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“Chuck, Happy (almost) New Year! As I was planning some New Year’s goals for growth, I appreciated your timely and good C-Force advice last week about the bodily benefits of spiritual exercises. But let’s not forget that there are far more benefits in spiritual exercises than merely physical ones. Care to list a few to balance the health scale?” – Signed, “Balancing the bodily scale in Biddeford, Maine”
Last week in Part 1, I cited research conducted by health experts at many top educational think tanks such as Stanford University and the Human Population Laboratory in Berkeley that proved how our physical health is linked to our spiritual health, particularly as it related to religious service attendance.
But, to balance the scale, let’s not forget: There are, of course, many other spiritual disciplines besides church attendance such as prayer, reading, reflection, meditation, sacrificing, self-discipline, generosity, facing fears and adversity, giving thanks, etc. All of them have great benefits for us, including character growth, being an example for others and also personal enrichment and the betterment of those around us.
For example, one website for healthcare professionals documents 25 such studies – 19 pro-faith and six anti-faith – conducted by prestigious universities, think tanks and eminent professors and scientists. And the results yielded many non-corporeal or non-physical benefits.
Here are a few examples:
- A study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine looking at how faith and spirituality helped with coping during times of illness and injury;
- A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology looking at how faith helped protect patients against symptoms of depression;
- A study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology that demonstrated patients with cancer could experience a better quality of life when medical needs were joined with spiritual resources;
- A study from Florida State University showed that praying for someone else could better those relationships.
- A study from George Mason University, published in Psychological Science, demonstrated how meditation could enhance mental abilities.
And then there’s the benefit of clear thinking and spiritual insight. In Jeffrey Kluger’s 2009 Time magazine must-read article, “The Biology of Belief,” he noted: “Faith and health overlap in other ways too. Take fasting. One of the staples of both traditional wellness protocols and traditional religious rituals is the cleansing fast, which is said to purge toxins in the first case and purge sins or serve other pious ends in the second. There are secular water fasts, tea fasts and grapefruit fasts, to say nothing of the lemon, maple syrup and cayenne pepper fast. Jews fast on Yom Kippur; Muslims observe Ramadan, Catholics [and Protestants] have Lent; Hindus give up food on 18 major holidays. Done right, these fasts may lead to a state of clarity and even euphoria. This, in turn, can give practitioners the blissful sense that whether the goal of the food restriction is health or spiritual insight, it’s being achieved.”
Among the greatest of spiritual exercises is love itself, and the benefits are – in my opinion – the most powerful, permeating and far-reaching. For the exercise of love not only materializes in action for mutual and common good, but also floods our soul for power for living, breaking barriers and overcoming obstacles that we previously couldn’t without it.
St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote centuries ago in “The Spiritual Exercises,” “Love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words. … Love consists in a mutual sharing of goods; for example, the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he possesses, or something of that which he has or is able to give; and vice versa, the beloved shares with the lover. Hence, if one has knowledge, he shares it with the one who does not possess it; and so also if one has honors or riches. Thus, one always gives to the other.”
It is no surprise, then, that Jesus Christ himself, whose birth we Christians just celebrated on Christmas Day, taught that love is the greatest of all commandments. And the Apostle Paul, one of his leading followers in the first century, explained why: “Love does no wrong to its neighbor.”
The fact is, just like fruits and vegetables are food for our bodies, spiritual disciplines are food for our souls. Again, Jesus said, “No man shall live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Let us never forget that the spiritual benefits of spiritual exercise far outweigh the bodily ones, foremost because the spirit outlives the body. Again, the Scriptures put it this way: “For bodily discipline is only of little profit, but godliness is profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
So as you reflect upon the meaning of Christmas and plan resolutions and goals for the new year, remember your total health: mind, body and spirit. We are holistic (whole and intimately interconnected) beings, with each component of us linked to the other.
From my wife Gena and me, we wish you the very happiest of new years! And in light of all I just wrote, we extend this New Year’s blessing to you from the Scriptures: we “pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers.”
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.