, 3, 4 slowly in your mind while inhaling.
• Hold your breath by counting 1 to 16 in your mind.
• Exhale by pushing the abdomen in and not moving the chest and counting from 1 to 8 in your mind.
• Repeat it five times.13
In Pranayama, the cells of the brain and the facial muscles remain soft and receptive, and the breath is drawn in or released gently. During inhalation, each molecule, fiber, and cell of the body is independently felt by the mind, and is allowed to receive and absorb the prana. In exhalation, the release of breath is gradual, and this gives the air cells sufficient time to re-absorb the residual prana to the maximum possible extent. This allows for the full utilization of energy, thus building up emotional stability and calming the mind. Each inhalation activates the central nervous system into stimulating the peripheral nerves, and each exhalation triggers the reverse process. During the retention of breath, both processes take place. In prayanamic breathing, the brain is quiet and this allows the nervous system to function more effectively. Inhalation is the art of receiving primeval energy into the body in the form of breath, and bringing the spiritual cosmic breath into contact with the individual breath. Exhalation is the removal of toxins from the system.14
Benefits of Pranayam
• Pranayam brings peace and makes you calm
• Improves oxygenation of blood and body
• Purifies blood
• It reduces anxiety, tension, stress and aggressiveness
• Brings good sleep in persons suffering with insomnia
• Controls blood pressure in hypertension
• By enriching blood with oxygen pranayam improves health of body, both physical and spiritual, and brings longevity.
Pranayam or breathing exercise, improves 10-15 percent of oxygenation of vital organs. These spiritual practices also improve your confidence in yourself.
It is believed that lowering the breathing rate gives longevity and pranayam increases life span by reducing the breathing rate. Breath is life and pranayam, the science of breath control, teaches us how we can use that vital element to easily live longer and better. Breathing connects us with our whole nervous system through a deep and full inhalation. Through that moment, we feel calm, mental and emotionally positive and free.15
These four spiritual practices are easy to learn and to practice regularly. Once the benefits of such lifestyle changes are felt, it automatically makes the person habitual of this spiritual living.
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