Do spirituality and modern medicine go together?

This question must have occurred to every healthcare provider at some point in time, isn’t it?

Whether or not an indelible connection between medicine and spirituality exist, we will all agree that at some point in time we have experienced gnosis. Some researchers at the Harvard Medical School reveal that within the experience of serious illness an indelible connection between medicine and spirituality—broadly defined as the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose, and experience connectedness to self, others, the significant or sacred. Well, Dr Sanjeev Kanoria, Founder Suasth Hospital, Healthcare Entrepreneur and Senior Liver Transplant Surgeon has a great interest in exploring the indelible connection between medicine and spirituality. He certainly follows the evidence and works on finding medical outcomes from this discipline. 

What empirical research reveals…

Well, even before I thought of delving into this conversation, I asked for a proof of concept. How do we validate this concept and how do we gather evidence?

Dr Kanoria says, “The proof is there and now through various modern imaging techniques of MRI and chemical measurements in urine etc scientists are proving the benefits of deep meditation.   There are numerous ongoing scientific studies on the effects of prayers on patient well-being and healing. Empirical evidence apart, there’s a wealth of qualitative data available in the public domain that documents personal experiences of patients who survived terminal illnesses based on their firm belief in some form of spiritual practice. Additionally, there is evidence that deep meditation can along with other direct modern psychological help remove deep-rooted mental conditions which lead to physical illnesses too.”   

“I began to appreciate this in my second year of medical school when I came across the teachings of my master Paramahansa Yogananda. He was famous for bringing science to spirituality.  Through following deep techniques of concentration as taught by our yogi scientists, I began to appreciate the relationship and relevance of spirituality to modern medicine.   Modern medicine focuses on the atoms and molecules that make up the cell and ways of using chemicals to modulate these. Spirituality and spiritualscience focus on the energy and consciousness which makes up these atoms and molecules which make up our cell and also the energy pathways which is behind the nervous and circulatory system. Through my own realisation and understanding over the years and going deep into science and research at UCL London for which I received a category 1 PhD, I realised the truth of what the yogi scientists who have walked our planet have been saying for centuries and mankind has been ignoring. The human body is a condensation of consciousness and energy into matter. Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2 defines this relationship powerfully and reasserts what our yogi scientists have been saying”, he explains.

So how do medicine and spirituality really work together? How does it positive impact patient outcomes? Is there any evidence gathered in the past that demonstrates medicaloutcomes linking spirituality and medicine?

Spirituality and measured outcomes

Growing evidence gathered from the past two decades demonstrates that spirituality is associated with quality of life measures, satisfaction, and utilisation outcomes. Studies suggest that spiritual care in the medical setting—acknowledging patient spirituality/religion and addressing spiritual needs—impacts patient end-of-life outcomes. Religion and spirituality are not peripheral to the medical experience but have measurable effects within several domains.

Dr Kanoria states, “If we can modulate our consciousness through deep concentration on the super consciousness which for want of a better word-God (whose origin is Germanic) and the Vedas properly call Sat-chid-ananda ie truth-ever existing-bliss,  then our energy pathways get revitalised and reenergised to reduce cellular ageing, prevent disease and mental illnesses.  Thought and consciousness have powerful effects on the body.  The best demonstration is the physical effects on the body of a single sexual thought or the fear thought.  Blood flow, heart rate, breathing and various organs get stimulated.”

He further adds, “Science has not started to measure the effect of deep concentration and mediation on physical and mental wellbeing.  Deep meditation releases the wellness neurotransmitter – serotonin – from the pineal gland in the brain. I have hence established a Meditation Centre in the principles and techniques of my great master yogananda who in the early 1920s explained the techniques of deep concentration and its benefits on the human mind and body.  The purpose for people is to be inspired, to practice and feel their own deep connection with the superconscious satchidaanada all around us.  A healing garden has also been built for this very purpose to inspire enquiry and thus attempt to heal themselves too.”

But are there any patient experiences that can validate this school of thought?

“Many patient visits to healthcare facilities worldwide are related to mental stress which creates physical illnesses. Anorexia is a well-known example which leads to loss of reproductive function, increased heart rate, irritable bowel syndrome, fatigue and ultimately death. Various studies in two groups one meditation and one not meditating have demonstrated the healing effects of meditation. Meditation is basically deep concentration on a positive source of all energy.  When one focuses on the positive one will feel well.  It is the same thing when you go into a positive, clean environment.  Meditation brings that same positivity to the micro-environment within ourselves. Our yogi scientists have demonstrated that through deep meditation they can reduce heart rate, breathing, metabolism, sickness and release feel-good hormones and neurotransmitters. Evidence is now coming through in many journals of neurology and psychiatry of the benefits of mindfulness.  Mindfulness is a basic technique of concentration and is the first step to deep concentration and meditation. If a basic technique can help so much imagine when one learns deeper techniques of concentration”,  he maintains.

So while Dr Kanoria speaks about how deep meditation work on a scientific level, there is also a school of thought wherein modern medicine neglects and many times stays hostile towards, the humanistic concerns of paramount value in spirituality and religion. Now, Dr Kanaria has a different perspective on the same.

Addressing medicine’s neglect of spirituality

“There was a time when modern medicine was sceptical about anything which could not be objectively proven or proven in a test tube in a lab, with the rational mind.  The rational mind has numerous limitations. Everything cannot be proven in a test tube.  Can one prove the taste of sugar in a test tube? It has to be experienced. The more subtle the experience, the less easy it is to prove in man bound finite instruments. The experience of God as bliss or as sat-chid-ananda can only be experienced in the test tube of the human body, by concentrating the energies in the human spine and letting it flow into the superconscious cosmic internet. Then can one experience what our yogi scientists have tried to explain for centuries. Many medical practitioners now have embraced, a cross-disciplinary approach towards treatment which combines elements of spirituality, be it yoga or meditation, healthy eating and counselling”, he justifies.

Researchers at Harvard Public School say that medicine can no longer allow the neglect of spirituality and religion to remain the status quo. Simplistic divisions between body and soul fail to account for patients’ experience of illness, or how medical decisions are approached or interpreted by patients. Researchers even point out that dichotomous approaches fail to be patient-centred and are lead to costly gaps in the healthcare system and care provision of the seriously ill and those at the end of life. 

“True spiritual experiences always lead to calmness, sense of well-being, and joy for one is connecting with the superconscious sat-chid-ananda which is a source of bliss.   If they have an illness it is possible that they are doing something which is incorrect or advised by practitioners who do not know the right techniques”, adds Dr Kanoria.

So, how do we go about addressing the gaps?

Most researchers point out that a  well-crafted research project, training and collaborations between modern medicine scientists and spiritual scientific can be effective.

“It is important to do a retrospective study on groups of people who meditate regularly and their rate of hospital admissions, doctor visits, lifestyle-related and mental illness. A large number of people who meditate can be enrolled.  At some stage, I will do such a study and I am sure this will provide meaningful data. Retrospective data analysis is not similar to a randomised trial but if a large population is included the information collected and analysed can help a meaningful dialogue with many sceptical medical professionals”, Dr Kanoria recommends. 

As rightly pointed out by Dr Kanoria, research is increasingly able to successfully measure spiritual and religious factors in illness. However, there is a need to follow the evidence when combining medicine and spirituality. Engaging in constructive partnerships with spiritual/religious resources of the patients, families and communities it serves is also important but must be done with a clear focus on patient care and outcomes.

“Medical doctors need to have an open mind and try some of the deep techniques of concentration themselves.  Many of the doctors in my hospital have started to meditate in the meditation centre built in Suasth. Medicine is about an open mind. When doctors close their minds it is dangerous and is like being a frog in the well.   The new generation of doctors are more open, more understanding of spirituality and science and we will see a change”, he sums up.

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