You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover,’ sang rock n’ roll pioneer, Bo Diddley. These words were acutely relevant to me when I was a young man learning yoga and simultaneously working with the severely disabled.

On one side of my life there were these toned, flexible and vibrant yoga teachers. On the other were teenagers and young adults confined to wheelchairs who were completely dependent on the physical help of others.

But which of these two groups enjoyed spiritual health?

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Thirty years on and I am leading a team pioneering the first mainstream vocational qualification in spirituality and health. Its development, as you can imagine, has involved long discussions about the nature of spirituality and health. We have also had to anchor it all down into a coherent language that could be approved by the government education watchdog, Ofqual.

Our working definition of good health describes it is as a state of comfort and flexibility, which applies to our physical and mental wellbeing as well as to our spiritual selves. Bad health is the opposite. Pain and rigidity. Movement hurts. Nothing flows.

What is particularly interesting here is that we can be physically flexible, but hurting mentally and spiritually. Equally we can be spiritually strong and physically weak. In Taoist philosophy, authentic good health is to be in harmony with the benevolent flow of the universe. So our physical bodies can be wrecked – but our spiritual and mental health can be fantastic.

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But what on earth do we actually mean by spirituality? I like to encourage people to develop their own definition of spirituality.  What’s yours? Working in an educational charity we have had to clarify and articulate our own stance. After much consultation we drafted a definition that seems to work for most people regardless of their beliefs.

Spirituality is everyone’s natural connection with the wonder and energy of life.

We also had to clarify and explain the meaning of spiritual health. For this we identified three crucial elements: connection, peace of mind and compassionate care. When assessing my own spiritual health these are the crucial issues. Am I connected? Do I have peace of mind? Am I caring and compassionate? Those questions apply whether we are in a wheelchair or teaching yoga.

 

CONNECTION

It is worth repeating, isn’t it? The first of the crucial elements of spiritual health: Are you connected to the wonder and energy of life?

In our Secrets of Spiritual Health programme, readers are guided through a series of questions to help them discover how best they make this spiritual connection. People have so many different ways. Yoga. Reading. Nature. Art. Caring. Worship. Song. Sport. Cooking. Meditation. And so on.

Then when people have identified what circumstances and activities work best for them, they are guided to practice them regularly. Through mindfulness, grounding and breath they are supported in deepening the experience and fully enjoying it. For many yoga practitioners that happens at the end of a session, in corpse pose just lying there, soaking in the deep connection.

PEACE OF MIND

Spiritual peace of mind is not apathy, or a relaxation exercise, or a brain wave state. It arises from a deep and wise way of looking at life. This wise attitude guides us to take regular reflective pauses.

In these mindful pauses we observe and monitor our lives with detached good humour and compassion. We recognise that all our circumstances and experiences – good and bad, health, illness, success, failure, loneliness, community – are always opportunities to develop love and consciousness. This development of love and consciousness is surely the true purpose of our lives. Understanding this brings us meaning and coherence, a deep calm.

COMPASSIONATE CARE

The third foundation of spiritual health is compassionate care or love in action. If we are not actively caring we block the harmonious flow of the natural world, causing congestion for others and ourselves. Energetically, being compassionate pays forward the good energy we receive from being connected and having peace of mind.  Selfishness, egoism, narcissism are all prime symptoms of spiritual bad health.

Fortunately Mother Nature has evolved us very shrewdly. When we give care our endocrine systems are stimulated in a positive and beneficial way, relaxing tissue. Doing good, feels good.

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The wonderful thing about spiritual health is that we are not dependent upon anyone else for our ‘medicine’.  We also always have access to a wonderful doctor who knows us better than anyone else, our own consciousness. So my fellow doctors, shall we all look at the state of our spiritual health?

Connected.

Peace of mind. 

Compassionate care.