How do spirituality and religion contribute to health and well being?

Both can be deeply personal, experienced privately or shared with others. People sometimes question whether there is any difference between religion and spirituality. While religion implies a specific faith or guiding belief system we honor and adhere to, spirituality does not assume or require a particular set of prerequisites. In many cases religion answers questions considered spiritual in nature. Religion though, isn’t essential in order to achieve a true sense of spirituality.

Both spirituality and religion can help us consider such questions as:  How do we find or create meaning in life? Can we find a place within ourselves that transcends time and space? How do we come to terms with life’s sorrows, or more fully experience  its joys?

Not everyone has a specific set of religious beliefs or practices to which they adhere, but that doesn’t rule out the possibility or even likelihood that spiritual issues play an important role in their lives. In fact, some of our attitudes, preferences, and actions may point to a deeply held set of values that could be considered profoundly spiritual.

By connecting our mind, body and spirit, we can all hope to find our own unique answers to important questions, and realize something greater than the sum of our parts. Many call it a connection to our inner selves. For some, spiritual practice includes emptying the mind of the noise and clutter of our day-to-day lives. For others, it is more a matter of “mindfulness,” an awareness of the connections between ourselves, others and the world around us.

Meditation is a form of “mindfulness designed to heighten our day-to-day awareness and enjoyment of life. By taking time out of  our day to sit quietly, mediation can help to center and connect us to what is truly important. A few quiet moments can be found in our chapel, the garden, or even in a parked car! The important part is the practice, not the location.

Many people find that prayer, whether conducted privately or as part of a group, provides comfort and a sense of spiritual enrichment. Some believe that prayer and meditation are intricately related, and don’t differentiate between them. At Youville, yoga and other exercise options help keep the mind, body and spirit well integrated. When regularly practiced, both yoga and meditation can help lower blood pressure, relieve anxiety, and lead to other health benefits that are being increasingly validated by research.

However we achieve it, as we get older, the need to realize a sense of inner peace can become more pressing. Faced with increasing health challenges, loss of loved ones and friends, or perhaps a diminished sense of making an active contribution, many seniors look inward for answers. There is often increased interest in participating in faith-based activities, as well as activities that put an emphasis on being a part of a community. Many residents find comfort, meaning, and purpose through visits with family and friends. Sometimes, our inner being feels nourished by spending private time with loved ones. At others, we gain the greatest satisfaction when we share an activity or program offered at Youville House or elsewhere. However you choose to engage with special visitors, these experiences can create treasured memories and add to your sense of well being.

Programs for artistic, musical and dramatic expression and appreciation; lectures and discussions to help explore issues related to the world and our place in it; and opportunities to engage with others around issues of common interest, give added dimension to our lives. One of the most rewarding ways to remain vital and energetic – and to connect with a deeper sense of meaning – is to be helpful to others. Many people are concerned that their productive years are limited once they retire, and wonder how they can find ways to both feel and be useful. Youville makes it easy for residents to apply their energy, skills, talents, and interests on behalf of others by coordinating meaningful volunteer and outreach activities for residents to participate in and contribute to.

We all find ourselves in need of support and encouragement from time to time.Anne Cody, Youville’s Director of Mission and Pastoral Care, offers counseling and comfort with a willing ear and open heart. She also presents and facilitates a new program called “New Beginnings,” designed to encourage residents to express themselves and explore the recent changes in their lives. Whether occurring in solitude or as part of a community, spirituality and religion – and our experience of them – are often activities of inquiry. No label is necessary. We start out seeking answers. Many times instead, we discover new friends, or learn more about ourselves.

 “What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general, but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment."

Viktor Frankl